Monday, April 1, 2013

Books of the 2016 candidates, part 2

Time to continue our march through each of the potential 2016 candidates' respective memoirs and the hundreds of pages they've written about themselves.

Last week, we looked at Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Condoleezza Rice, Jeb Bush, and Deval Patrick (click here to read).

This week, we'll kick things off with the front-runner for everything -- Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton (D)

Book title: Living History

Published: June 2003

Advance: $8 million.

New York Times Bestseller List: After one week, it became the fastest selling nonfiction book in history.

Upshot: She writes with a distinct eye toward running for president (which she later would). As Ron Brownstein says, "it is as much a political as a literary document" that nevertheless stands as a "surprisingly engaging and, at points, even compelling book."

Having said that, reviewers tended to approach the book quite cynically (see list below), and chafed at her emotional reserve in briefly dealing with her husband's affairs. But do you really blame her? Who'd want to write about and revisit that?

Other than that, critics dinged her for being a bit long, a bit tedious, a bit cautious, and too guarded for a memoir. The truth is that we might not get a searingly raw memoir from her until her presidential aspirations are over, and even then, Hillary just doesn't do searingly raw.

Interesting facts:

a. She was president of her high school's Fabian fan club (incidentally, when Fabian found out about it in 2009, he was thrilled: "She's got bigger balls than most men out there.").

b. Why she stuck with Bill Clinton after Lewinsky: "As his wife, I wanted to wring Bill's neck. But he was not only my husband, he was also my president."

c. She used three ghostwriters to pen the book.

d. Her dad was a deeply Republican businessmanher mom was a closet Democrat.

e. During Barry Goldwater's bid for president, she was a "Goldwater girl" and wore a "Goldwater cowgirl outfit."

f She got Bill Clinton to attend a yoga class on the condition she not tell anyone about it.

g. She rejects the notion that a woman has to either be a feminist or a traditionalist: "Gender stereotypes trap women by categorizing them in ways that don't reflect the true complexities of their lives."

h. She called a Stevie Wonder, Elton John duo a "truly great Anglo-American alliance."

i. The day Bill told her Monica wasn't lying: Hillary woke up to find Bill pacing back and forth in the room. He fessed up to the affair, called it "brief and sporadic", and  Hillary started crying and yelling, "I could hardly breathe", she writes.

j. Dick Morris, who did substantial consulting work for Bill Clinton, has the "people skills of a porcupine," Hillary writes.

k. Hillary only mentions Gennifer Flowers' name once.

l. Chelsea Clinton was named after Joni Mitchell's "Chelsea Morning."

m. Her depression-era dad instilled in her a deep contempt for personal waste: "To this day, I put uneaten olives back in the jar, wrap up the tiniest pieces of cheese and feel guilty when I throw anything away."

n. She admits that Bill Clinton's grandiloquent speech at the 1988 DNC convention was a "fiasco" and "a humiliating introduction to the nation."

o. Of her hubby, she writes: "Even after all these years, he is still the most interesting, energizing and fully alive person I have ever met?" (Question -- has she ever met Steve Ballmer?).

p. After growing up conservative, she moved to the Left and volunteered for Eugene McCarthy's failed primary challenge to LBJ.

Good book reviews:

Maureen Dowd for The New York Times.
John Homans for New York Magazine.
P.J. O'Rourke for The Weekly Standard.
Elaine Showalter for The Guardian.
Tina Jordan for Entertainment Weekly.
Ron Brownstein for The LA Times.
Morgan Meis for The Smart Set.

Sample sentence (pg 1): "I wasn't born a First Lady or a Senator. I wasn't born a Democrat.... I wasn't born a wife and mother."

Same sentence if Charlie Crist had been the ghostwriter: "I was born a Democrat, I was born a wife, I was born a mother, I was born a Puerto Rican, I was born a Cuban, I was born in the 1-4 Corridor and in South Miami. I was born again, I was born Jewish."

