cover image Election 2004: How Bush Won and What You Can Expect in the Future

Election 2004: How Bush Won and What You Can Expect in the Future

Evan Thomas / Author PublicAffairs $14 (209p) ISBN 978-1-58648

Mutual contempt fueled a presidential contest between candidates who ""disliked each other before they knew each other."" That's the jumping off point for Thomas, Newsweek's assistant managing editor, and a coterie of reporters in this insider look at the campaigns of George W. Bush and John Kerry. Since politics is ""intensely personal,"" the writers contend that ""it is impossible to understand the 2004 presidential campaign without appreciating the nature of the animus between the two men."" Both candidates encouraged dueling caricatures rooted in their Yale University experiences. Kerry saw students like Bush as ""insular,"" while Bush apparently felt people like Kerry were ""sanctimonious suck-ups."" This premise drives an account focused more by prickly personalities than by issues like war or the economy, which the reporting team claims were trumped by ""more visceral concerns"" like strength and resolve. The journalists had ""unusual access"" to Bush, Kerry, their staffs and families, yet what follows in these pages won't surprise anyone familiar with the mainstream media coverage. There's Karl Rove's ""mystique of an all-seeing, all-knowing boss of bosses,"" Kerry's cell phone obsession, Laura Bush's ""perfect-wife way,"" etc. Some stories do stand out. The disciplined Bush campaign contrasts starkly with the too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen chaos that plagued the Kerry effort. And during the Swift Boat controversy, the journalists note how Kerry caved into top aides' fears about voter reaction, ignoring his gut instinct to immediately ""hit back."" Nonetheless, the book does little to dispel Kerry's own critique of Newsweek's ""gossipy"" reporting. The analysis is also unremarkable: prognostications on cabinet reshufflings, Social Security reform, Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential ambitions and other topics ring familiar bells. Readers seeking confirmations rather than revelations about how the president won re-election will find them in abundance here. Photos.