Is Memoir Becoming Mandatory for Politics?

Candidates rise or fall depending upon how voters feel about the stories they tell and the stories others tell about them.  That’s why in recent years political conventions often feature films with the candidate as the hero, and hastily-written biographies usually crop up on Amazon and in the bookstores.  John Kerry was savaged by a Swiftboat biography in the last election.  This time, however, both candidates for president published best-selling memoirs before their campaigns began.

Mary Karr’s op ed several weeks ago, a subject of one of my earlier posts,  made the case that Obama’s memoir offers important insights about how he would lead, based on the difficult task of the excellent memoir writer–sorting fragments of memory into a cohesive, honest, narrative large enough to contain paradox.

David Kirkpatrick, in his recent New York Times essay called “Writing Memoir, McCain Found a Narrative for Life,” chronicles the construction of John McCain’s public persona.  The headline, however, is a bit misleading.  It was Mark Salter, McCain’s trusted friend and speech writer, who constructed the narrative in the most important McCain memoir, Faith of My Fathers, which, once published, became the source of all future political stories.  Salter took McCain’s own memories as well as his favorite stories and heroes–  Marlon Brando’s films, W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, and Robert Jordan from For Whom the Bell Tolls.  He created a narrative about self-sacrifice as a family tradition after finding a quote from McCain’s grandfather to his father in the Navy archives.

McCain’s memoir has been described by former campaign manager John Weaver as very important to his political success.  It made his persona much grander, more cause-oriented than it had been before.  Weaver concludes, “The book played a major role in creating the brand that has served McCain so well.”

All of this analysis of memoir in the news leads me to wonder how the campaigns of the future will look.  Will more memoir in politics lead to more artificiality or more authenticity?  Will we get a real voice or one created for political expediency?

My guess is that Joe the plumber is getting offers for a memoir right now!

Shirley Showalter


  1. 100 Memoirs » Joe the Plumber Fulfills Prediction on November 21, 2008 at 12:06 pm

    […] become a memoirist.  At least, he has signed a book deal, something I predicted on October 18 here. Of course, he is not really writing his own memoir.  You can see what the BBC said here.  And The […]

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