At the start of this political fantasy, it looks like there may be some amusement ahead. It's 1988, and America's got a case of the blahs--a second-rate power with energy shortages, ""with business phones that weren't answered until the fifteenth ring, with misspelled words in The New Yorker. . . ."" Unfortunately, first-novelist Halberstam loses this light vein once his story proper gets--slowly--under way: the presidential campaign of A. L. Levine, an electronics salesman in the Fifties, a real estate tycoon in the Sixties, a political adviser and moneybags in the Seventies, and now, because the front-runner has been arrested for murder and because A.L.'s warm Jewish eyes come across well on TV, the Democratic Party's candidate. As the back-room strategies slog along, we get Levine's life--from orphanage to pinnacle, with multiple adulteries along the way--in flashbacks. And when the race finally gets going (the Republicans offer ""The Old Deal"" and thinly veiled anti-Semitism), interest starts to center on A.L.'s racist son Eli, who eventually teams up with ""Caputo's people,"" reactionary guerrillas in Vermont--taking hostages in an attempt to blackmail liberal, black-supported A.L. into quitting the campaign. Much of this is capably composed, with a sort of sleepy pleasantness, but there is no real tension, conflict, or suspense to propel the endless rounds of talk. And Halberstam's futuristic America remains sketchy and unconvincing--vivid, unpleasantly so, only when over-relishing the rampant racism supposedly ahead. A few of A.L.'s co-religionists may cotton to the Jewish president idea enthusiastically enough to last out the campaign; most readers won't even make it to the primaries.