Book Review: 'What It Takes,' by Richard Ben Cramer | The midterm elections are less than two weeks away. Writer Michael Schaub recommends a book that explores what it's like to run for office and live through all the dramatic ups and downs.


For The Midterm Elections, A Book On 'What It Takes' To Win

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Every campaign season we hear heartfelt explanations from candidates about why they're running. But for lots of people, it's still hard to understand why on earth someone would want to run for political office. For an answer, we're turning to literature. For our series This Week's Must Read, here's Michael Schaub.

MICHAEL SCHAUB, BYLINE: During the presidential election of 1988, Richard Ben Cramer chose a few candidates to follow around. He writes, (reading) I wanted to know enough about these people to see, once they decided to run and marched or slid or flung themselves headlong into this semi-rational, all-consuming quest, what happened to those lives? To the lives they shared? What happened to their idea of themselves? Calling this book exhaustive would be a massive understatement. It's over 1,000 pages. And Cramer was more of a gonzo reporter than a beltway pundit. Reading him you'll hear echoes of Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson. You'll see Gary Hart and his wife, Lee, facing a pack of reporters and photographers, being asked Hart's relationship with the model Donna Rice. As Hart moved, the pack moved backward, blindly crushing whatever was in its path, Cramer writes. There was a kid 3 or 4 years old who was getting trampled. Hart was furious. He'd always hated those photo blitzkriegs, but now he was powerless.

Then there's George H.W. Bush caught on an open mic after a fight with Dan Rather using a few choice profanities. Bush was like a warrior with his foot on his enemy's neck, whooping to the heavens, Cramer writes. Later he apologized for his language, insisted he never would've taken the Lord's name in vain if he'd known people could hear him. As if, Cramer continued, the Commandment read thou shalt check thy mic. What Cramer found wasn't pretty. It takes a special kind of person to run for office. You've got to be tenacious, focused and maybe even a little crazy. In a few days this election will be over, and while we might never know these candidates as well as we knew Cramer's characters, we will find out which ones couldn't weather the political storms and which ones had what it takes.

CORNISH: That's book critic Michael Schaub recommending "What It Takes" by Richard Ben Cramer.

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