The first in the publisher’s Fundamentals of American Government series explains the machinery of our presidential electoral system.
Political pundit Clift (Two Weeks of Life: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Politics, 2008, etc.) and policy analyst Spieler surely possess the firepower to compose a sophisticated, in-depth presentation about how Americans select their chief executive. They confine themselves here, however, to the basics. While not wholly without utility outside the classroom, their primer aims at high-school students or, say, immigrants contemplating citizenship. (If you can define the 30+ words in the glossary—e.g., “dark horse,” “grassroots,” “stump speech,” “president-elect”—you probably don’t need this book.) Delivering all necessary rudimentary information, the authors briskly cover the elements of a presidential contest from the early caucuses and primaries through the conventions, general election campaign, Election Day and inauguration. Whatever the topic, the authors regularly draw on historical examples to add a bit of merciful color to their simple presentation. Both major parties receive equal time: For every invocation of Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, John McCain or Herbert Hoover, there’s one of FDR, William Jennings Bryan, Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton. In addition to the glossary of elementary political terms, the appendix contains the presidential oath of office, the electoral vote tally for all past presidential candidates, some suggestions for further reading and the complete text of four consequential pieces of campaign rhetoric, including Senator Obama’s 2004 nominating speech on behalf of John Kerry that spotlighted the newcomer from Illinois, and Hubert Humphrey’s anti-segregation 1948 convention address.
For beginners, the ABCs of the curious, occasionally baffling way we go about the important business of choosing a president.