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wMonday, April 14, 2003

Bragging Writes
In this presidential election season, everything is happening faster. The primaries have been moved up, consultants hired sooner, and, because of the crowded field and mushrooming expense of running a campaign, fundraising has begun earlier. Consequently, the press is racing to handicap the candidates, subjecting them to the various litmus tests that once occurred much later in the cycle. Anything that can yield a clue is accorded instant significance. There have even been articles analyzing several of the candidates' wives (conventional wisdom so far: Hadassah Lieberman and Elizabeth Edwards are campaign assets; Teresa Heinz Kerry is a bit of a head case).

So it's no surprise that there's also early interest in candidates' answers to the question, "What's your favorite book?" This may seem an innocuous query, but it's actually one of the more treacherous a candidate can answer. In January, for instance, ABC's George Stephanopoulos asked Sen. John Edwards to name his favorite book. Edwards replied that it was I.F. Stone's The Trial of Socrates. On the surface, that seemed to hit just the right note. It's plausible that an ex-trial lawyer like Edwards would enjoy a book about the ultimate historical trial, and by choosing that particular title--a serious inquiry written for a popular audience--Edwards conveyed a sense of weightiness without appearing snobbish. But the choice also opened him up to criticism. Conservative commentator Bob Novak fumed on CNN's "Capital Gang": "That's incredible! Did Senator Edwards know that Izzy Stone was a lifelong Soviet apologist? Did he know of evidence that Stone received secret payments from the Kremlin?" Novak's rant illustrated how the slightest stumble on the book question can come back to hurt a candidate.
The article is interesting, but for ye of small attention span, here's the last paragraph:
But the prize for the most interesting favorite book has to go to former Vermont governor Howard Dean. His choice of Ken Kesey's novel Sometimes a Great Notion is surely the bravest. After all, in this poll-tested, consultant-driven age, how many other candidates would confess--much less volunteer--to reading the work of an acid-dropping '60s counterculture hero? Here's hoping that the choice boosts Dean's emerging image as the straight-talking honest candidate, and that this diminutive liberal Northeastern governor doesn't wind up like the last one.

posted by Matthew Carroll-Schmidt at 12:48 PM

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