Disgraced former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich has traded his job in the kitchen at the federal prison in suburban Denver for a gig in the joint's library. Blago, who is serving a 14-year sentence for felony corruption conviction was apparently bored out of his mind as a scullery maid washing pots and pans. According to his former lawyer, Blago has also been trying to stave off boredom by reading biographies of former presidents. Perhaps dreaming of what might have been...
How informed are voters? So informed that two dead men were re-elected last Tuesday. Unfortunately, they will not actually be able to take their respective offices and serve out their terms because they are... to repeat, dead.
Florida Democrat Earl Wood died on October 15th at the ripe old age of 96. At the time, he was campaigning for a 12th term as the tax collector for Orange County, an area that encompasses Orlando and environs. During the campaign, his opponent noted that Wood rarely came to the office while pocketing a salary of $150,000 and collecting a $90,000 pension. Nice work if you can get it, and apparently, in some locales, you can get it even if you die....
Meanwhile, in Bibb County, Alabama, Republican Charles Beasley, age 77, won his seat on the Bibb County Commission with 52 percent of the vote, despite being dead for almost a month.
Wow, think of how the losers must feel... It's one thing to lose to a living, breathing opponent, but to be beaten by a corpse...
Maybe you're like poor little Abby...
Or maybe you're not...in which case, if you'd like to continue to get your political freak on after this election is over in 3 days (on the other hand, is the campaign ever really over???), but I digress... If you believe that the race for president used to be a kinder, gentler process... have I got some books for you!
Let's start with an intriguing read about the very first presidential campaign...
A Magnificent Catastrophe: the tumultuous
election of 1800, America's first presidential
Edward Larsen (Free Press, 2007)
Here's a vivid retelling of the presidential election campaign between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson that brings the fierce rivalry that was called "America's Second Revolution" to brawny, brawling life and reveals the pivotal roles played by Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. The bitter infighting and the sophisticated political jockeying of 1800 put paid to the notion that America would be governed by enlightened consensus. Instead, it resulted in the two-party system we know today. Readers will find a plethoria of similarities between the intense electioneering of THEN, and the heated political races of NOW.
(Same as it ever was...)
Leaping ahead almost 100 years...
Realigning America: McKinley, Bryan, and the Remarkable Election of 1896
R. Hal Williams (University of Kansas Press, 2010)
The presidential election of 1896 is widely regarded as one of the few that brought about fundamental changes and realignments in American politics. New voting patterns emerged, a new majority party seized power, and national policies underwent a paradigm shift to reflect new realities. The monumental struggle between Republican William McKinley and Democrat William Jennings Bryan set new standards in financing, organization, and accountability. Back then, the Republicans were the party of central government, national authority, sound money (think: the gold standard), and activism, while the Democrats preached state's rights, decentralization, inflation, and limited government (and the silver standard). (Say what????!!! I know, you have to read it to believe it!) It's also the campaign that birthed Bryan's stem-winder "Cross of Gold" speech. Williams paints a vivid portrait of down-and-dirty, two-fisted politics when the participants still wore waistcoats.
On the lighter side....
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the White House: humor, blunders, and other oddities from the presidential campaign trail
Charles Osgood (Hyperion, 2008)
You can always count on Charles Osgood to provide a good laugh while he enlightens. Here he presents a treasury of anecdotes from presidential campaigns over the past seventy years. You'll find lighthearted speech excerpts, interviews, and press-conference quotes from the campaigns of such presidents as FDR, Truman, and JFK. Who could imagine the dour Bob Dole wise-cracking to reporters? But after a loss in the primary, he quipped: "I slept like a baby--every two hours I woke up and cried."
Campaign coverage... gonzo style:
Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72
Hunter S. Thompson (Warner Books, 2006)
Darkly humorous, off-beat, moody... to say the least. In this newer edition of the classic account of the dark, very dark, underbelly of American politics, the original "gonzo" political journalist presents his frankly subjective, very subjective, observations on the personalities and political machinations of the 1972 presidential campaign between Richard "Tricky Dick" Nixon and the straight-arrow George McGovern, who just passed away at the age of 90 on a few weeks ago.
Pair it with...
The Selling of the President
Joe McGinniss (Penguin, 1988)
McGinnis wormed his way into the inner sanctum of Richard Nixon's 1968 campaign for president. What he found was a nest of advertising technicians, ghost writers, P. R. experts, and pollsters who cynically plotted the re-branding of a loser into a winner and the clever packaging that sold America the most corrupt Presidency in its history.
You ever wonder what type of person actually thinks he (or she) is qualified to be President of the United States? Crack this one open...
What It Takes: the way to the White House
Richard Ben Cramer (Random House, 1992)
Talk about the audacity of hope? How do these people convince themselves that they have the right stuff to sit behind a desk in the Oval Office and trod the floor where Lincoln, Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower paced? (Okay, Roosevelt didn't pace, he wheeled.) Journalist Cramer chronicled the 1988 campaign and put the candidates -- Robert Dole, George H.W. Bush, Joseph Biden, Richard Gephardt, Gary Hart and Michael Dukakis -- under the microscope and on the analyst's couch to glean some insight into the qualities that lead to success or failure as a presidential candidate. Watch the candidates as they make their way through the primaries, fine-tuning stands on issues, struggling to retain their individuality while being hounded by ravenous journalists, pummeled and massaged by numerous handlers and browbeaten by their image wizards. Dukakis comes off as a humorless know-it-all (maybe it's a good thing he lost), while Bush the Elder emerges as a compulsive nice guy and witty, too, such as when he quips, "I deny that I have ever given my opinion to anybody about anything.''
The ability to read + the ability to vote (and actually doing so) = Freedom.
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