Candidates' books offer clues to presidency

BY DI STAFF | JULY 20, 2011 7:20 AM

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It's almost a rite of passage for politicians to publish books. Barack Obama is a bestselling author whose book The Audacity of Hope reveals important aspects of his governing philosophy. The DI Editorial Board read and reviewed books by five declared Republican presidential candidates: Herman Cain, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum. The five writers tried to learn what the books said about each candidate's prospective presidency

Herman Cain

Herman Cain knew what was wrong with America in 2005, and his argument hasn't changed much since.

Cain's book, They Think You're Stupid: Why Democrats lost your vote and what Republicans must do to keep it, is two parts political prescription and one part personal success story. In between touting his business credentials and unexpected success, he establishes a few basic foundations of his political beliefs.

First, most Americans are conservative. While Cain acknowledges the existence of a handful of genuine liberals, the reason Democrats lost American votes (in 2004) was because their efforts to hoodwink the public were no longer effective. "When most people stop and really look at the primary tenets of what it means to be a Republican," he writes, "they quickly realize that they are more ideologically aligned with the Republican Party." When Democrats win elections, it's because they distract and fool people with rhetoric (because they think you're stupid); when Republicans win, it's because they tell the truth and people are willing to listen.

Second, Americans believe in God and that inclines them toward one particular ideology — according to Cain, the Republican pro-business, "small government" platform. While it's true that most Americans believe in some form of God, the disparate voting tendencies of believers belie the notion of a singular godly politic.

Third, his success thus far has been inspired by the Christian God. His life plan was guided by divine inspiration, and divine inspiration led him to become CEO of Godfather's, and, eventually, a failed Senate candidate.

And here's what's wrong with America, he asserts: The Democrats have misled everyone. But this view serves to disavow the most democratic of values — pluralism. If voters only vote Democrat out of foolishness or gullibility, he is, admittedly obliquely, angling for a single-party government.

Denying the possibility of rational disagreement encourages administrative groupthink and quiets dissent.

Cain's book may be typical political fare with conversational prose and occasionally confessional language, but it says a lot about his tolerance for opposing perspectives. Not much of what it says is positive.

— By Shay O'Reilly

Ron Paul

Ron Paul is nothing if not consistent. His 50-chapter, issue-by-issue book Liberty Defined delineates his familiar adversaries: the Federal Reserve Bank, an oversized government, and government's infringement on individual liberty.

For a politician's book, Liberty Defined is coherent and straightforward. Paul presents his views on a range of controversial issues while avoiding an excess of platitudes or whitewashing. He articulates his stance on abortion, his opposition to foreign interventionism, and his views on gay marriage without much ambiguity.

Throughout the book, he tries to present himself as a politician who is outside partisan politics. He indicates his disdain for both parties and believes that they do not respect the Constitution. It's true that he isn't a clear party player, but that doesn't mean he isn't ideological.

Paul's interpretation of the Constitution is an affirmation of citizens' rights and a check on government power. Following his view of the principles of the Constitution and individual liberty, he desires the dismantling of many government institutions. He feels that any problems reforms seek to solve would best be fixed not by legislation but through creating a smaller government.

His convictions haven't truly been tested on a large scale, because he has never held office higher than a U.S. House seat. He hasn't had to go head-to-head with special interests and shepherd his ideas through a system of checks and balances in the same way an executive must. In his book, he repeatedly expresses his aversion to compromise, which may be the most telling indicator of how his administration would behave.

There is no single, objective and undiluted interpretation of America's founding documents, as much as he would like to suggest otherwise, and caucus-goers need to consider whether Paul's interpretation matches up with their own. His unwillingness to compromise may be a selling point — or it may be a deterrent, depending on voters' own ideological proclivities.

— By Will Mattessich

Tim Pawlenty

In a style reminiscent of Rudolph Giuliani's Leadership, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's autobiography paints the portrait of a humble patriot caught up in turbulent times. Aptly titled Courage to Stand, his book draws heavily upon his beliefs that government has grown too large and that elected officials, for too long, have exceeded their mandate.

While he pulls no surprises in the format of his narrative, he takes care in detailing how his life has influenced his political beliefs. Acknowledging he was raised in a family of "lunch-bucket Democrats," he works to build rapport by presenting his childhood as a continual set of economic struggles that led him to embrace conservative values. Unfortunately, these attempts often seem stereotypical and forced.

