Political Pundit Uses Books to Explain 2012 Presidential Election

Guest post from Kyle Kondik, a political analyst for the renowned election predictor, Larry Sabato

In American politics, electoral future is oftentimes illuminated by electoral past.

With the 2012 presidential election season now in full swing, President Barack Obama faces two paths, each symbolized by one of his recent Democratic predecessors.

The happy outcome for Obama would be to emulate President Harry Truman, who won one of the most remarkable electoral upsets in American history when he defeated New York Gov. Thomas Dewey in 1948. Zachary Karabell ably describes the campaign in his book, The Last Campaign: How Harry Truman Won the 1948 Election, and he reminds us that Truman did not just have to defeat Dewey; he also was challenged in the South by “Dixiecrat” candidate Strom Thurmond — who ran as a protest candidate after Truman and the Democratic Party embraced civil rights — and Progressive Party nominee and former Vice President Henry Wallace, who ran to Truman’s left. Indeed, throughout the year Obama has been trying to adopt a harder tone with congressional Republicans, much like Truman did in assailing the “Do-Nothing Congress.”

 

Helping Truman in 1948, beyond Dewey’s ineptness, was an economy recovering from its post-World War II hangover. Obama needs the same kind of help.

If he doesn’t get it, his path to reelection might resemble that of another Democrat — Jimmy Carter. In Mad as Hell: The Crisis of the 1970s and the Rise of the Populist Right, Dominic Sandbrook casts a discerning eye on the late 1970s, examining a period of uncertainty when America was under siege both abroad — through the Iran hostage crisis and gasoline shortages — and at home — as exemplified in ugly, bitter cultural struggles such as the South Boston busing riots. Interspersed in the narrative are vignettes that deviate from politics, such as short chapters about “America’s Team” (the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys) and the low-brow television show Charlie’s Angels, offering a full look of American life in the era. The malaise of the late 70s was a boon to Carter’s challenger, Ronald Reagan, who crushed Carter in the 1980 election.

Obviously, Obama hopes that when historians are writing the tale of his years as president, their books will read more like The Last Campaign than Mad as Hell.

Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, contributes to the center’s free, weekly political newsletter, Sabato’s Crystal Ball. Founded by political analyst and Professor Larry J. Sabato, the Center for Politics is a nonpartisan institute that seeks to promote the value of politics, improve civics education, and increase civic participation through comprehensive research, pragmatic analysis, and innovative educational programs. 

What books have most helped you understand the election process and American politics? Please share your thoughts and suggestions below.

*Note* The above blog post is a guest blog from political expert, Kyle Kondik. This content does not necessarily reflect the views of Better World Books (as our lawyers make sure we say). We love having guest bloggers and invite you to email 11@betterworldbooks.com if you are interested in covering a book or topic on the BWB Blog. Thank you, Kyle, we’re excited to see which scenario plays out.

PS: If you’re interested in learning more about elections through books, here is a list of Sabato’s hits.

 

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