Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Anything for a Vote, by Joseph Cummins

Turn on the news, listen to talk radio, open the papers, watch the debates, and I can guarantee you will not be impressed with the field of presidential candidates from either party.  You might ask, "How did it get so bad?"  As Joseph Cummins reminds us in his book Anything for a Vote: Dirty Tricks, Cheap Shots, and October Surprises in U.S. Presidential Campaigns, it didn't get this bad.  It's pretty much always been this bad.

Cummins doesn't aim to make the candidates look good.  (However, it may have just been my own bias, but he seemed to take more pleasure in making conservatives look bad. . . .)  Presidential campaigns have long been full of lies, dirty tricks, and bad character.  Cummins takes each presidential election, from George Washington (unopposed) to Obama v. Romney.  (The book was first published in 2007, updated in 2015.)

Anything for a Vote is history as anecdote, written more as entertainment than as history.  Cummins definitely delights in the tawdrier elements of campaigns; that's no surprise.  He makes some entertaining observations and asides, like, "Warren G. Harding was the most libidinous candidate to run for president until Bill Clinton waltzed in from Arkansas seventy years later."  (Although I wonder where JFK ranks among libidinous presidents?)

Have some fun with history.  Anything for a Vote won't take the place of serious histories of presidential elections.  But who wants to read one of those?  Cummins reminds us that presidential candidates are just as flawed as anyone else, probably more than most.  Whether you lean red or blue, you will find plenty not to like about your favorite presidents.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

2016 Reading Challenge: A historical book

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