Friday, August 24, 2012

Once Every Four Years

by Frank Boles

Among its many holdings, the Clarke Library has an extensive collection of presidential campaign biographies. Originally founded by the graduating class of 1967, in practice the presidential campaign collection means that once every four years, we gather the serious, less than serious, and sometimes clearly outrageous publications that purport to share with voters the story of the nation’s presidential candidates.

The publication of presidential campaign biographies for this election cycle actually began in 2010 and 2011. Although their candidacies may have evaporated like dew on the morning grass, nevertheless the Clarke obtained copies of books authored by virtually all of the Republican presidential hopefuls. Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, and Rick Perry, (whose book was published a bit earlier than most and, in an odd twist of fate, is introduced by Newt Gingrich) are all found in our catalog.

During the fast moving primary season, authors had little time to focus on “opposition” books regarding Republican hopefuls. But as spring turned to summer and the campaign narrowed, authors began to take aim at the two remaining candidates. Republican authors attacked President Obama’s record with titles such as, The Case Against Barack Obama, Obama’s America: Unmaking the American Dream, and The Amateur. As is traditional when an incumbent president is seeking re-election, the challenger has faced fewer book length critiques, although some have been published, like The Romney Files.

But if Mitt Romney’s political record has not been scrutinized by authors as closely as that of the incumbent president, Romney’s Mormon faith has generated an interesting number of books which suggest a subtext to the election that has gone largely unreported. Books like, The Mormon Faith of Mitt Romney or Could I Vote for A Mormon for President? focus attention on a candidate’s faith in a way that has not been seen since 1960, when John Kennedy’s Catholic faith was the subject of many publications, such as A Roman Catholic in the White House.

As in 1960, the volume’s sometimes draw the conclusion that religious belief can make an individual unsuitable for the presidency. Titles such as Can Mitt Romney Serve Two Masters?: the Mormon Church versus the Office of the Presidency of the United States of America clearly fall into this category. In a sidebar, a few books on the topic of a potential Mormon president appeared in 1968 when Mitt Romney’s father and Michigan’s then governor, George Romney, offered himself as a Republican presidential hopeful. The 1968 literature, however, was short-lived, reflecting George Romney’s short-lived candidacy. In 2012, it seems the discussion will be carried out at much greater length.

And finally there are the books with titles so outrageous that the author voluntarily surrenders any pretense to objective analysis. That’s a Crock Barack is not a title designed to attract those seeking carefully reasoned criticism of the Obama presidency. But this title seems generous when compared to, Why Mitt Romney is Going to Hell, which moves beyond contemporary politics to render eternal condemnation.

Whoever the voters select on the first Tuesday in November to lead the nation, part of the presidential campaign history will be found here, in the Clarke Library, as we carry forward the gift from the Class of ’64.