The unbearable awfulness of campaign lit: we read seven 2016 presidential wannabes' books so you don't have to.

Author:Garvin, Glenn
Position::Culture and Reviews - Book review
 
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One Nation: What We Can All Do to Save America's Future, by Ben Carson, Sentinel, 225 pages, $25.95

Hard Choices: A Memoir, by Hillary Rodham Clinton, Simon & Schuster, 635pages, $29.99

Rising to the Challenge: My Leadership Journey, by Carly Fiorina, Sentinel, 198 pages, $26.95

God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy, by Mike Hucka-bee, St. Martin's, 258pages, $26.99

American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone, by Marco Rubio, Sentinel, 212 pages, $27.95

Blue Collar Conservatives: Recommitting to an America That Works, by Rick Santorum, Regn-ery, 216 pages, $27.99

Unintimidated: A Governor's Story and a Nation's Challenge, by Scott Walker with Marc Thiessen, Sentinel, 282 pages, $16

SAY WHAT YOU WILL about the 2016 presidential race, but the candidates are almost twice as good as those in the 2008 election. This is an objective fact, which I established using the pioneering methodology of essayist Paul Greenberg, who added up the prices of all the 2008 campaign autobiographies and then divided by the total number of pages. That yielded an average value of about a nickel a page. I did the same thing with the seven 2016 autobiographies published so far and calculated that they're going for about nine cents a page. It's morning in America!

Having read--God help me--precisely 2,026 pages of this stuff, I can tell you that no sane person would pay nine cents a page for it. But more surprising than the price it commands is that the genre exists at all. In an age when even the old and much-despised 30-second TV soundbite is considered windy, when all political thought must fit into die confines of a 140-character tweet, it seems quixotic and even mildly deranged that candidates spend time committing tens of thousands of words onto the corpses of slaughtered trees. Even Carly Fiorina's Rising to the Challenge, with barely I88 pages of wide margins and big type when you subtract out the index and acknowledgements, weighs in at around 46,000 words.

Campaign books are not even that long-established a tradition. The first one, so far as anybody can tell, was John F. Kennedy's Profiles in Courage, a collection of short and in some cases historically dubious political biographies, published in 1957 with an obvious eye to the 1960 presidential election. The whole genre fell into instant disrepute when Kennedy's claim to have written the book himself was widely challenged--a challenge that turned out to be correct when, 50 years later, Kennedy speechwriterTed Sorensen admitted he was the actual author. (Technically, he merely said that he "helped choose the words of many of its sentences.")

With the notable exception of Barry Goldwater's Conscience of a Conservative (actually written by National Review's Brent Bozell; Goldwater is said to have leafed through it for about 10 minutes before agreeing it could go out under his name), no other campaign autobiography has ever again attracted readers or critical attention in any significant way.

So what's the use of these books? National Journal, in an essay earlier this year titled "Soapbox Lit," generously suggested that the act of producing such a book helps a candidate and his advisors to think through issues thoroughly. I personally prefer the explanation of the University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, who infelicitously draws a parallel to China's Great Cultural Revolution: "True believers want a little red book to wave in the air while they chant the name of their chosen leader." (That should answer your question about why every political reporter in America talks to Sabato but he never gets invited to moderate a campaign debate.) As the Chinese Communists used to say, "Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend." Or, if you prefer, "have fewer children; raise more pigs."

About the best that can be said for these books is that they give us a glimpse of the general parameters of the 2016 campaign. (Or at least the planned parameters. John McCain never expected to spend the last eight weeks of his 2008 race talking about banking bailouts.) The GOP will be hammering away on the dysfunctional economy; that's the backbone of every Republican book. Although God appears early and often in each of their works, they--with the major exception of Mike Huckabee--seem to be largely holding their fire on social issues. Even the commentary on gay marriage is mostly restricted to deploring any economic bullying of those who oppose it.

Their comments on foreign policy are generally expressed as a vague afterthought that Obama is some kind of a wimp, a strange criticism of a president who went to war in Libya, tried to go to war in Syria, tried to back into one he'd left in Iraq, and still hasn't extricated himself from one in Afghanistan. (Caveat: As this review goes to press, planned autobiographies by Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have yet to appear, though The U.S....

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