Want to be president? Write a book

George W. Bush had no intention of writing a book.

After all, the Texas governor spent months unsure (at least publicly) that he even wanted to try for the Oval Office. But now he's running, full steam ahead - and a memoir of sorts is in the works.

More precisely, his communications director has gone underground these past few weeks to whip Mr. Bush's story into shape. At least three other, unauthorized, Bush biographies will be heading to bookstores soon, and Bush "wanted to make sure there was at least one [book] that told the story in his words," says Mindy Tucker, campaign press secretary.

In the modern political era, writing a book about yourself as you launch your presidential campaign has become almost de rigueur. Indeed, the sound of forests falling and printing presses gearing up is another sign that this presidential campaign season has truly started.

This year's stack includes offerings from Steve Forbes, Pat Buchanan, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, and Gary Bauer. John Kasich's book, "Courage is Contagious" - echoing President Kennedy's "Profiles in Courage" - lives on, though his campaign doesn't. Other candidates, such as Vice President Al Gore, former Sen. Bill Bradley, and Elizabeth Dole, can probably get away with not writing a book, considering each has already produced at least one. "Most campaign books don't matter, because nobody reads them," says Mike Murphy, a GOP communications consultant. "You can buy 'em by the tons."

Still, the public can take some comfort in knowing these books are out there, permanent and tangible objects that show these wannabe leaders of the free world have enough to say to fill a volume.

For Bush, that may be an especially important part of the calculation. "He prides himself on having been a C student, and now he can show us that he can write a book," says presidential historian Robert Dallek. "He needs to show that he's got some gravitas - he's said this himself."

Tentatively called "A Charge to Keep," the book will lay out "little snapshots of decisions he's made and things he's experienced in his life that show who he is," says Ms. Tucker.

Regardless of how compelling the Bush book is, it is likely to be fairly widely read, at least among political junkies, since the Texas governor actually has a shot at being elected the next president of the United States.

Another important exception to the "nobody reads 'em" rule is the new book by Senator McCain, a Republican presidential candidate. Called "Faith of My Fathers," the book's saving grace is that it says nothing about Mr. McCain's "vision" for America. It is a family memoir, the story of his grandfather and father (both four-star admirals in the US Navy), and of McCain himself, who survived 5-1/2 years of imprisonment in Vietnam.

McCain insists he started the book project before he had any serious notion of running for president. In fact, he said recently, if he had known he was going to run for president, he might have left certain things out.

"I might not have mentioned some of my social life, particularly when I was a Navy pilot," McCain said. "I've had a rich and full life, and I'm very happy that I had those experiences," he added, an unusual aside for a politician, most of whom typically express public regret for having had rich and full lives.

But not to sound too disingenuous, he concedes he hopes the book, selling briskly on and drawing lines at his book-signings, helps his campaign.

In a way, at this early point in the campaign - when voters are more inclined to judge a candidate based on vague impressions than anything else - McCain has crafted the perfect campaign book. It adds more flesh to his public image as awar hero, rather than describing his policy positions. "It recommends his character and leadership for the presidency," says Mr. Dallek. "It's a rather shrewd and more subtle way of producing a campaign biography."

Then there's the reverse approach: the celebrities who publish books that fuel speculation they'll run for president. Donald Trump is on the verge of releasing his latest book, "The America We Deserve," and entertaining the possibility of running for president under the Reform Party banner. "One of the reasons he has a book coming out ... is because a lot of people have questions about where Donald Trump stands on the major issues of the day," Trump adviser Roger Stone said on television recently.

Mr. Stone maintains that Mr. Trump started working on the book long before the idea of running for president came along.

Check local listings for the book-signing near you.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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