Political Autobiographies Play a Role in Elections

I happen to be in Florida today, the day of the state’s primary. As you might expect, the local airwaves have been flooded with political ads. They contain a lot of “he said, he said” statements. It makes me wonder why these candidates never penned a memoir to document their own lives and more definitively present their views.

Think back to the last presidential election. In the democratic primary, Hillary Clinton had her husband’s reputation, her four-year record as First Lady and her term as a New York senator. Barack Obama, still only in his 40s, already had two autobiographical books: Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope. The titles became common phrases, and suddenly these books were selling “like hotcakes.” The words were inspirational and trumped any Obama narrative the Clinton opposition and, later in the general election the John McCain campaign, could contrive.

Yet, among the 27 books Newt Gingrich has authored, not one is a memoir. Mitt Romney, with his diverse experience as a businessman, governor and Olympics chief, hasn’t sat down to write his life story. Here in Florida, Romney’s ads do mention an autobiography—Ronald Reagan’s—to use as evidence to counter some of Gingrich’s claims about being the heir to the Reagan legacy. So Mitt realizes the value of a written memoir, yet hasn’t crafted his own. And you know whom he’ll face if he makes it to the next election? The same President Barack Obama who won last time with the power of two very influential autobiographies.