This is especially prevalent early on, where Pawlenty tries to connect the current debt crisis to the sacrifices of his father during World War II. Though he no doubt makes a well-intentioned effort to sound fresh on the subject, the metaphor still comes out as a half-hearted twist on the typical "tightening our belts" lecture.

Perhaps predictably, an extended period of time is spent describing the extraordinary circumstances that led him into public service. Pawlenty, to his credit, attempts to use these anecdotes as a structural framework to cast himself as a man who sees through the complicated nature of government policy. However, it would seem whenever he arrives at an "aha" moment, he begins superfluously referencing former President Ronald Reagan, altogether negating any potential gains in independent thought he had made.

Consistently reminding the reader he is prepared to take on the pressures of our nation's highest office, he lays out in near-résumé form his political views and beliefs in Courage to Stand. And while he maintains a dignified confidence from start to finish, his prose often lacks the flair of other GOP candidates. Still, Courage to Stand serves as an extension of his political message and bolsters his Iowa caucus campaign.

— By Matt Heinze

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney's 2010 book, No Apology, is an assessment of many facets of American history, foreign policy, domestic policy, and current political endeavors; he subsequently expounds upon what makes America great, and what we should do to continue our greatness.

In between his heavy policy proposals, he glorifies views of American cultural superiority and innate supremacy without providing much evidence, perhaps hoping that readers' own implicit biases will carry him through. He criticizes Russia and China, among other countries, for their flawed governments — yet later praises them for their many achievements.

Throughout his assessment, Romney rationalizes the war in Iraq, relying heavily on claims of jihadist infiltration into most of the Middle East and Europe.

Notably, he calls for an increase in our defense spending, which he claims will ultimately boost the economy. He reasons that defense spending is more important than maintaining programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and food-assistance programs.

He advocates for increased innovation and even a decrease in the workforce in order to foster an improved marketplace. His proposed method of achieving this is to break down unions, ostensibly enhancing productivity because workers would be forced to focus on efficiency rather than labor-to-benefit ratios. He even proposes doing away with teachers' unions to improve education — not an unusual Republican stance, but one that targets a bastion of union membership.

Apparently contradictory statements can be found in the book. For instance, Romney continually insists that Middle Eastern nations should exclude religion from their governance but in almost every chapter, he references Christian think tanks, his Mormon foundation, and Christian leaders such as Pastor Rick Warren.

If No Apology is any indication of his campaign platform and subsequent performance, then voters should be prepared for months of typical Republican fare — interspersed with moments of flip-flopping.

— By Emily Inman

Rick Santorum

In It Takes a Family, former U.S. Sen. and current 2012 Republican presidential-nomination candidate Rick Santorum states his purpose quite bluntly: Our country is failing because American families are failing. The 449-page tome states that citizens must "invest not only in our economy, but in … our values and the methods by which we pass all these good things on to the next generation."

He then divides the book between his five pillars — social, economic, moral, cultural, and intellectual capital — and looks at each as they apply to the "traditional" American family (a married man and woman with children, no exceptions). The book in its entirety is largely a repackaging of the social-conservative viewpoint with some communitarian leanings.

Should he find himself elected president, we can expect some interesting about-faces in national policy in line with his emphasis on "Judeo-Christian values." Children's exposure to popular media and regular schooling will undergo massive reforms, putting more trust in parental oversight and less in the Federal Communications Commission and state school systems. And the Marriage Protection Amendment will be hurriedly passed, forever enshrining "what our Founding Fathers could not have fathomed would someday need to be said: that marriage is the union of one man and one woman." (Suffice to say, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the Defence of Marriage Act would no longer be contested.)

There are points raised in the book, however, that both left- and right-wingers would agree upon. One would be hard-pressed to disagree that the federal and state prison-industrial complexes are a mess, and criminal sentencing is in dire need of reform. (No mention is made of drug sentencing.)

But Santorum did not set out to write a book that both liberals and conservatives could get behind.
Buried deep in the volume, he chides now-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (the author of It Takes a Village) for writing what "boils down to little more than feel-good rhetoric masking a radical left agenda." In that case (Rodham Clinton? Radical? Really?), Santorum's It Takes a Family is truly its match from the right.

— By Kirsten Jacobsen

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