I realize this is the second time I have linked to this book on the blog, but it is so good, it is worth mentioning again. I read this right before going to work on the 2004 presidential campaign and it helped shape my perspectives on national campaign politics and the candidates who invest everything to seek the nation’s highest office.
This is a mammoth of a book, and author Richard Ben Cramer deserves every second of the credit he is finally getting. In POLITICO this week, Ben Smith gives us a peek into Cramer’s life today, his reactions to the negative reviews the book originally received, and appropriately explores how this book became part of campaign lore.
“What it Takes” covers the 1988 major primary candidates–Dole, Bush, Gephardt, Hart, Dukakis and Biden. Jesse Jackson, Al Gore and scores of other candidates and operatives are present. It’s a comprehensive look at the campaigns, and more importantly, the candidates. (A dirty little secret? By the end, you wish Dole had won.)
In POLITICO, Smith writes about the impact of “What it Takes” and how it has been “passed from reporter to reporter and operative to operative,” occupying a space as a legendary piece of campaign reporting (and like a secret handshake, read only by those that are most serious about the craft). One great tidbit from the article is how a reporter brought four other young reporters to meet Cramer recently, as if they were going to see the original gangster. The article is a great homage to a fine book and a terrific author. I encourage you to read the POLITICO piece and if you are up to the 1,000+ pages, read the book too. You won’t look at a national campaign or campaign reporting the same way.