Politics in the Bargain Bin
Read any good policy-wonk books lately? In the blinding blitz of presidential campaign rhetoric, it's easy to miss a retro tool of communication — a book in the candidate's own words. Such books are intended to lend an extra measure of gravitas to campaigns and even, perhaps, touch off the kind of buzz that can boost a candidacy or set the stage for one, as in the case of John F. Kennedy and Al Gore, experts pointed out.
As a freshman U.S. senator, Kennedy wrote Profiles in Courage, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1957 and helped raise his national profile. In 1992, then-Sen. Al Gore released Earth in the Balance, a book that helped position him as the environmental candidate in his future presidential bid.
In June, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's memoir, Living History, was interpreted widely as an attempt to test the waters for a White House run in 2008.
Now there is at least one book either by or about every one of the nine announced Democratic candidates for the 2004 presidential nomination. Some are good, some are bad. Some are thick, some are thin. Some are short, some are shorter. Some are direct, some are long-winded. And that goes for their books, too.
In fact, so you won't have to slog through all of the volumes -- more than 1,800 pages total -- we have trolled them for you, looking for the occasional bon, and not-so-bon, mot. Granted, this is not a thorough scanning; it's an idiosyncratic sampling. But, considering this particular ninesome of wannabes, a little quirkiness seems perfectly appropriate.
A Prayer for America" is a collection of essays and speeches by Dennis Kucinich. Studs Terkel wrote the foreword.
"My father was a teamster, and so I was literally born into the House of Labor."
"I love the West. In some ways, the spirit of my own politics is animated by the mythology of the West: independent, restless, striving, seeking new paths, pushing frontiers, seeking new horizons."
Three of the hopefuls appear to have done most of the heavy lifting on their volumes -- at least, they take credit for the writing.
Democratic front-runner Howard Dean is releasing Winning Back America (Simon & Schuster) just as the former Vermont governor is struggling to widen his lead over Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri and other rivals before the key Iowa caucuses on Jan. 19. The promo material for Winning Back America explains that the book was "written in the candidate's own words." The book is a straightforward political biography, a statesmanlike campaign biography, covering Dean's position on major issues, his career as a physician and governor, and life as a family man. In the 179-page book, Dean elaborates on the death of his younger brother, Charles Dean, who disappeared in Laos in 1974, and his medical deferment during the Vietnam War.
"George W. Bush has been the most divisive president this country has seen since Richard Nixon."
"I don't indulge myself when it comes to clothes. . . . I have a suit that cost $125 at J.C. Penney in 1987."
"Pat doesn't have a mink coat. But she does have a respectable Republican cloth coat." - Richard Nixon, from his Checkers Speech
In A Call to Service: My Vision for a Better America, John Kerry acknowledges several people who enabled him to stay organized and meet deadlines.
"President Bush has enough bad policies on which to focus our energies; there is no need to ascribe to him a weak intellect or bad intentions as a political strategy."
"I'm a charter member of one of the most selective but fastest-growing sports clubs in the world: the NASCAR fans of Massachusetts."
"One of my favorite sports, in fact, is windsurfing, followed by sailing as a close second. I'm a trained glider pilot but generally fly with an engine. In the winter, I love to ski and skate, and I am so addicted to ice hockey that I still fantasize about starting a professional over-fifty senior league."
On Thursdays or Fridays, Kerry would fly back to Boston as soon as Senate business was finished. Sometimes he would get back home just in time to see the last few minutes of his daughter's soccer games. "When they'd end, I'd usually run onto the field to give her a hug and congratulate her on her effort. . . . Sometimes she didn't return the hug." It was only years later that Kerry learned the truth: "She was embarrassed by the fluorescent orange hunting cap I occasionally wore to her games in the late fall."
[The Presidency isn't a sport or game, John. We already have a pResident who spends too much time playing cowboy on his ranch. Might this be why you are having so much trouble winning followers? - ed]
Wesley K. Clark thanks a handful of folks for helping him set the tone of his book, Winning Modern Wars: Iraq, Terrorism, and the American Empire.
"America's primacy in the world -- our great power, our vast range of opportunities, the virtual empire we have helped create -- have given us a responsibility for leadership and to lead by example. Our actions matter. And we cannot lead by example unless we are sustained by good leadership. Nothing is more important."
