Favorite Non-Fiction Books, #54: Presidential Campaigns
Paul Boller's series is a longtime favorite of mine. There's Presidential Anecotes, Congressional Anecdotes, a book on Presidential Spouses, all of which provide a brief overview of the topic and then flesh it out with a basket of stories, often from witnesses or participants. And the stories usually focus on the funny, the absurd, or the unusual, which brings life to the history of these men and women. I've read them all many times, often filing away some of the funnier stories in my mental rolodex for use on the campaign trail or in otherwise polite conversation. For those of you who have asked where these anecdotes come from, you can place a decent amount of blame on Paul's doorstep.
Though I love all the books he's unleashed, my favorite is this one, and it elbows to the front of my mind now as the 2020 primary season heats up. I've read this volume many times - it's how I learned not just who won all those elections but who lost them, and often why. It's a scaffold through which I construct my understanding of American history, and a prism through which I consider it. When looking at the 1884 election, we see personally compromised but publicly incorruptible Grover Cleveland defeating the Plumed Knight James Blaine, personally unblemished but politically corrupt, in the pocket of the railroad lobby. I've thought of that election many times when the question arises of public vs private character in our candidates. That's just one example of the evergreen nature of our political life
I like a hefty helping of humanity with my history. We're a flawed, hilarious, ignoble species of fallen angels, capable of magical aspiration and foul misdeeds all at once. We forget our clay feet at our own peril.