Potential Candidates Put Their Tomes in the Ring
There’s a tradition in national politics that a serious presidential candidate sooner or later will wrestle his views into orderly book form or write a different kind of book that reflects his serious purpose.
A familiar example is “Profiles in Courage,” published while author John F. Kennedy was in the Senate. His portraits of political leaders who took bold stands in the face of strong opposition earned Kennedy a Pulitzer Prize and revealed him as one who had thought deeply about the toughness required of those in public life.
As Jimmy Carter prepared to announce his candidacy in 1974, the little-known former Georgia governor was unable to interest publishers in a campaign autobiography until Broadman Press, an inspirational publisher in Nashville, agreed to take it on. “Why Not the Best?,” published in 1975, went on to sell nearly a million copies and helped ensure Carter’s election. As presidential scholar Douglas Brinkley recalls in the University of Arkansas Press’ reissued edition, “To a public still coming to terms with the Vietnam War and Watergate, Carter’s soothing memoir was a welcome affirmation of one candidate’s bedrock faith in old-fashioned public service based on duty, honor, competence and honesty.”
Bill Clinton co-wrote “Putting People First” with running mate Al Gore in 1992. The president later put his name alone on “Between Hope and History” (Times Books) as he was mounting his reelection campaign.
So if authorship of a book is a good indicator of presidential ambition, who may run in 2000?
Answer: Rep. John Kasich (R-Ohio), former Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.), former Republican Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, Sen. John Ashcroft (R-Mo.), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.).
Kasich and Bradley have new books in stores; Alexander and Ashcroft each had titles published in the spring, and McCain and Gephardt will have books out in the months ahead.
At the same time, reelected Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the much-touted subject of this week’s cover story in U.S. News & World Report (“Can Bush Save the GOP?”), is not writing a book. No surprise, considering Bush’s statements that he has put off any decision on a presidential race.
New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, who is mentioned as a possible running mate for Bush and has been the subject of four books already, also is not writing one.
If Bush or Whitman were to do one after all, they might be advised to start soon, because the next presidential race will be front-end-loaded, with the big California and New York primaries moved up to March 2000.
Gov. George Pataki, reelected by a wide margin last week and also mentioned as a possible Republican vice president, is ready. “Pataki: An Autobiography” was published in June by Viking.
“I don’t know if writing a book is a prerequisite for a presidential candidate, but it can be useful for these guys to have their views on paper,” said Peter Osnos, who published both Clinton volumes while at Times Books and will bring out Gephardt’s “An Even Better Place: America in the 21st Century” next spring at PublicAffairs. Osnos describes the latter book as an introduction to Gephardt and his positions on big issues.
McCain’s book, signed by Random House, will offer a detailed look at the senator’s background, but won’t go into his news-making push for campaign-finance reform and other political territory.
“No politics,” his spokesman said, explaining that it will be a family memoir that will recount the distinguished Navy careers of McCain’s father and grandfather, and the senator’s own military record, concluding with his return from captivity as a Vietnam prisoner of war. Certainly the latter chapter in McCain’s life is a harrowing story of heroism in an era searching for heroes.
Kasich, on the other hand, identifies courage in 20 altruistic individuals whose stories he tells in “Courage Is Courageous” (Doubleday), subtitled “Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things to Change the Face of America.” Kasich, chairman of the House Budget Committee, recalled during an author tour this week that he originally was approached by “a think tank that shall remain nameless” about writing a book on the budget.
“I told them I’d rather be tied to a tree outside my office and horsewhipped,” he said. “I wanted to write a book about people and in particular what obstacles people face. . . . I don’t want people to read this book through the lens of politics. I was greatly inspired and touched by these people I write about.”
Kasich has made it clearer than other hopefuls that he will run for president, if he can raise enough money (about $20 million) by next spring or summer. In the meantime, he writes in an introduction: “If we want a better America, we have to roll up our sleeves and make it happen.”
Is it any wonder that Doubleday compares Kasich’s book to “Profiles in Courage,” whose author asked people to consider what they could do for their country?
As for Bill Bradley, the Newark Star-Ledger reported on Page 1 last week that “those close to the former New Jersey senator are convinced he will be a presidential candidate and will say so soon.” His fourth book, “Values of the Game” (Artisan), like Kasich’s “Courage Is Contagious,” shares inspiring lessons learned outside politics. Bradley writes of teamwork, passion, discipline and other values impressed on him during his basketball days with the New York Knicks.
Ashcroft’s book is the inspirational “Lessons From a Father to His Son” (Thomas Nelson). Alexander, who introduced his 1996 campaign with “We Know What to Do” (Morrow), has modeled his new book, in tone and plaid-covered format, on H. Jackson Brown Jr.'s popular “Life’s Little Instruction Book” series. “Lamar Alexander’s Little Plaid Book,” also published by Rutledge Hill Press, offers such nuggets as: “Know from the first day of your campaign what you will do your first day in office.”
Publisher Steve Forbes, who sought the GOP nomination in 1996 and may do so again, has a paperback out from Regnery, “The Moral Basis of a Free Society,” a 56-page reprint of an article from the magazine Policy Review. He also is mulling another book idea, according to his spokeswoman.
Conservative Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), whose dozens of TV appearances during coverage of the Monica Lewinsky story gave rise to presidential assumptions, is not writing a book. However, his spokesman says that Lee Roderick’s “Leading the Charge” (Gold Leaf), a 1994 biography of the senator, is being updated with the lawmaker’s cooperation.
Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) had a good Election Day as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and has talked about running next year. He is said by a spokesman to have been working on a book for a while in his spare time.
His Senate colleague John Kerry (D-Mass.) showed his author’s hand last year when Simon & Schuster published “The New War,” his examination of international crime and how to combat it.
And what about Gore, the likeliest candidate? He has no known book-writing plans, judging from queries to his office and John Sterling, who has remained in touch since editing Gore’s “Earth in the Balance,” published by Houghton Mifflin in 1992. The forward-looking book on the environment received critical praise and became a national bestseller. Gore followed with a book timed to the 1996 campaign, “The Best Kept Secrets in Government,” which reviewed the Clinton administration’s bureaucratic reforms.
“He’s a perfectionist,” Sterling said. “Unless he imagined that he could put the time into it, he probably wouldn’t do another book.”
Paul D. Colford is a columnist for Newsday. His e-mail address is email@example.com. His column is published Wednesdays.