Witcover's exhaustive mopping up of the '76 election is an enormous, a prodigious book; it not only demonstrates but...

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MARATHON: The Pursuit of the Presidency 1972-1976

Witcover's exhaustive mopping up of the '76 election is an enormous, a prodigious book; it not only demonstrates but embodies his contention that the pursuit of the Presidency has become--thanks largely to the proliferation of primaries--a grueling physical and mental ordeal. As the former Washington Post staffer, now a syndicated columnist, makes plain, not the least of Carter's winning attributes was his ability to project continually to voters that ""it was his pleasure, his joy, to be among them, learning from them."" For all but the most fanatical of political aficionados, the joy of a definitive book on the aptly titled marathon, will be diminished by the tedium of retracing--in minutest detail--not just the strategies of Ford and Carter at every stage of the race but those of every other entrant in the overcrowded Democratic field. To say nothing of Reagan's strong run, the pipedreams of Muskie and McGovern, the inner imperatives of McCarthy and Teddy Kennedy. The post-mortems represent sound, conventional wisdom: Udall was caught in an ""identity bind,"" leery of either a middle-of-the-road tag or the McGovern mantle; Jackson didn't reach people, ""didn't warm them, or make them hugh."" Unlike Kandy Stroud and other Carter-watchers, Witcover mercifully leaves Amy and Miss Lillian out of what is a cool, professional profile. But even though Carter appears as a calculating politician, adept at ""benignly jugular"" remarks and tactics not unworthy of Mark Hanna--the folksy Good Shepherd is, in Witcover's view, equally authentic. Much emphasis is placed on the media-created ""momentum"": a telling detail reveals that in the New Hampshire primary Carter alone rated a press bus. Carter's slide after the nomination Witcover attributes less to this or that blooper than to the abrupt reversal of his ""outsider"" image once he had become the Democratic standard-bearer. Possibly the most disturbing glimpses here are of Carter's chronic dissembling--on military budgets, abortion, mass transit, you-name-it. The waffling prompted one short-lived speech-writer to quit cold, once he came to believe that Jimmy was ""a liar and a deceiver."" Witcover's own view is more sanguine--at one point he compares Carter to Bobby Kennedy. On the whole, however, it is not individuals but the jousting and jockeying for position that take precedence here. Still, one longs for pruning--drastic pruning at that.

Pub Date: July 20, 1977

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1977