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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Leaders seeking readers

Mark Lawson meditates in The Guardian that with candidates posting videos on YouTube and Barack Obama pledging to tell supporters his vice-presidential choice by text, Campaign 2008 has been a new-tech election. But one piece of old technology has proved an unexpectedly powerful player: the book.

Obama is the first candidate to have had two bestselling books - not manifestos, but memoirs, which he seems to have written himself - before even gaining the nomination. Unfortunately, the phenomenon has proved to have a nasty aftermath. Currently the top non-fiction slot he held is filled by Obama Nation, a title that is meant to be spat out fast, sounding like"Abomination".

In Britain, the busy schedule of a prime minister has not prevented Gordon Brown from a rate of publication that would have impressed Agatha Christie - Wartime Courage: Stories of Extraordinary Bravery in World War II, due in the autumn, is his third book in little over a year, a successor to Courage: Eight Portraits, and Britain's Everyday Heroes.

As Lawson pithily comments, the fact that Brown has chosen to publish an entire trilogy about guts and courage is typical of this new brand of political literature. John F Kennedy's Portraits in Courage - calculated to establish cold warrior credentials before the 1960 race - remains the model for leaders in search of readers, even though it is now established that JFK did not actually set pen to paper.

McCain has just put out his own effort to entice Soldier of Fortune-reading voters -- Hard Call: Courageous Decisions by Inspiring People: Heroes Who Made Tough Decisions.

Grubby as the ploy might be, it is curiously touching that aspirants to power should wish to garnish their campaigns with nothing less than a good oldfashioned book.

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