You can’t judge a book by its cover, but you may be able to judge a campaign by its book.
Political books, those god-awful, ghostwritten, self-aggrandizing publicity contraptions masquerading as books are usually, well, awful. The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein calls them "autohagiography," since most politicians are about as close to being saintly as Thaddeus McCotter is to winning the GOP nomination.
“These books are autohagiography,” writes Mr. Klein. “[T]hey have to appeal to everyone, exalt the author (or supposed author), and offend no one. That’s basically impossible. So they throw the need to be appealing overboard and instead settle for boring.”
Take former Minnesota governor (and now former GOP presidential candidate) Tim Pawlenty’s recent book, “Courage to Stand,” as Klein suggests. In the following passage, Pawlenty describes meeting Ronald Reagan (well, sort of):
“I didn’t have a chance to interact with him, but it was meaningful to me just to be in his presence.... What struck me most as President Reagan spoke to that crowd was his smile. He seemed genuinely happy and joyful and pleasant.”
Genuinely dull. Boring. Uninspired. A flop. Kind of, sadly, like Pawlenty’s campaign, which crashed this weekend before it even took off.
“Pawlenty’s attacks are fairly limited,” Politifact writes about T-Paw’s tome. “[H]is book is hardly the full-throated attack on a political opponent like Romney’s 'No Apology' was. It’s not a law professor-ish primer on policy positions, either, like Barack Obama’s 'The Audacity of Hope.' And it doesn’t have the campaign trail scoops and score-settling digs of Sarah Palin’s 'Going Rogue.' ”
He’s no Romney. Certainly not Obama. Not even Palin. Sounds like Pawlenty.
“I tried to read former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty’s ‘Courage to Stand,’ book,” writes Klein, “which was perhaps the worst book I ever read in my life.”
Pawlenty became the first GOP hopeful to bow out when he exited the race this past weekend. If we had read his book, we might have seen it coming.
Meanwhile, a new cowboy – er, candidate – has entered the ring, toting his own political book. Incredibly, according to some reviews, it’s not half-bad, either.
“ 'Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington,' ” is Perry’s 240-page manifesto on turning America around, Perry-style. (Ironically, the book’s forward is written by Newt Gingrich, now Perry’s rival in the GOP nominating race.)
In a column titled “Rick Perry’s book is good. Really,” the Washington Post’s Klein writes, “Campaign books are terrible. I know that... Any campaign book, that is, except Rick Perry’s ‘Fed Up.’ This is not a boring book. More to the point, it’s not even a book about Rick Perry. It’s a book about Rick Perry’s ideas. And his big idea is that most everything the federal government does is unconstitutional.”
As Klein suggests, Perry’s book is essentially about the Tenth Amendment, the one that states “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
And unlike Pawlenty, Perry takes a stand. A pretty radical, one in fact.
He thinks Congress and the federal government should butt out of regulating the environment. And regulating guns. And protecting civil rights. And Medicare and Medicaid. And minimum wage laws. And labor laws. And education.
States, Perry thinks, are simply more capable at solving problems, than the federal government. “Most problems get better solutions when they’re solved at the local level,” he writes.
To his credit, Perry stands by his bold proposal.
In a November 2010 interview with NPR, he offers a state-led solution to the healthcare crisis.
Rather than forcing people to buy health insurance from a "Washington-devised program," he said on the show, states should be allowed to compete to devise the best programs.
"You let California, New Mexico, New York, Texas and Florida compete against one another, and they'll be laboratories of innovation," Perry said in the interview. "They will come up with the best way to deliver health care."
And in a fall 2010 interview with Newsweek, he didn’t budge when Newsweek’s Andrew Romano pressed him to explain how programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security would work without federal government involvement.
“I think the states are the ones who should be making the decision on whether or not they want to be spending their dollars on those types of programs – not having it made in Washington, D.C.” Perry said. “I would suggest a legitimate conversation about [letting] the states keep their money and implement the programs.” He continued, “But I didn’t write the book and say here are all the solutions. I think the first step in finding the solutions is admitting we have a problem – and admitting that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme.”
Brash? Maybe. But it’s big, bold, and, to borrow a word that was once associated with our current commander-in-chief, audacious.
Let’s see if Perry can say as much of his campaign.
Husna Haq is a Monitor contributor.