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Political Bios

Culture | Recent political biographies of Democrat presidential candidate Al Gore and Republican contender George W. Bush

Issue: "Campaign 2000," July 29, 2000
1
Gore: A Political Life
Bob Zelnick
CONTENT
Gore is a decent man whose ambition causes him to cut ethical corners, embroider the truth, and occasionally sell out his friends.

GIST
Reporter Zelnick lost his job at ABC News when he wouldn't quit working on this book, which came out last year. It's hard to see what ABC objected to. It includes little that isn't now familiar to anyone who paid attention during the primaries, but the documentation of flip-flops on abortion and other subjects is useful. For the most part, Mr. Zelnick employs an "on the one hand, on the other" style that may be fair, but it isn't lively. But then neither is his subject.

2
Inventing Al Gore
Bill Turque
CONTENT
This book, written by a Newsweek reporter, is sympathetic to Gore's ideology but impatient with Gore's need to reinvent his history to make it more grandiose.

GIST
Al Gore is a decent guy who always has his finger to the wind. Even on the environment, he's been willing to sell out for ambition's sake. That's the picture drawn by Bill Turque: Too bad that Al Gore can't be appointed president so he wouldn't have to campaign. Candidate Gore comes across as a boy/man still trying to impress his father and mother, and an absolutist (based on his own view of what's right) who vilifies his opponents while magnifying his own virtue.

3
Shrub: The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush
CONTENT
Left-wing columnist Ivins and sidekick DuBose skewer the Texas governor and Christian conservatives.

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GIST
Texan Ivins shows why she is the darling of East Coast liberals in this short, predictable analysis of George W. Bush's life and policies. If the authors are right about Gov. Bush, Americans should be afraid, for he will usher in an era when Christians will take over the world, beating innocent children, starving the poor, and spoiling everyone else's fun. The book could still be interesting if it included witty writing rather than clip-and-paste paragraphs from the Texas Observer, which Mr. DuBose edits.

4
First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty
Bill Minutaglio
CONTENT
A well-researched, largely nonjudgmental account of George W. Bush and his family background by a Dallas Morning News political reporter.

GIST
Bush found his own path that included both dependence on and independence from his dad. Mr. Minutaglio details the combination of Eastern establishment (Phillips Andover, Yale, Harvard) and independent Texas (oil patch, baseball, church) influences that make Mr. Bush conversant with standard political thought and sometimes sarcastic about it. He shows how Bush has moved past earlier drinking and temper tantrums to a balanced temperament and a successful marriage.

IN THE SPOTLIGHT
When Theodore H. White wrote The Making of the President, 1960, his publisher was not sure there would be a market for a detailed analysis of the presidential race between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. The book was a bestseller and White went on to write similar books about the next three campaigns. More importantly, he invented a genre from which emerged two 1990s books worthy of note: Michael Lewis's Trail Fever (1997), which covers the 1996 GOP primary and the general election pitting Bob Dole against Bill Clinton, and Richard Ben Cramer's What It Takes (1992), a story of the 1988 campaign. Mr. Lewis is not a social conservative, and some conservative candidates don't come off looking very good, but he is a master of specific detail who catches the campaign's flavor as only a clever eyewitness in Iowa or New Hampshire could. Even Mr. Lewis, however, could not bring to life the Dole general election campaign, and the second half of Trail Fever is painful to read. Mr. Cramer, who set out to cover the 1988 campaign by asking candidates what made them think they could lead the United States, falls into mind reading when the responses are insufficient for his purposes. Still, his book is full of interesting observation and shows how some of today's major journalistic players made their names in that campaign. Both books, as well as the current biographies, have bad language, since it appears that most candidates and the journalists who cover them curse whenever things don't go their way, and sometimes when they do.

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