"The language in the State of the Union address itself was simplistic and bellicose. There were no obvious connections between Iraq, Iran, and North Korea -- President Bush's 'axis of evil' -- beyond the suspicion that they each harbored ambitions to acquire weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them."
[Beased on these quotes alone, Clark seems to be the most focussed on the job of President. The others seem to be saying - "I'm like you - vote for me" - ed]
Other candidates called on collaborators
Richard Gephardt - longtime aide Michael Wessel gets a "with" line on the cover of An Even Better Place: America in the 21st Century.
"Each of us, in different ways, can make a difference -- to our children, to our communities, to our nation. But doing so will require a new sense of purpose, a renewal of activism and citizenship and an understanding that we're all in this together."
"When I was little, Dad supported our family by driving a milk truck. He didn't make a lot of money, but he always told us that he would have been paid a lot less if he hadn't been a member of the Teamsters Union."
John Edwards relied on University of Maryland English professor John Auchard to assist in the writing of Four Trials (Simon & Schuster), which, according to a blurb by political thriller writer Richard North Patterson, is written "with the crackling drama of a novel."
Edwards' book might help him, even if he doesn't sell many copies at $24 each, noted David Redlawsk, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Iowa. "A book like Edwards' might give him a little bit of an extra push in Iowa, where people are paying extra attention," Redlawsk said. "Edwards' book really tells some stories that are quite independent from the campaign, the way things aren't usually done, so it might have legs of its own."
Edwards' book was meant to be a departure from the standard campaign biography, said his press secretary, Jennifer Palmeiri. It tells the stories of four clients whom Edwards represented as an attorney in negligence cases. (Proceeds from the book, along with Edwards' $15,000 advance, will go to the Wade Edwards Foundation, a nonprofit named for the senator's late son, who, as a high school junior, was killed in a car accident.) Four Trials does have the potential to define Edwards as the defender of everyday people, she said.
Edwards came up with the idea for the book well before he decided to run for president, Palmeiri said. But the release of Four Trials was timed to coincide with the senator's campaign in the key states in which early voting contests are held. A portrait of the senator is featured on the hardcover book jacket, looking serious, his tie loosely knotted, shirt sleeves rolled up.
By contrast, the paperback cover of Winning Back America shows Dean in close-up with a tight smile.
"Wallace Edwards took what came without complaint. When he began at Milliken's Excelsior Finishing Plant in Pendleton, South Carolina, he hoisted hundred-pound rolls of cloth, but he slowly advanced up the company ladder until he reached a management position."
"My friends often came over to shoot hoops, and if my mother came out to hang laundry while we were playing, she would shoot a little too. At those moments she seemed to be having the time of her life, and it always made me happy to see her doing lay-ups way better than some of my friends."
[Edward's got the most column inches in both source files. I guess he's the favorite of the literary set - ed]
Joe Lieberman shares a byline -- and cover shot -- with his wife, Hadassah, on An Amazing Adventure: Joe and Hadassah's Personal Notes on the 2000 Campaign. The authors also give credit to Sarah Crichton on the title page.
"A funny thing happened in 2000. I became known for being funny. It began on opening day. At the announcement rally in Nashville on August 8, I told the crowd I was surprised that the Republicans' first reaction to my selection had been to say that 'George Bush and I think alike.' Well, I said, 'With all due respect, I think that's like saying the veterinarian and the taxidermist are in the same business -- because either way you get your dog back.' "
One morning Lieberman, who was campaigning in Little Rock, called his wife, Hadassah, who was campaigning in Minnesota. She told him things were going well and that there was a front-page story about her in the Minneapolis newspaper. Lieberman told her that was great and, by the way, there was a "very nice picture" of him on the front page of the Little Rock paper. "Hadassah paused for exactly the right amount of time and then asked coolly: 'Are you above the fold?' I wasn't. She was. Case closed."
For his book, Al on America, Al Sharpton turned to New York Daily News columnist Karen Hunter. His best story is not about the candidate. It's told by Sharpton about James Brown.
