A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the White House: Foolhardiness, Folly, and Fraud in Presidential Elections, from Andrew Jackson to George W. Bu

David E. Johnson, Author, Johnny R. Johnson, Author Taylor Trade Publishing $17.95 (247p) ISBN 978-1-58979-150-3
There's plenty of free entertainment to be had on the campaign trail, suggest the authors of this updated volume, first published in 1983. Able storytellers Johnson and Johnson, two retired Alabama college professors, explore 18 elections from 1828 to 2000 to prove that in presidential campaign rhetoric,""a little slander or a few well-placed potshots are as American as apple pie."" Certainly, this collection of anecdotes shows that gratuitous mudslinging sometimes sidelines constructive debate--and has since the earliest days of the republic. During the 1840 election, for example, Martin Van Buren was castigated for his peculiar personal hygiene--he actually took regular baths. A relative of Abraham Lincoln claimed he wouldn't vote for the""disgraceful"" candidate in 1864 even to save himself from Hell. Theodore Roosevelt scoffed that William Taft, one of his two 1912 challengers, possessed""brains of about three guinea-pig power."" The authors trace the pivotal moments of modern campaigns as well, from Harry Truman's upset victory over a presumptuous Thomas Dewey, through Richard Nixon's awkward appearance in the first-ever televised debates against a relaxed, confident John Kennedy, to Bill Clinton's cutting campaign mantra,""It's the economy, stupid."" Marred by huge payoffs to state election officials and disputed returns from several states (including Florida), Rutherford B. Hayes' 1876 win provoked as much outrage as the 2000 election (described here as""The Election from Hell""), with some newspapers labeling the hapless victor,""Rutherfraud."" Raffish political cartoons illustrate the vignettes, and a presidential portrait gallery, based on 1991 best-to-worst rankings, concludes the book. As the latest race ignites, readers may enjoy a chortle over the otherwise serious business of electing a president.
Reviewed on: 09/27/2004
Release date: 07/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
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