WASHINGTON — Barack Obama may have "The Audacity of Hope," a daring assault on the powerful anti-hope lobby, but Dennis Kucinich will have "The Courage to Believe" — and let's face it, the courage to believe that a peacenik munchkin can be elected president is a mighty courage indeed.
With the 2008 presidential campaign comes yet another trove of books by presidential candidates.
Such books follow a nearly universal pattern: A memoir-cum-policy-laundry-list. An "inspirational" cliche of a title with a windy subtitle. Whitewashed prose — frequently by a ghostwriter — purporting to show that the policy proposals aren't merely politically motivated and focus group-tested but spring from wisdom accumulated over a lifetime — or, even better, wisdom passed down through generations.
Joe Biden has "Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics." Sam Brownback has gone "From Power to Purpose: A Remarkable Journey of Faith and Compassion."
That's a bit highfalutin for Mike Huckabee, who prescribes a national 12-step program in "From Hope to Higher Ground: 12 Stops to Restoring America's Greatness."
Here's a first step: Stop killing thousands of trees to publish books with writing like this, from Brownback: "Dad was a hardworking man. He worked every day, even most Sundays. ... That was a great way of teaching us the importance of work."
Some candidates can't stop at one: Besides the 12-step book, Huckabee has "Character Makes a Difference: Where I'm From, Where I've Been and What I Believe." The cover photo shows Huckabee semi-reclined, shirt collar open, jauntily propped-up knee giving just a hint of dashingly faded blue jean. (Move over, Bill Clinton.)
Americans can get a double dose of Bill Richardson, too: There's "Between Worlds: The Making of an American Life" and the forthcoming "Leading by Example: How We Can Inspire an Energy and Security Revolution."
Judging from polls, most voters aren't all that interested in even single doses of long shots Huckabee or Richardson.
Which begs the question: Sure, there are exceptions, the occasional candidate-authored well-written bestseller (Obama's and John McCain's memoirs). But do we really need most of these?
For publishers, putting them out is a dose of public service with virtually no risk. Advance fees tend to be small: Brownback got $15,000. Chris Dodd got $30,000 for the coming "Letters From Nuremberg: My Father's Narrative of a Quest for Justice." And if a candidate catches fire, the publisher gets a low-cost hit.
Candidates love the "very clear vehicle for message" they get without having to pay for ads, said Peter Osnos, the founder of Public Affairs Books, which has published a few.
Take Biden, whose book was released Tuesday. He's appeared on morning TV shows, cable talk fests and national radio shows, gaining the most attention yet for his struggling bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Biden conceded Wednesday that "I never thought there was anything I could say that was worthwhile enough for anyone to want to read."
So what's his book about? "Who I am and what I believe."
And that is? "I believe the future of this country is very, very bright if we keep our promises."
Other candidates use old books to tell their stories. Mitt Romney's "Turnaround: Crisis, Leadership and the Olympic Games" just came out in paperback, featuring a "new preface on leadership."
Rudy Giuliani's "Leadership" and Hillary Clinton's "Living History" are still in print.
McCain is about memoired out, so his forthcoming "Hard Call: Great Decisions and the Extraordinary People Who Made Them" is a modern echo of "Profiles in Courage." That one set the standard for the campaign book by winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1957 for its up-and-coming author, Sen. John F. Kennedy.
Winston Churchill and Theodore Roosevelt were also prolific — and excellent — writers whose wide-ranging books helped catapult them to political fortune. Woodrow Wilson was a political scientist whose works were considered classics of their era.
The bar has been lowered. Considerably.
Churchill labored for years on his four-volume "A History of the English-Speaking Peoples." One of John Edwards' recent offerings is "Home: The Blueprints of Our Lives," a coffee table book celebrating the childhood homes of average and marginally famous people.
Then there's "A Martian Poet in Siberia," by Duncan Hunter. A metaphor for the illegal immigration problem, which candidate Hunter rails against? A call for intergalactic literary exchanges?
Turns out it's a sci-fi novel. Written, alas, by a Duncan Hunter who isn't the California Republican congressman who's running for president. Now, THAT would be audacious.