October 25, 2014


For The Midterm Elections, A Book On 'What It Takes' To Win (MICHAEL SCHAUB, October 24, 2014, NPR)

Even in its best moments, running for office is a roller coaster. Who are these people who are willing to put themselves and their families through constant scrutiny by the press, blistering attacks from their opponents, and hateful comments from Internet trolls?

There's no easy answer to that question, but in his book What It Takes, the late Richard Ben Cramer came closer to finding out than just about anybody before or since. Cramer followed the Republican and Democratic candidates for the presidency in 1988, and chronicled what it was like for politicians to run the cruel and unforgiving gauntlet that is the American election system. Cramer writes, "I wanted to know enough about these people to see ... once they decided to run, and marched (or slid, or flung themselves headlong) into this semi-rational, all-consuming quest ... what happened to those lives ... to the lives they shared? What happened to their idea of themselves?"

Calling What It Takes exhaustive would be a massive understatement. The book is over 1,000 pages long, and Cramer takes a hard look at what made these presidential hopefuls tick. Although the election was 26 years ago, there are, of course, familiar faces. There's George H. W. Bush, whose grandson George P. Bush is in the running for Texas Land Commissioner this November. And there's Joe Biden, just as passionate and glad-handing in 1988 as he is today.

Cramer, who died last year, was more of a gonzo reporter than a Beltway pundit, and his writing style had echoes of Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson. That's part of what makes What It Takes so illuminating -- he focused on the people behind the public personas.

At the moment when the campaign season is reaching its lowest ebb (can I just watch sports on tv without hearing how awful everyone running for office is at every commercial break?), it's worth reminding ourselves what a glorious process it is and how much these candidates go through just to get an opportunity to serve us.

Posted by at October 25, 2014 7:07 AM

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