Books by presidential candidates on the couch

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 — in the author’s voice, use of language, stylistic tics and self-presentation — that provide some genuine glimpses of the personalities behind the public personas. In short, when candidates decide to publish, they can still run, but they can’t hide — at least not entirely.

And certainly not from Michiko Kakutani. All the main 2008 presidential contenders have written at least one book: it's a routine part of campaign strategy. In today's New York Times Kakutani does a lovely job of lightly deconstructing their books for clues about who they are, beyond the mythology they choose to deliver. Not just stories but personalities and world views are nailed by their style and structure -- content is just the beginning.

One more quote reminds us why politicians need writing skills. And before you mutter 'ghost writers', notice that the best journalists their money could buy did not succeed in homogenising the variegated flavours and intentions of these presidential writers. One way or the other, they wrote.

At the same time these candidates’ books remind us that the ability to construct a powerful narrative is an essential skill for a politician, for it confers the ability to articulate a coherent vision of the world, to make sense of history and to define the author — before he or she is defined by opponents and the news media.

The Politics of Prose, New York Times, 22 April 2007

Leave a comment: