Rebecca Lerner: Close reading our politicians' memoirs

Monday, October 5, 2015 - 4:34pm

Politics is increasingly a game of short words. Sound bites, slogans and even candidates’ names (think of all the posters for BernieHillary and Jeb) have been jettisoned to the bare minimum.

But with the political agenda abbreviated to 140 characters, the political memoir still finds a way into the hearts and hands of the American voter. In fact, for the last 60 years, every winning presidential candidate has published a book before running. These books often serve as a way for the presidential hopeful to transition into bonafide candidate.

In between the stories of childhood and anecdotes about parental wisdom, there is sometimes insight into policy views. We owe it to ourselves and each other to make an informed decision when voting, and that means looking at the information provided by the candidates. These books are a way of allowing a candidate to transcend being an annoying talking head with views that can differ drastically from your own. They remind us that underneath all the hairspray and suits, there are people with childhoods and families and dreams. It’s a way to find humanity in what can seem like a mechanical process. While looking through these memoirs, I found myself connecting to people with whom I would never guess I could find common ground.

One of the more surprisingly personal memoirs was Marco Rubio’s “American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone.” Rubio begins “American Dreams” with a poignant story of accompanying his grandfather to the hospital. As his grandfather slipped into a coma, a young Rubio promised to make something of himself. Quickly moving to present day, Rubio stresses several times the shared blame between Republicans and discusses his plans for initiatives like increasing access to federal student loans. He shares his opinions on subjects like same-sex marriage and the laughability of liberal arts degrees, subjects on which we disagree viscerally. But his political memoir may be a litmus test to help people determine if Rubio is worth considering.

Judging by the re-release of the 1997 “Outsider in the White House,” Bernie Sanders doesn’t seem to have changed his very liberal views. It’s unusual in a world where the word “flip-flop” is used so much, you’d think everyone in the House of Representatives was wearing inappropriate sandals. Sander’s key positions  — hatred of the one percent, a disinterest in campaigning and the contempt he holds for both major parties involved have been the main theme in his life and at least establishes consistency and genuine beliefs. “Outsider in the White House” proves Sanders to be unafraid to reveal himself in blunt and straightforward way.

In a very different approach, Hillary Clinton’s memoir “Hard Choices” is a fascinating look at her time as President Barack Obama’s Secretary of State. She shares with the reader the experiences she has had on her diplomatic travels and some of the difficulties she had during her time in office. The book shows how Secretary Clinton faced stressful situations with expertise and allows the reader to see her intellectual, diplomatic and professional authority. What we don’t see is a lot of emotional exposure. She is reticent to share her tales and personal stories, which makes sense considering her vulnerable position as a woman running for President. As with all political memoirs, we only see what the writers wants us to.

In contrast, Mike Huckabee’s recent memoir “God, Guns, Grits and Gravy” leaves little to the imagination. (Also, come on guys. Who taught Huckabee about alliteration? This one is on you.) With his startling chapter titles like “Bend over and take it like a prisoner!” and his concern that Jay-Z is “crossing the line from husband to pimp by exploiting his wife as a sex object,” Huckabee is difficult to take seriously.

But receiving first place of the category I call “Books I Find Difficult to Take Seriously” has not even been published. Donald Trump’s as-yet-untitled memoir is set to be released on October 27th. “Not since ‘The Art of the Deal’ have I had so much fun writing a book,” Trump announced in the release. Considering that 62 percent of Republicans feel that Trump “tells it like it is and we need that right now,” Trump continues to surprise, with both his brash statements and his high poll numbers, despite reports that the Republican Party would not support a Trump presidency. His book will be a chance to see if there are any plans for actual policy-making in a race where attention is paid not to the smart or the prepared, but to the bold.

There are roughly five other candidates with books out that I haven’t even mentioned, or quite honestly, cared to read – Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, Rand Paul, Ben Carson and Lindsey Graham. With a supply of political memoirs this abundant, it would be fantastical to imagine that there is a demand that meets it. And there isn’t. Some of the memoirs are more financially successful than others, (for example, Lindsey Graham’s memoir “My Story” was released for free online as a PDF), but the incentive for publishers is greater than just money. It’s the possibility of being the publisher of the memoir of the next President of the United States of America.