PW: A lot of people who know your work primarily through the New Yorker and the New Republic might be surprised by the early pieces about Jerry Garcia and John Lennon.
I think they do arguably fit as part of a larger cultural context of the politics of the 1960s, though. But, yes, I really didn't find myself as a political writer until I went to work for Jimmy Carter. In my first incarnation as a New Yorker writer, I wrote about politics, but I wrote about other things much more: baseball, rock 'n' roll, movies, New York City characters....
Did you really turn down that first job offer from William Shawn [as a piece in the book details] because you thought it was a practical joke?
Yes, and then after I learned it wasn't, I turned it down anyway. I was certainly attracted by the idea of going to the New Yorker, but I really felt I wasn't seasoned enough, that the amount of self-direction required to do that was something I just didn't have yet. So I did other things.... When I got out of the navy, I thought to myself that if that offer was still open, I'd better take it, because I wouldn't be a boy wonder much longer. Fortunately, when Mr. Shawn made an offer, it stayed an offer.
Out of all the presidential election campaigns during your career, why did you choose to spotlight the 1988 race?
I've written about lots of other campaigns, but usually as a sideline to some other job. The one in 1988 was the only campaign that I've ever covered from beginning to end; it was a wonderful experience that I don't particularly feel the need to repeat.
Does anything about that campaign remind you of the current election cycle?
At the time, 1988 seemed like such a vicious campaign, but in retrospect, it seems so sweet and innocent compared to the way things are now. And the stakes were not as existential as they seem to me to be in this campaign.
You've been through a number of political book cycles. Does this current one seem different to you somehow?
Throughout the Reagan years, there was a spate of insider books that revealed unpalatable, devastatingly absurd secrets about Reagan and his administration, but there was really nothing to compare with Richard Clarke's book, Woodward's new book, Joseph Wilson's book, or Ron Suskind's book. I've never anything like this flood of books devastatingly undermining in a highly substantive manner the rationale for the reelection of an incumbent president.
And you've fired off some shots as well, as the tail end of your book indicates.
I hope so. I do feel passionately that an extraordinary amount is at stake for our country and our world in this election, and nothing could possibly please me more than to have some tiny role in bringing about the defeat of the Bush presidency.