WHAT IT TAKES by Richard Ben Cramer


The Way to the White House
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 Irreverent, highly knowledgeable look at the 1988 presidential primaries by Pulitzer-winning journalist Cramer. The author's candidates are tough and clever, driven to a life so complicated by power that ordinary behavior is impossible--as when George Bush, ever eager to please (his intelligence ``a silken windsock...so responsive to the currents''), tries to throw a baseball while wearing a bulletproof vest even as his son, bumped from the presidential box by an aide, throws a tantrum. Cramer's images are indelible: Shy, thoughtful Gary Hart, who soon will be destroyed by the press, noticing things that others do not (``The Soviet Union is rotting from within,'' he's quoted as saying; ``...the Cold War rules do not have to apply''). Joe Biden, stutterer, the toughest kid in school somehow now a US senator, climbing into an abandoned DuPont mansion, claiming it for his own, and pouring money into it until friends think he is mad. Down-home Michael Dukakis chasing his cousin around the house with a fish- head, thinking that running the nation can be like running Massachusetts, and never grasping that the limos and other perks of power are essential evidence of major-league behavior. Or the usually well-balanced Richard Gephardt exploding at an overbearing reporter: ``Fuck him to death!'' But the great achievement of this powerful piece of Americana is its majestic sweep and range, brought into focus by Cramer's ability to fuse telling details into a fierce crescendo of a barbaric marketing process that, he contends, hucksters like Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes use to hoodwink the press (for which the author has little respect: ``David Frost, the celebrated English brown-nose''). Cramer penetrates media smoke screens as only a media-man can, marching into the psyches of his candidates as boldly as Albert Goldman investigating pop heroes. Exhaustively researched and written in a hot, jarring, unsentimental prose: the perfect antidote to election-year mythologizing.

Pub Date: July 4th, 1992
ISBN: 0-394-56260-7
Page count: 1056pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1992


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