Same sentence if Jack Kerouac had been the ghostwriter: "I wasn't born, wait, I was, nevermind. Yeah, I was born, and I then grew up and, gummy bears, yeah. Oh, the garbage man just drove by me. I think I'll have some lunch once the rumbly-little-tummy starts up. The sun is hot, and, let's see, gotta do this, gotta do that, yup, pretty much just typing whatever comes into my head now."

Same sentence if Jane Austen had been the ghostwriter: "I was born and had 17 siblings. All of them were sisters. They all want to go to a ball, dance, and get married. For my 18th book, I might go in a different direction. Maybe turn Colin Firth into a serial killing clown."

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R)

Title: Can't is not an option: My American Story

Published: April 2012

NY Times bestseller list: Failed to crack the Top 35.

Upshot: Her story of growing up Indian in a small South Carolina town is loaded with poignant anecdotes, and her rise to governor of that state is an unquestioned tale of grit, determination and talent -- a "quintessential story."  But she uses portions of the book to settle scores in much the pugilistic way that's marked her term as governor. Nevertheless, the book is a reflection of her talent and ambition.

Interesting facts:

a. As a child of the only Indian family in her small South Carolina town (1969), Haley frequently had other kids come up and directly ask her: "Are you white or are you black?"

b. Her dad, who is Sikh, wore a turban everyplace he went, and Haley remembers -- from her earliest years -- the staring and whispering they'd get everywhere they went. It made her sad; then years later, angry.

c. When her Indian family first emigrated to the small South Carolina town, no one would rent to them, so they had to buy a house. Even worse? They couldn't host African-Americans in their house.

Nowadays? The town proudly boasts two signs upon visitors' arrival: "Welcome to Bamberg....home of Nikki Haley."

d. Her parents tried to scuttle Haley's relationship with her boyfriend after finding out he wasn't Indian. She eventually married him.

e. Sarah Palin's game-changing endorsement in her primary battle thrilled her: "We got a little silly for awhile. We were all jumping up and down."

f. After allegations of infidelity suspiciously popped up in the campaign's closing days, Palin called Haley and  immediately offered assurances that she still supported and believed in her. But that instant support didn't come from Romney's camp. "Mitt's team said they were going to have a "Nikki Haley meeting' the next morning to decide what to do next." (Btw, what a telling anecdote about the fundamental difference between Palin and Romney as politicians).

g. She has a fondness for Joan Jett and Black Eyed Peas.

h. She dwells a good bit on Mark Sanford's affair. Why? Because he endorsed her early on, which was an enormous benefit that soon became an enormous pain after news of his affair broke.

i. She and Palin bonded as they campaigned together for Haley's gubernatorial bid: "There was not one thing about her that was high maintenance."

j. She converted to Christianity after dating her future husband for awhile: "The teaching of Christ spoke to me in a way that I could understand."

k. She started keeping the family business' accounts when she was just 13 years-old (not surprisingly, she became an accountant later in life).

l. How improbable is it that she became governor? South Carolina's state senate is 100% white, male.

Good book reviews:

Lauren Weiner for The Washington Times.
MJ Lee for Politico.
Jesse Gordon for
Susan Page for USA Today.

Sample sentence (pg 1): "We are all, to one degree or another, reflections of our parents."

Sample sentence if Nero's Dad had written the book: "We are not reflections of our parents. And, anyway, I could never even play a fiddle."

Sample sentence if Albert Einstein's Dad had written the book: "When we taught Little Al the alphabet, we tried something different and started out with E, M, C, and A squared. It was his mother and mine's decision."

Vice-President Joe Biden (D)

Book title: Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics

Published: July 2007

New York Times bestseller list: It debuted at #6 in nonfiction, hardcover.

Interesting Facts:

a. He took the title from a Robert Frost poem: "I have promises to keep/and miles to go before I sleep/and miles to go before I sleep."

b. His highschool classmates called him "Joe Impedimenta", because he famously had a stutter growing up. "There were times I thought it was the end of the world, my impedimenta," he writes.

