Now is the time for all presidential candidates to come to the aid of their egos.
Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty this week joined Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney, 2012 GOP presidential hopefuls who’ve published campaign books that might best be called “autohagiographies.”
“Hagiography,” from the Greek agios, meaning “holy,” originally referred to worshipful stories of the saints; it now describes any excessively fawning biography. An “autohagiography” is defined here as a book-length paean to oneself. And since most candidates are mediocre writers at best, these volumes are generally collaborations or ghostwritten — in Pawlenty’s case by wrestling legend Hulk Hogan’s autobio-ghostwriter Mark Dagostino.
To fully appreciate the self-congratulatory excess of the autohagiography, one must set aside whatever time it takes to read its unexpurgated title, as I have done with this and all other books mentioned herein.
For instance, you may hear Pawlenty’s work referred to as Courage to Stand, but this deprives the reader of the much more patriotic Courage to Stand: An American Story. To grok Gingrich, you cannot stop at To Save America; you must contemplate the meaning of the rest of his book’s title —Stopping Obama’s Secular-Socialist Machine — which shows off Newt’s genius for nasty hyperbole. And those who think No Apology says it all miss the literary ingenuity of Mitt Romney’s, The Case for American Greatness.
Similarly, Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue is just half as mavericky without An American Life. (For her second offering, America by Heart, she reflected on three buzzwords not seen elsewhere this season: Faith, Family and Flag.) And Mike Huckabee’s 2007 From Hope to Higher Ground — taking a page from fellow Hope, Ark. native Bill Clinton’s 1996 volume Between Hope and History — requires the phrase 12 STOPS to Restoring America’s Greatness, with its clever play on the Alcoholics Anonymous program, to fully satisfy.
Courage to Stand: An American Story is a perfect political title for our time. Tpaw avoids specifying what he has the courage to stand for; instead, he boasts the simple, all-inclusive courage to, as Webster’s puts it, “rise to an erect position.” And while “courage” may well be a throwback to JFK’s acclaimed Profiles in Courage (widely believed to have been ghostwritten by Theodore Sorenson), the deployment of “stand” is a sui generis masterstroke.
Properly spun, “stand” can appeal to myriad constituencies: Family-values types will visualize the moment when a nine-month old Tim first let go of his mother’s hand, while libertarian crowds can, with appropriate images, be encouraged to associate Pawlenty’s “rise to an erect position” with the studliness of a Randian hero (Ayn, not Paul.)
Modern-era autohagiographies by such presidential aspirants as Bob Dole, George W. Bush, Sam Brownback, Joe Biden, John Edwards, Christopher Dodd, John McCain, John Kerry, Ron Paul, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama (whose The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream is wonderfully written by the President, sans ghost) draw their titles from the same shallow pool of self-serving, “patriotic” watchwords. (See below.)
It was not always thus. According to author Craig Fehrman, who is writing a book about presidents’ books, “For much of the nineteenth century, for the sake of appearances, campaign biographies were written by other people. When Abraham Lincoln wrote a short autobiographical sketch in 1859, he included a note that said ‘Of course it must not appear to have been written by myself.’ And yet today, candidates will go out of their way to put their names on something they did not write.”
Early reviews, interviews and excerpts indicate that Tpaw’s tome tracks the standard elements of the autohagiography. Its cover unveils a stalwart-looking everyman glancing meaningfully into the distance (though the shot is too close for comfort to the cover pic on Palin’s Going Rogue); it’s knee-deep in the regular guy humility that might favorably position the author against super-rich frontrunner Romney; promotion for the volume uses the words “gritty” and “bootstraps” a lot; and “blue-collar” “meat-packing” “truck driver” and “lunch-bucket” all appear in one brief comment to National Review Online.
Problems arise in the excerpt chosen for Pawlenty’s website, which depicts a young Tim packing meat with his blue-collar dad. After smelling rotting hamburger, Tim says, “I tossed my cookies next to one of the bins, only adding to the mess and the stench.” Losing one’s lunch may not be the state Pawlenty wants voters to conjure when they think of him. (Come to think of it, the vapidity and dishonesty of most of these pseudo-books, especially in light of this past weekend’s tragedy in Arizona, should cause more lunch-losing than all the rotting meat in America combined.)
It’s never too early for future autohagiographers to begin work on their titles, and prospective 2016 candidates are reportedly paying consultants huge sums for smooth-sounding monikers with lots ofGoogle-friendly key words. The future of the Republic may depend on whether a heroic hopeful has the courage to stand erect and produce a title like, say, The Audacity, Courage and Heart To Dream, Hope and Save America’s Greatness with Promise, Faith, Family and Flag: A Blue-Collar American Patriot’s Humble, Inspiring Life Story.
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