Michiko Kakutani writes an essay with an excellent idea beind it in today’s New York Times. The essay is “The politics of prose.” In the essay Kakutani reflects on the books of each of the presidential candidates. Although Kakutani’s essay is relegated to the Arts & Leisure section of the Times, it is the only article in the paper today that is of serious literary or political interest.
Kakutani’s essay isn’t bad, but it is inferior to Andrew Ferguson’s Weekly Standard essay on Barack Obama’s two best-selling memoirs. By contrast with Obama’s current book — the one calculated to support his campaign — Ferguson finds Obama’s first memoir to be a work of genuine merit and insight. I haven’t read either one, but Ferguson shows how such an investigation or explication of the text is to be conducted.
Kakutani doesn’t rise to Ferguson’s level, and not only because Ferguson is a superb essayist and Kakutani something lesser. For reasons that escape me, Kakutani takes all of the numerous texts under discussion in her essay as more or less equally revealing. Despite her opening disclaimer, she takes them essentially at face value:
Most books by politicians are, at bottom, acts of salesmanship: efforts to persuade, beguile or impress the reader, efforts to rationalize past misdeeds and inoculate the author against future accusations. And yet beneath the sales pitch are clues