WATERSHED: The Campaign for the Presidency, 1980 by John F. Stacks

WATERSHED: The Campaign for the Presidency, 1980

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Of the campaign reports so far, Germond and Witkover (Blue Smoke and Mirrors, p. 849) score for action and running analysis; Elizabeth Drew (Portrait of an Election, p. !124) wins the palm for close, telling observation; and Stacks, a Time political reporter, has the most to say about--John B. Connally. Stacks covered Big John's big-money race, spotted his political strength (""the quintessential anti-Carter') and corresponding weakness (""lingering fears. . . of abuses of power""), doesn't pretend he thought Connally had a chance. So the considerable attention to Connally, while interesting as a footnote, is both disproportionate and a drag: we know we're reading a post mortem. Nowhere, indeed, does Stacks capture that sense of an ongoing, undecided contest that Theodore White established as the hallmark of the campaign-report genre. He leads off, in fact, with the attempted assassination of Pres. Reagan, the nation's ""practiced grief,"" Reagan's easy, jocular recovery--and the suggestion that ""the country was off to a fresh start,"" that the election was the ""watershed"" of his title. ""Watershed"" or not, the whole link-up is suspect and ill-positioned and anyhow out-of-whack with Stacks' conclusion that Reagan won on the other candidates' mistakes. The post-mortem aspect, meanwhile, is also prominent in the treatment of the other candidates whom Stacks apparently covered extensively, Kennedy and Bush. And while Stacks' markedly unsympathetic assessment of Kennedy may not be wrong, he also omits such Kennedy triumphs as the Georgetown speech--with the result, altogether, that Kennedy seems foredoomed to defeat. Yet here and there Stacks reports something that other commentators haven't quite caught (the exact nature of the Iowa caucuses), or looked into (how Howard Baker viewed his candidacy--the best interview here), or taken a stand on (Anderson, Stacks thinks, proved that ""an independent could win""). On the whole, though, the book is just a bland rehash (with its paucity of incident and detail, its opinionizing in lieu of analysis, it reads like a taped monologue) and no match--in balance, thoroughness, or political savvy--for the strong competition.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Times Books