Paying Attention: It’s an election year and we’ve never seen one quite as unpredictable or contentious. Under the circumstances, it’s a good idea to have a solid frame of reference for the way these things (used to) work. Below: six of the best books ever written on the American Presidential process. You should read each and every one of them for background.
Theodore White’s classic on the election of John F. Kennedy to the American Presidency in 1960. White wrote more books in this series, but this is considered his masterwork and it re-set the parameters for political coverage, using detail and process as a way to define a candidate and his campaign. Even if you’ve read before, now is a great time to read it again.
Maureen Dowd’s scathing collection of columns and pieces on the Presidency of George W. Bush. The tone is sharp, the points exceptionally well-made, and the insight incalculable. Don’t believe in dynastic presidencies? Here’s your textbook on reasons why.
Joseph Napolitan was the first “political consultant”. The man who turned running an election campaign into a profession literally wrote the textbook on how to win. The times and media have changed but the tactics remained pretty much the same–until Trump came along. Napolitan died two years ago in December…..which is our loss. I, for one, would have loved to have his thoughts on the 2016 election.
Timothy Crouse’s brilliant coverage of the reporters who covered the 1972 Presidential Campaign. In the book, Crouse laid bare the world of “pack journalism”, which means precisely what the name implies: coverage is very often a form of “group think” and consequently, there is lots of convergence on what is presented as the “news” of a campaign. And, a surprising (for that era) lack of nerve on the part of the media to run with a story that is out of the mainstream coverage. In an era in which “the Media” is accused of being too much involved in modern campaigns, it’s not a bad idea to see how media actually has to work to cover a campaign.
Hunter S. Thompson followed up Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas with this written-on-the-fly political gem which covered the 1972 campaign. The book represents real-time writing at its most real and is stream of consciousness raised to high art (emphasis on high). It is required reading for any political junkie. Anyone expecting any kind of restraint from Thompson will be exceptionally disappointed; those expecting both barrels, all the time, will be delighted. I rank it Thompson’s very best work because of the subject matter, the rawness of the prose, and the speed with which it had to be generated (he was making deadlines for Rolling Stone magazine throughout the process). Not to be missed. Too bad Thompson’s not around to cover the 2016 campaign…oh my, what fun he would have.
Richard Ben Cramer’s book on the presidential campaign that pitted establishment fav George H.W. Bush (Bush 41) against Bill Clinton, the new kid on the block. By the time Bush figured out what was happening, Clinton had already driven past him in the fast lane. Exhaustively researched and beautifully written, it is an American Presidential Classic that is, perhaps, not quite as well-known and well-read as it should be. Richard Ben Cramer was a Pulitzer Prizer winner and it shows. Do not miss.