There's a lot of politicking still ahead of us, so to pace myself I need a break from insights about the Live Free or Die state and whether it will support a "Santorum surge," and so on. In case you're in a similar mood, here is a tip for enjoyable political reading this weekend:
You can go to your local bookstore, should one quaintly still exist, or look online for Walter Shapiro's One-Car Caravan, his idiosyncratic and entirely charming report on the early stages of the 2004 presidential campaign. The book's publication date is 2003, which is a clue to what is unusual in its approach. Walter Shapiro (disclosure: a long-time friend) began covering the field of Democratic aspirants two years before the election, in 2002. At the time, John Kerry, John Edwards, Howard Dean, Dick Gephardt, et al had no media pools following them and were meeting potential supporters and donors in groups of two or three. Walter traipsed around the country with them, and his resulting report has the kind of timeless texture and insight about politics that you also find in the (better-known and much longer) What It Takes, Richard Ben Cramer's wonderful account of the 1988 campaign.
It is also a sympathetic and human book, in an enriching rather than a sappy way. One of the surprises of the book is how much Walter Shapiro ends up, yes, liking John Kerry, against Shapiro's own anti-snob instincts and contrary to the well-established image of Kerry as a stiff. He makes Kerry likable to the reader, too -- maybe the DNC should have thought of airdropping the book over Ohio in 2004. The book also has this to say about the process we're now living through:
As a political reporter, I am prepared to offer a spirited defense of New Hampshire's outsized role in presidential politics. Nowhere else in the nation do voters display such fidelity to old-fashioned civic obligations.... New Hampshire may be a living monument to participatory democracy, but what in God's name is the justification for making the Iowa caucuses the campaign equivalent of the book of Genesis?
He goes on to explain his complaint about what the Iowa caucuses have done to politics, journalism, and American life. I am biased in Walter Shapiro's favor. He and I started out at the Washington Monthly together back in the Watergate era, and just after Walter's own quixotic attempt as a 25-year-old to unseat an incumbent Republican congressman in Michigan. But you don't have to know him to find this book enjoyable and still-relevant. Check it out.
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