Seems Brown filled in for Jackie Wilson one night at the Howard Theatre. "The Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C., was the spot back then. And to perform there meant you had arrived. So James Brown and the Flames jumped in a couple of cars and drove an hour and half to D.C. When they got there, they made the announcement that Jackie Wilson would not be performing. People started getting up and walking out, James Brown told me. But the Flames started playing anyway, and James Brown came on stage and started dancing.
" 'I just knew in my heart, this was it, this was my big shot -- and I took it,' James Brown said. 'People turned around and started looking and I saw a cord that was hanging off the side of the stage. And I found myself, Rev, climbing up the side of the stage and grabbing the cord. I swung onto the stage and came down in a perfect split and then popped up. By then the whole audience turned around and sat down. I danced until my joints were sore. . . . That's when I took Washington. . . . From there I started beating Jackie all over the country.' "
Sharpton says that going to James Brown concerts with his father are some of the only good memories that he has of his dad.
On Rappers: "Unfortunately, much of what they're selling is a fraud. They spew hedonism, misogyny, and self-hate. They glorify the prison culture, the pimp culture, and drug culture. They tell the young that they're not worthy unless they're 'rocking' Chanel, Gucci, or wearing platinum and diamonds. Not only is this message immoral, but it is also flawed. It's a lie."
"Racism may make the workplace and housing market unequal. But racism doesn't make you put gold teeth in your mouth, spending thousands of dollars when you don't have enough food to feed your family. Racism doesn't make you buy a new, expensive car when you don't own the home you live in. Racism doesn't make you make babies that you aren't going to raise and support both financially and spiritually. Racism doesn't do that."
"I don't see any of George Bush's kids or nephews going off to war."
Carol Moseley Braun is the only one who hasn't written a book.
These days, serious presidential candidates are expected to write books, said Judith Trent, a University of Cincinnati professor who studies communication in presidential campaigns. "It seems presidential," she said of the candidates' books. "It's heavier [than brochures]. It has more weight than the biographical video. They're hoping it says, 'Look, this person is a heavyweight, a real contender.' "
Candidate-written books still hold sway, still project authority in an age in which campaigns such as Dean's have relied heavily on the informality and accessibility of the Internet. It's hard to gauge the impact of such books, which tend to preach to the choir rather than sway undecided voters, experts said.
But booksellers are not expecting a run on candidates' titles. At the independent Midnight Special Bookstore in Santa Monica, for instance, no one has asked about the Dean or Edwards book, said owner Margie Ghiz. "The kind of stuff that's going to sell here is the Al Franken book and Michael Moore book," she said.
The candidates' books aren't selling at Dutton's Brentwood Bookstore, either, said Mignon McCarthy, a spokeswoman for the independent bookseller. "In terms of political books - Al Franken, we can't keep in stock. Paul Krugman. Molly Ivins. Jim Hightower. People are interested in the analysis of what's going on."
Still, for a candidate's supporters, "you're trying to give them some material — 'Here's how you can talk about him in everyday conversation without sounding preachy,' " said Rita Whillock, a professor and chair of the department of communications at Southern Methodist University. It's "a little more insight into someone people don't know that much about. In the age of spin control, everyone is trying to figure out: Who are these people, in essence?"
Moseley Braun, a latecomer to the crowded Democratic field, didn't declare her candidacy until Sept. 22. "I think it's important that candidates have books," she said. "Had my campaign evolved different than it did, I might have had one. I respect books too much to throw one together."
But Wayne D'Orio, a Connecticut writer, has just published Carol Moseley-Braun, a volume in the African American Leaders series from Chelsea House Publishers. Braun, paraphrased by D'Orio, points out that she "would be a triple threat of diversity for the Senate, an African American, a woman and a member of the working class."
[She'd win if this was all it took. It's a shame that she demonstrates repeatedly that she can't cut it - ed]
"Joseph Moseley was a well-rounded individual; he played seven instruments and spoke several languages. Moseley-Braun said his myriad interests 'sparked my thirst for knowledge and experience. Just by way of example, we'd go to a different church every Sunday. We'd go to our own then another one.' "
"Duct tape is not a substitute for diplomacy. And I believe the people can and must demand an end to the saber rattling that has made us all a hostage to fear."
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