But "that impediment ended up being a godsend for me. Carrying it strengthened me and made me a better person."

c. When his wife and daughter died in a car accident (he was 30 years-old), he said he finally realized how, to some people, suicide couldn't seem just an option but actually a "rational option."

d. He's always been pro-choice, but has also always opposed federal funding for abortion: "I think the government should stay out completely."

e. Calls the Iraq war a "neocon fantasy."

f. In 1972 -- at the age of 30 -- he became the second youngest senator ever elected (did it by just 3,000 votes!).

g. Jill, who would become his second wife, only agreed to marry him after five proposals, and only after he'd proven he could give up his Senate career for him. How'd he do it? He got on the phone to call a political reporter to say he wouldn't run again for Senate, and Jill cut off his phone call, and said he couldn't give up his dream.

h. He kind of takes credit for getting George W. Bush to return to Washington after 9/11! On a phone call, he told Bush, "Mr. President, come back to Washington."

i. He also kind of takes credit for giving Clinton the courage to bomb Serbia, and gave Clinton a pep talk when it wasn't clear the bombing would succeed.

Good book reviews:

Gail Russell Chaddock for The Christian Science Monitor.
Jesse Benton for OnTheIssues.

Classic Biden sample sentence: (pg 19): "As a United States senator, I've watched (and played some small part in) history: the Vietnam War, Watergate, the Iran hostage crisis, the Bork nomination, the fall of the Berlin wall, the reunification of Germany, the disintegration of the Soviet Union, 9/11, two wars in Iraq, a presidential impeachment, a presidential resignation, and a presidential election decided by the Supreme Court. I have been in war zones across the world...."

Same sentence written by anyone else: "We've all had our share of life experiences."

Ohio Gov John Kasich (R)

Title: Every Other Monday: Twenty Years of Life, Lunch, Faith, and Friendship

Published: January 2010

New York Times bestseller list: Failed to crack the top 35.

Upshot: Kasich has written a few books (Stand for Something: The Battle for America's Soul and Courage is Contagious), but this is the closest he comes to a memoir. It's an account of a men's Bible study group that he's been attending for over twenty years -- one that's tackled just about every existential question that twenty years can produce.

But even though the topic is weighty (theodicy, sometimes), he doesn't do a theological deep dive; instead, it's more of an organic look at what a men's Bible study at a restaurant is like.

One thing to note? Kasich recently decided to expand Medicaid in Ohio -- a move that upset national conservatives. Kasich fought back against the criticism by claiming expansion was the Christian thing to do.

"I've got to tell you, I can't look at the disabled, I can't look at the poor, I can't look at the mentally ill, I can't look at the addicted and think we ought to ignore them."

Interesting facts:

a. Kasich grew up Catholic, but never paid it much attention until his parents were killed by a drunk driver in a car crash. That prompted a search that led him to Anglicanism, and at the repeated prodding of some friends, he finally jointed the study.

b. The book deals a lot with the question of why God allows bad things to happen, and even though it might sound like you're in store for a deep, philosophical discussion, it doesn't get too far beyond the basic question (Read some excerpts here).

c. He describes the Bible study group of eight men, thusly: "We're just normal guys, regular slobs. It's like that Joan Osborne song where she asks, 'What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us'. That's us, just a bunch of slobs, trying to make our way home like the song says.

d. When the House Banking Scandal broke, "30 to 40 people" embroiled in the controversy started coming to the Bible study, which cracked Kasich up, considering they seemed to be "scrambling for whatever good-luck charms they could stuff into their pockets."

e. He's not strictly denominational, but goes to an Anglican church, "because I want to get Communion every Sunday."

f. When he anchored a weekend show on Fox News, his study group members challenged him on his attitude. "That was always such a big thing with you, John. Did you win the rating? Were you #1?"

g. He's referred to his group-mates as "first responders in each other's lives."

Good book reviews:

Jesse Gordon for OnTheIssues.

Sample sentence: (pg 2 ): "Look, we're all unique, right?"

Same sentence if it were written by Apple: "Half the people in the world think they're unique because they use our products. You wanna really know what's unique? Sitting on $40 billion in cash overseas. Try doing that at a music festival."

Same sentence if it were written by Maroon 5's Adam Levine: "Every one of our songs is unique. You have these different chords -- G, C, D -- and you can mix them up by playing them faster or slower."

Next week? Part III (You can read Part I here).