Almost President: The Men Who Lost The Race But Changed The Nation, by Scott Farris
I read a lot of books, even a lot of books about elections and politics , but the response I got to this book was very remarkable and striking to me, to the point where as I read it at lunch, and then at dinner, people stopped to ask me about the book and then gave me conspiratorial nods about how relevant the work was to what is going on right now. And indeed that is true. Yet although I read a lot of books few of them draw the sort of interest that this book did. I suppose it ought to be a sign that anything about politics is going to draw a lot of interest. In the case of this book, the attention is deserved, as even though I disagree with the point of view of the author concerning what is ideal, the subject matter of this book is without a doubt very timely, and that is something that deserves to be appreciated. This book was certainly a worthwhile read and that is something worth celebrating, even if it was distracting and a bit irritating having to talk to people who wanted to hear about this book while I was in the process of reading it.
This book has straightforward contents and begins with a chapter that discusses the importance of the concession in preserving the overall political legitimacy of the American political system, something that is extremely relevant at present. After that the author spends several chapters talking about notable and influential people who never won the office of presidency but made it close and whose ideas have stood the test of time and whose behavior was massively influential: Henry Clay, Stephen Douglas, William Jennings Bryan, Al Smith, Thomas Dewey, Adlai Stevenson, Barry Goldwater, George McGovern, Ross Perot, and then a combination chapter with Al Gore, John Kerry, and John McCain. The book’s appendix gives short discussions of all the failed major-party candidates for the presidency. There are some elements of this book that were prophetic, in that they showed John Kerry’s fitness to be Secretary of State, which he was in Obama’s second term. The author mentions more than once that Alton Parker has never had a biography written about him, which someone needs to get done. The author appears to be open for a new project if there is a publisher interested.
There is a lot that we can learn about elections from studying those who lost. For one, it is hard to do an election right. There have been times where campaigning hard cost someone a win, times when not campaigning hard enough did it. There were times where certain parties seemed predestined to lose, other times where candidates were chosen not because of any commitment but because it was simply their time to run. There have been many occasions where people struggled to find the right image in order to win, and some people that seemed unable to win because they had far too high of negatives and happened to make blunders that ruined their chances. Yet the defeat of a campaign has not meant a defeat of one’s ideas, as those ideas can be repackaged and promoted by others whose reputations are less toxic because of a frightening past history to work from. One can only wonder what kind of expansions to this book will be made given our more recent politics after this book stopped, a subject it is perhaps too depressing to dwell upon at length.
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