Thursday, July 5, 2007
The Dog That Didn't Bark: In the half-century since Teddy White invented the genre with Making of the President 1960, campaign books have become more plentiful and less revealing. As presidential campaigns grew into a massive, multimillion-dollar enterprise, they began to generate two types of books: the campaign autobiography (such as the air-brushed tract Karen Hughes wrote for George W. Bush in 2000) and the campaign post-mortem (epitomized by the newsmagazines' post-election special reports). Both types are painful to read, and neither can really be considered nonfiction.
The campaign autobiography is an inside job, the campaign post-mortem a legitimate journalistic endeavor with insider access. But both types of books—one written by handlers, the other as told to by handlers—suffer from the same conceptual flaw: the notion that the making of the president is a story about handlers. For the most part, these books gloss over or leave out the essential element that made Richard Ben Cramer's What It Takes a modern campaign classic—namely, the candidates.
The Boston Globe's impressive seven-part series, "The Making of Mitt Romney," is a refreshing reminder that the most interesting handler is always the candidate. Forget the middleman. To understand the making of would-be presidents, look at how they invented themselves.
The Globe series caused a minor flap by recounting how the family dog Seamus came down with diarrhea when Romney made him ride for 12 hours in a kennel on top of the station wagon. Romney had warned the boys he would only stop for gas, but family truth-teller Tagg made his father pull over when he saw a brown ooze coming down the window.
The Globe revelation—which presumably came from Tagg or another Romney—forced the candidate to rebut charges that he had built a canine Guantanamo. Mitt Romney insisted that the car kennel couldn't be torture because the dog liked it, and that PETA has been out to get him ever since the (only) time he went hunting. Ann Romney made a rare cameo appearance on the Five Brothers blog to attest out that whenever she wasn't around, Mitt would spend the night with Seamus.
The Romney campaign counted itself lucky to survive the seven-part series with only one nugget that went viral. Many political observers gulped at the prospect of trudging through the rest of the Globe epic, which fills 70 screens in its online version. Perhaps a few made a mental note to read the whole thing if Romney wins the nomination.
But for the dedicated Romney watcher, the Globe series is a treasure trove—the Dead Sea Scrolls of Romneology. It's a scrapbook of two centuries of Romneys, complete with family albums, private letters, and an interactive guide to the candidate's five sons, five daughters-in-law, and 10 grandchildren.
Almost every page offers another gobsmacking revelation of how Mitts are made:
When he was not yet 2, Romney's parents took him to meet Santa. Mitt stunned them by walking right up and shaking Santa's hand. The story doesn't say whether he sat on Santa's lap and asked for a campaign contribution.