The campaign biography has been with us in some form or fashion since the beginning of American politics.
Early in our political process, those running for president engaged writers who would provide their back story to the masses appealing to heart, to wisdom, and to their sense of fair play even if they had to make it up like they did for William Henry Harrison. He was rich and well born, but in his biography grew up poor in a log cabin. It was an exercise in what we would call spin or an early form of deceptive campaign ad. But it worked. These books were hugely popular and are highly collectible now.
“The Story of Harry S. Truman” emphasizes the “Farm boy, soldier, statesman, [and] president” in his bid for reelection in 1948. The fact that this biography is featured in an easy to read and entertaining comic book is no accident since its author is the Democratic National Committee.
Today, while the personal biography doesn’t have the flowery language or the heroic back story that the earlier biographies emphasized, they can still appeal to your sense of fair play.
In “The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream”, by Democratic candidate and U.S. Senator Barack Obama he easily weaves his early upbringing around the central issues of his campaign for president in 2008.
Yet, there are those expose or investigative type of candidate biographies that tells the story of a candidate “warts and all.” Columnist Michael Tomasky does that in “Hillary’s Turn: Inside Her Improbable, Victorious Senate Campaign” as he follows First Lady Hillary Clinton through an unprecedented race for the U.S. Senate in New York. Everything is told, everything is explained. She is steely, but flawed. It provides a credible background for her race to become the first woman to be nominated for president at the 2008 Democratic Convention.
Wayne Barrett does the same kind of story on former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani in “Rudy: An Investigative Biography of Rudolph Giuliani” as he tries for the Republican nomination for president in 2008. All his political triumphs and personal failings are emphasized here making him just as determined and flawed.
But what to do with the nonpartisan material that allows voters to choose candidates based on substance rather than style. “Know Your Candidate, 1960” by Vassar professor of political science Nelson E. Taylor provides a booklet that tells “…what the 2 candidates actually said…about 47 major issues confronting us today!” No spin here.
The League of Women Voters have taken up the mantle of nonpartisanship in their sponsorship of televised candidate debates and the publication of material that emphasizes the process over biography in “Vote: Choosing the President 2008: A Citizen’s Guide to the Electoral Process.” And who doesn’t need that.
So, we’ve gone from deceptive biographies to nonpartisan education. But, in this day of internet and worldwide web where information is plentiful and always available, will individual campaign biographies continue to matter in the scheme of things? They just might have to, at least as a collectible.