What It Takes: The Way to the White House

What It Takes: The Way to the White House - Richard Ben Cramer A magnificent, mammoth book of the 1988 presidential election that is as exhausting as it feels exhaustive. Following two of the race's Republicans (Bush and Dole) and four of its Democrats (Biden, Dukakis, Hart, and Gephardt), Cramer's book moves like a living beast from elections and events both past and present, from defining tragedy to personal triumph back down to popular failure. Evoking the accessible, stylistic journalism of Tom Wolfe, "What It Takes" removes any shine on the truths defining Presidential elections: The People are nobly minded but senselessly driven to push candidates to inhuman extremes of articulation, experience, exhaustion, and tolerance, and those candidates who survive to see the other side are often the worst of the presidential bunch -- runts that squeaked through the machinery of The Process to capitalize in the end game on a turn of phrase or slanted portrayal. For our time, the book offers fascinating fore-glances at contemporary players like George W. Bush and Joseph Biden, while rewriting some of the portrayals popularly discarded figures like Hart and Dole have received. (Jessie Jackson appears only briefly in "What It takes," but begs more attention as the Democratic candidate who attempts to go the distance -- to the convention floor -- against Dukakis -- A scene recently replayed in 2008 between H. Clinton and Obama.) I came away from this book with larger respect for players like Dole, Biden, and Hart, while utterly depressed by the successes of Dukakis and Bush, but the greatest loss is, of course, in the process itself: a grueling, digestive mindfuck that surgically swaps ego for substance and entrenchment for endurance. You gain the knowledge that there is probably no experience on the planet like running for America's president, and that so very, very few are up for the job -- not necessarily including all those who make it. This is the book to toll the beginning of the end to the American Century, for a country grown so large it can only eat itself alive.