Politicians are often known for the books they’ve written in the years prior to their candidacy. Whether constructed as part of a campaign strategy or not, a successful book can launch a political candidate into new levels of the stratosphere.
But candidates who write for political purposes aren’t necessarily book lovers themselves. All politics aside, I want a book lover in the White House. I want bibliophiles in Congress. Let’s put that tunnel between the U.S. Capital and the Library of Congress to work.
A recent article in The Daily Beast, which reportedly lists all of the books that President Obama has read since the last campaign, got me thinking about politicians and their reading habits. A look into the reading history of candidates could offer a rich understanding of their persona, motivations, and world-view, without the filter of a speech writer’s spin.
So here’s my proposal to all politicians, the 2012 candidates in particular: Show us your cards. Let’s see what you’ve been reading. Not just since the last election, but everything you’ve read as an adult.
I understand you won’t remember every book you’ve read; I certainly don’t. There won’t be any quizzes. But just knowing the press might ask you some questions will keep you honest in the books you list for us.
One delicious aspect of my proposal is that I’m guessing some of these politicians have written more books than they’ve read. They remind me of the airline passenger seated next to you who won’t stop talking. All output, no input. We know what politicians have to say, but a glimpse into their reading history will show us how they can listen (or not).
Years ago I set out to read the biographies of each American president, in chronological order. I admit that so far I’ve only made it to Andrew Jackson, who served as President from 1829-1837. I got sidetracked in the process because the biographers repeatedly mentioned the ancient writers who had influenced our presidents.
Over and over I read the names of Cicero, Pliny, Marcus Aurelius, Aeschylus, Plutarch, to whose writings I turned. These ancients influenced the likes of Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison. My presidential reading project sent me back 2,000 years, to the sources of the presidents’ greatness, giving me a more robust comprehension of our founding fathers.
Returning to the present, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the PR advisors to the current candidates aren’t going to like my plan. But I say that’s hogwash. If your candidate is worth his or her salt, a glimpse into their reading history is only going to bring that to light, and with new resolve and legitimacy.
You are what you read. If the candidates want my vote, now they know how to earn it.