WARTS AND ALL: The Men Who Would Be Bush by Matt Ridley

WARTS AND ALL: The Men Who Would Be Bush

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The Washington correspondent for the Economist brings not only his firsthand experience of the 1988 presidential campaign but also an alert foreigner's eye to the strange tribal rituals that mark an American election. Although the title is misleading--Ridley devotes as much space to Dukakis as to Bush--the book is a reasonably complete account of the campaign. Ridley begins by analyzing the origins of our elections; the people vote not so much on ""issues,"" he says, but rather on the personality and character of the candidate who will lead them for the next four years. He also notes the jockeying for the large sums of money necessary to buy the TV advertising that will give the candidates the name recognition necessary for a good standing in the opinion polls--for it is the polls that make the news, and ""voters follow the news."" At the Iowa caucuses, Ridley learns that ""politics in America. . .consists in finding out what people want to hear, then saying it."" In New Hampshire, he makes much of how conventional wisdom, which predicated Bush's defeat, was wrong (but why Bush won is not touched upon). On the Democratic side, Dukakis wins, in line with conventional wisdom, because of high name recognition. By the time of the conventions, both men, because of superior organizational ability and large war chests, have wrapped up their nominations. In covering the ensuing debates, Ridley pays close attention to the advisors and handlers of each candidate: how after each debate the handlers raced to tell reporters how and why their candidates won, and how the reporters dutifully repeated these accounts. Despite his scepticism of conventional wisdom, Ridley gives us the conventional image of the candidate as a package--a marionette--that various media specialists have assembled. But since it is the marionette who hires and fires the PR types, sometimes with depressing frequency, we don't really know who is pulling whose string. And although we have learned much about the campaign, we have not really learned significantly more about George Bush, string-puller or marionette, with warts or without.

Pub Date: May 4th, 1990
Publisher: Viking