When I read that Richard Ben Cramer died this week, I pulled down my dog-eared copy of “What It Takes” and started to read it. Again.
If you’ve never heard of Cramer or his book, get it. Read it. You’ll thank me.
It’s about the 1988 presidential campaign, but it’s timeless. Through 1,000-plus dense, funny, sometimes-zany but always obsessively researched pages, Cramer answers two big questions: What are presidential candidates really like? And what are their campaigns really like?
Cramer focused on six candidates: George W. Bush (“Poppy”), Bob (“the Bobster”) Dole, Gary Hart(pence), Dick Gephardt (“hakhakhak”), Michael Dukakis (“Duke”) and Joe Biden. Read the chapter “The Night of the Bronco” to understand our Vice President. Read the book’s first few pages, about then-VP Bush throwing out the first ball at a major league game, to understand the bubble that politicians disappear into.
Here’s what I love most. Throughout the book, Cramer mentioned hundreds of politicians, staff members, consultants, lobbyists, reporters and other hangers-on. He knew what they would do when the book came out: Rush to the bookstore, pull down a copy, look at the index and read the parts about them.
So he didn’t do an index. The bastards had to read the whole book.