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Political Autobiographies: Style Lacking Substance

In Entertainment, Local News, Media, National News, Opinion, Politics, State News on August 29, 2011 at 10:24 pm

By Gery L. Deer

Deer In Headlines


Between Joe Biden’s spray-on tan and Michele Bachmann’s fashion faux pas, the political stage has never been graced by such a ridiculous cast of insubstantial people. It’s amazing how many people of lackluster quality can gain the attention of so many Americans.

As the kings and queens of shameless self-promotion, each one spends most of his or her time in front of a camera criticizing the other guys for doing the same thing. Of course, that’s part of their job, but running for the highest office in the land should depend more on substance than style. Sadly, however, that’s just not how it works on modern politics. Today it’s all about marketing.

Getting the word out to the mush-brained masses requires use of every media trick in the book, old and new. All those 2012 Republican nomination hopefuls are jetting around the country doing television interviews and giving stump speeches in the hopes that they will be the next tenant at1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Seemingly in three places at once, these people maintain an almost inconceivable campaign schedule. One way to disseminate as much information as possible is by writing an autobiography.

Books are a great way to control what information is given out about a candidate, but they’re almost never written by the politician. When political heavyweights want to write a newspaper column or a book, they often use a ghost writer.

Ghost writers are authors who write material that is officially credited to someone else. The ghost writer does the research and develops the manuscript, sometimes with little or no  intervention on the part of the person whose name eventually ends up in the byline.

Some publishers will print only a limited run of political autobiographies to generate as much revenue as possible while the subjects are in the media headlights. With the help of reasonably good writers, political biographies can be interesting and informative, even though they’re just a 300-page brochure for the candidate. Unfortunately, there are times when the political figure has too much influence over a manuscript.

Here’s an example from Sarah Palin’s book, Going Rogue: An American Life. “I was sitting next to the stove, patching up little Gopher’s North Face jacket, when I got the call (to be John McCain’s running mate), and I figured, gosh-a-mighty, why not? Well, they scoot me down toDayton — and let me tell you, that place could use a new coat of paint…” And she goes on to say that theDayton reporters will, “Twist and turn my words so I look like an idjit.”

It gets worse from there. Did she actually use the word, idjit? Unless she was trying to get a part in a movie opposite Yosemite Sam, the reporters wouldn’t have needed to do much to make twist her words. In fact, it would take more effort to untwist them enough to understand exactly what it was she had said in the first place. Clearly, there are times when a ghost writer is not only an option, but a necessity.

Once released, political autobiographies have a short shelf life and quickly end up in the bargain rack.  Publishers do their best to cash in on these projects while there is still widespread demand for information.

Without question, there is a broad audience for this material and, at least initially, most of these books sell very well – some better than others. Barack Obama’s two books for example, Audacity of Hope (2006) and Dreams From My Father (1995), both of which he wrote before ascending to the presidency, have sold nearly a half-million copies.

In the past, a politician could only get a book published if he or she had made some significant contribution. Today, however, the trend seems to be in writing the book before ever doing anything and cashing in on 15 minutes of fame.


Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist based inJamestown. Read more at http://www.deerinheadlines.com.


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