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Books | Ink

Potential Candidates Put Their Tomes in the Ring

November 11, 1998|PAUL D. COLFORD | NEWSDAY

There's a tradition in national politics that a serious presidential candidate sooner or later will wrestle his views into orderly book form or write a different kind of book that reflects his serious purpose.

A familiar example is "Profiles in Courage," published while author John F. Kennedy was in the Senate. His portraits of political leaders who took bold stands in the face of strong opposition earned Kennedy a Pulitzer Prize and revealed him as one who had thought deeply about the toughness required of those in public life.

As Jimmy Carter prepared to announce his candidacy in 1974, the little-known former Georgia governor was unable to interest publishers in a campaign autobiography until Broadman Press, an inspirational publisher in Nashville, agreed to take it on. "Why Not the Best?," published in 1975, went on to sell nearly a million copies and helped ensure Carter's election. As presidential scholar Douglas Brinkley recalls in the University of Arkansas Press' reissued edition, "To a public still coming to terms with the Vietnam War and Watergate, Carter's soothing memoir was a welcome affirmation of one candidate's bedrock faith in old-fashioned public service based on duty, honor, competence and honesty."

Bill Clinton co-wrote "Putting People First" with running mate Al Gore in 1992. The president later put his name alone on "Between Hope and History" (Times Books) as he was mounting his reelection campaign.

So if authorship of a book is a good indicator of presidential ambition, who may run in 2000?

Answer: Rep. John Kasich (R-Ohio), former Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.), former Republican Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, Sen. John Ashcroft (R-Mo.), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.).

Kasich and Bradley have new books in stores; Alexander and Ashcroft each had titles published in the spring, and McCain and Gephardt will have books out in the months ahead.

At the same time, reelected Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the much-touted subject of this week's cover story in U.S. News & World Report ("Can Bush Save the GOP?"), is not writing a book. No surprise, considering Bush's statements that he has put off any decision on a presidential race.

New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, who is mentioned as a possible running mate for Bush and has been the subject of four books already, also is not writing one.

If Bush or Whitman were to do one after all, they might be advised to start soon, because the next presidential race will be front-end-loaded, with the big California and New York primaries moved up to March 2000.

Gov. George Pataki, reelected by a wide margin last week and also mentioned as a possible Republican vice president, is ready. "Pataki: An Autobiography" was published in June by Viking.

"I don't know if writing a book is a prerequisite for a presidential candidate, but it can be useful for these guys to have their views on paper," said Peter Osnos, who published both Clinton volumes while at Times Books and will bring out Gephardt's "An Even Better Place: America in the 21st Century" next spring at PublicAffairs. Osnos describes the latter book as an introduction to Gephardt and his positions on big issues.

McCain's book, signed by Random House, will offer a detailed look at the senator's background, but won't go into his news-making push for campaign-finance reform and other political territory.

"No politics," his spokesman said, explaining that it will be a family memoir that will recount the distinguished Navy careers of McCain's father and grandfather, and the senator's own military record, concluding with his return from captivity as a Vietnam prisoner of war. Certainly the latter chapter in McCain's life is a harrowing story of heroism in an era searching for heroes.

Kasich, on the other hand, identifies courage in 20 altruistic individuals whose stories he tells in "Courage Is Courageous" (Doubleday), subtitled "Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things to Change the Face of America." Kasich, chairman of the House Budget Committee, recalled during an author tour this week that he originally was approached by "a think tank that shall remain nameless" about writing a book on the budget.

"I told them I'd rather be tied to a tree outside my office and horsewhipped," he said. "I wanted to write a book about people and in particular what obstacles people face. . . . I don't want people to read this book through the lens of politics. I was greatly inspired and touched by these people I write about."

Kasich has made it clearer than other hopefuls that he will run for president, if he can raise enough money (about $20 million) by next spring or summer. In the meantime, he writes in an introduction: "If we want a better America, we have to roll up our sleeves and make it happen."

Is it any wonder that Doubleday compares Kasich's book to "Profiles in Courage," whose author asked people to consider what they could do for their country?

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