Hail to the Voter

Janet Clapp

An important right and responsibility in our democracy is the vote. Elections matter, from municipal elections for justice of the peace to the national circus of the presidential election. There are plenty of books about presidential candidates, present and past, but here are some books that provide different perspectives on the presidential campaign, the presidency, and the precious right to vote.

1006-rhv-booksgiveustheball‘Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America’
by Ari Berman
“For a country that is famous for exporting democracy across the globe and has branded itself as the shining city on the hill, the United States has a shameful history when it comes to embracing one of its most basic rights at home.” Journalist Berman recounts the history of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), beginning with its creation in 1965. “Overnight the VRA had wiped out nearly a century of voting discrimination.” From marches to court cases, American citizens have fought for the right to vote. Berman concludes with the 2014 election, when people “in fourteen states faced new restrictions at the polls… in the first election in nearly fifty years without the full protections of the VRA. In Texas, Elizabeth Gholar couldn’t vote for the first time in sixty years because of the state’s voter ID law. She was not alone.”

1006-rhv-bookswhistlestop‘Whistlestop: My Favorite Stories from Presidential Campaign History’
by John Dickerson
Columnist and moderator Dickerson has covered six presidential campaigns. “While you’re watching one race, there’s usually an echo from the past that gives you a guide about what might happen.” From 1800 (“considered one of the ugliest campaigns in history”) to the 2004 Dean scream (“Did the scream kill the Dean campaign? No.”), Dickerson looks at campaign history in an entertaining and informative way. “The broken links to the past tell us something too about how we’ve changed our standards and about the values and thinking behind the way we look at presidential campaigns today.”

1006-rhv-booksthecandidate‘The Candidate: What It Takes to Win — and Hold — the White House’
by Samuel L. Popkin
“In every presidential election, there are three possible campaigns any candidate can run…Challengers offer a fresh start, incumbents offer experience, and successors — the toughest campaign — offer continuity. Each role has different inherent vulnerabilities. Each role also experiences different organizational challenges during the campaign.” Popkin, a professor of political science and campaign consultant, assesses what it takes to win. “Charisma, money, and polls are not enough to make it through a campaign.” Popkin’s last chapter asks whether our system works to pick the best president. “Examining all the imperfect people who run for president, I believe more strongly than when I began this research that the most dangerous loophole in the process is the recurring belief — the fantasy — of the anti-politician.” He concludes, “I believe that the most important quality we should look for in candidates is whether they understand the distinction between what sells and what works. Both are necessary; knowing the difference is critical.”

1006-rhv-bookstheresidence‘The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House’
by Kate Andersen Brower
The president isn’t the only one who works in the White House. Brower interviewed a number of domestic behind-the-scenes staff to find out what it’s like to work in the most famous residence in the United States. “Despite their sacrifice and hard work, the residence staff assiduously avoids the spotlight — and not just in a metaphorical sense.” Florists, butlers, valets, maids, chefs, plumbers, electricians and others keep things running smoothly on a daily basis and move households in and out quickly on Inauguration Day. Many workers served under more than one administration, and the interviewees tell stories about the Kennedys, Johnsons, Nixons, Reagans, Bushs, Clintons and Obamas. “In the small moments that make up a life, the residence workers catch a glimpse of the humanity in the presidents and first ladies whose true personalities are rarely known beyond the walls of the White House.” Lighthearted tales of presidential children and Johnson’s powerful shower contrast with somber occasions like Nixon’s resignation.

Not only does the Rutland Free Library offer books about politics, campaigns, and presidents, you can also register to vote at the library. Remember, November 2 is the last day you can register to vote in Vermont for the November 8th election.

Happy reading and voting.

Janet Clapp

Janet Clapp is an adult services librarian at Rutland Free Library.

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