Richard Ben Cramer

by John Sides on January 8, 2013 · 3 comments

in Campaigns and elections,Obituary

Here is an obituary, his book What It Takes, his amazing Esquire piece on Ted Williams, and some reminiscences by reporters and peers.  I read What It Takes not long after it came out.  I must have been 18 or 19 years old.  I didn’t know then that I would become a political scientist or study campaigns, but perhaps the fact that I read that book at a relatively young age should have been a clue.

I pulled it off my bookshelf and opened it at random to p.505.  Cramer is talking about Michael Dukakis (ellipses in the original):

What a marvelous machine was Michael’s campaign.

“We try,” said the brilliant body man, Mitropolous, with a puckish smile (phyllo wouldn’t melt in his mouth) … “to play error-free ball.”

With Michael, it was more than try…more like compulsion.  It wasn’t just speeches (of course, he had to work over the speeches)…and not just his interview with every employee (the Dukakis campaign would spent five hundred dollars to fly the new receptionist for Washington to the State House, so Michael could tell her how to answer phones correctly)…Michael wanted to see, to edit, every press release.  He wanted to see every questionnaire sent back to newspapers and interest groups.  He wanted to see the thank-you notes.

Alas, that left little time to take care of business.

What business?

State business!

That was the summer, 1987, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts opened Route 25. It was a fine road, seven miles of clean new concrete to take an hour off the commute from the Boston suburbs to the Cape.  Michael meant to go to the opening.  He built the road.

Sasso said, “Mike, you’re not governor anymore.  You’re running for President.”

Michael said he wanted to go.

“Mike! Who gives a shit whether Route 25 is open?”

Governor Dukakis opened Route 25.


Damn, what a great book.  RIP, Richard Ben Cramer.

{ 3 comments }

Brian Doherty January 8, 2013 at 2:55 pm

Based on your review, I think I’d like to read the book. How is his coverage of the 1988 Jesse Jackson campaign? Looking back, that was a petty important event in the history of the Democratic Party, and I’d like to see his take….

John Sides January 8, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Brian: There’s very little attention to Jackson in the book, for whatever reason. The book is focused on Biden, Dole, Hart, George H.W. Bush, Gephardt, and Dukakis. But worth it for Biden and Dole especially.

longwalkdownlyndale January 8, 2013 at 4:55 pm

What I gathered from some of the interviews on C-Span (they are on youtube) from when the book came out Cramer didn’t want to write a lot about candidates he didn’t develop a close relationship with and have a chance to extensively research, which he did for the six he does focus on. For whatever reason he never really got close to Jackson and by the time Jackson started to surge in the winter and spring of 87-88 Cramer thought it was too late to really do him justice (he started working on the book in 1986). That said Jackson certainly appears, especially in one memorable chapter about the Michigan caucuses where Jackson upset Dukakis. He does a similar treatment with some other candidates that cycle like Al Gore and Pat Robertson.

And yes you should read it. The first chapter about Biden and Biden’s wheeler dealer real estate shenanigans titled simply “The Night of the Bronco” is alone worth the price of the book.

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