If you’re one of the many Americans that bemoans the rise of dirty tricks and questionable tactics in recent presidential campaigns, you might be surprised to hear that elections have always been dirty. While this isn’t necessarily a comforting fact if you have a rosy view of the founding generation, Anything for a Vote nevertheless provides an entertaining, easy-to-read account of all the absolutely filthy elections from the late 18th century to today.
Cummins structured his book very well, covering each campaign from the late 1700s to the 2004 contest between John Kerry and George W. Bush. Depending on the salaciousness of the campaign and election, the book spends between a couple pages and a half-dozen covering the mood of the country at the time, the candidates, the campaign and the actual election. Each section also starts with a “Sleaze-O-Meter” rating between 1 and 10, just to warn you how dirty that year’s contest was. Like the best trivia books, Anything for a Vote reads well if read front to back or if you jump from election to election.
As a US history nut and student of political science, this book doesn’t disappoint. Cummins does a great job conveying the mood and events surrounding each election, but the writing is snappy enough to prevent boredom from ever setting in. Even if you’ve read a lot about presidential campaigns, you’ll probably still find loads of facts you haven’t heard before. The book is well-researched (with a bibliography in the back, something sorely lacking in most trivia tomes), and the author has an easygoing style that reminds me of my favorite college professor. Did you know, for example, that Davy Crockett (yes, that Davy Crockett) accused Van Buren of being “laced up in corsets” and wearing women’s clothing? Or that Republicans in the 1928 election alleged that the Democratic candidate presided over construction of a tunnel to the basement of the Vatican? How about the fact that the Garfield campaign in 1880 literally bought votes in Indiana, paying out $400,000 to voters in $2 bills? Even as far back as the election of Washington’s VP in 1792, Hamilton and Jefferson funded newspapers that attacked the candidates.
These few facts are just the tips of the iceberg. Don’t bother picking up a novel for some end of summer reading – if you want mayhem, violence, sex, excitement and some downright scandalous reading, just pick up Anything for a Vote. You can check out a rather extensive preview on Google Books, and click here to get the book from a local independent bookstore.
Anything for a Vote by Joseph Cummins – 16.95 – Paperback – ISBN 978-1-59474-156-2 – Quirk Books