What Drive Them? Who Cares?

My Mixed Feelings About Richard Ben Cramer-Style Political Journalism

01.09.13 4:43 PM ET

I never was a devotee of What It Takes. I'm not a foe of it. I've probably read about half of it over the years in chunks. I definitely recall not being interested when it came out, because it was 1992, and we were on to another election, why I did want to read about Dick effin' Gephardt?

This is probably why the book has aged so well, precisely because it seemed a little beside the point when it came out (and was reviewed kind of negatively, as many noted yesterday), and the passage of time has perhaps paradoxically made its 1992-vintage irrelevance less, well, relevant.

I recognize what an accomplishment the book is. But I'm not a typical reader on this point. I don't really care what makes politicians "tick," as a general rule. I've obviousy known tons of politicians. Most of them aren't really that interesting, or certainly as a rule aren't any more interesting as humans qua humans than any other group of people--schoolteachers, plumbers, bank loan officers, what have you.

What makes them interesting is that they have power, and therefore, what is mainly interesting about them to me is how they use their power. Sometimes, sure, the traumatic event of their childhood affects that, and that's useful to know I suppose, but I believe firmly and passionately that they should be judged on their public decisions and behavior.

Their private lives, and their inner lives, are of little moment to me. In fact I even think that in most cases, journalism that tells us about politician's inner lives tends toward a kind of lionization that is inappropriate to republican governance. These people should not be celebrities. They're servants. The republic's concern is not why Politician A committed Action B; the republic's concern is merely that he did it, and that we are left with the consequences.