Reading the candidates

Campaign books are not designed to be revealing. They are generally ghost-written artifacts of public relations. Yet Andrew Ferguson finds that treating the campaign book as a genre, considering questions of authorship, theme, taste and tact, the books can shed light in dark corners. Reading books of the season by Joe Biden, John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, and Christopher Dodd, Ferguson has suffered for the revelations he has gained. Here, for example, is Ferguson on Joe Biden:

What does a discerning reader learn from Biden’s book that we didn’t already know? Perhaps not much, if you’re a regular watcher of C-SPAN or a longtime resident of Delaware. But there is something unforgettable about watching the man emerge on the page. His legendary self-regard becomes more impressive when the reader sees it in typescript, undistracted by the smile and the hair plugs. Biden quotes at great length from letters of recommendation he received as a young man, when far-sighted professors wrote movingly of his “sharp and incisive intellect” and his “highly developed sense of responsibility.” These qualities have proved to be more of a burden than you might think, Biden admits. “I’ve made life difficult for myself,” he writes, “by putting intellectual consistency and personal principle above expediency.”

And Ferguson is just getting warmed up. His essay offers much more on Biden and the others, including a devastating consideration of It Takes a Village. Ferguson’s present essay needs only to be supplemented by his “The literary Obama” of this past February. Taken together, the two essays make a signal contribution to understanding the candidates, as well as to American political humor.
Ferguson’s two essays unfortunately lack any comparable consideration of John McCain’s campaign books. With Ferguson’s example in mind I hope to offer a reading of McCain’s Faith of My Fathers in the next week.


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