New Republic senior editor Blumenthal (Our Long National Daydream, 1988, etc.) abundantly displays his well-honed sense of irony in this snappy survey of the 1988 election, when Presidential hopefuls engaged in ""a stunning exercise in the absence of leadership. . .to come to terms with the new realities of the world."" From 1985 to 1990, Blumenthal shows, Gorbachev altered not only the face of Europe, but of American politics as well. At the December 1987 Washington summit, when the Intermediate Nuclear Force treaty was signed, the Soviet leader helped Ronald Reagan to restore luster lost in the Iran-contra scandal and to revive the Oval Office hopes of heir-apparent George Bush. Yet in the following year's campaign, Presidential candidates could only respond to Gorbachev's startling initiatives with anachronistic appeals to patriotism via flag-factory tours, quarrels over the Pledge of Allegiance, and romps in tanks. Mario Cuomo and Gary Hart--the only major Democrats, according to Blumenthal, who understood the dimensions of change in the Soviet Union--were sidelined, by choice or catastrophe, from the primaries. And, Blumenthal says, because Michael Dukakis failed to grasp that the Cold War was ending, he had no ideological core and could thus be successfully painted by Bush as ""out of the mainstream."" Though Blumenthal doesn't offer many inside-headquarters stories, he compensates by paying more attention to candidates' ideology than to their images. Meanwhile, he underscores the poverty of ideas and the mania for caution in both camps; but as a bitterly disappointed liberal, he saves his sharpest jabs for Dukakis (""the candidate for the age of safe sex--stable and steady, no peaks or valleys""). Since two years ago not even most foreign policy experts were predicting the crumbling of the Iron Curtain, Blumenthal is probably too harsh in berating politicians for lack of foresight. Nevertheless, he offers a perceptive, blistering analysis of how America's political parties slept as the world shook beneath them.