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January 20, 2015

Presidential hopefuls turn to e-publishing, completely misjudge political value of their writing

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Jeb Bush (via Wikimedia)

Jeb Bush (via Wikimedia)

As far as presidential campaigning is concerned, 2015 is pretty much 2016. With the Iowa caucuses kicking things off next January 18th, it’s officially less than a year until primary season. So over the next 363 days, expect to see plenty of faux-inspirational books written by prospective candidates.

As Politico notes, Hilary Clinton, Jim Webb, and Elizabeth Warren dropped their tomes of lessons, values, and other talking points back in 2014. American Dreams by inspired titler Marco Rubio was released last week, while Mike Huckabee’s anti-hip hop manifesto God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy hits shock-and-awed shelves tomorrow.

No fewer than five more politicians have book deals this year, but two stand out: Jeb Bush, who has an ebook on the way, and Martin O’Malley, who has been tumblring up a storm over at Letters to the People of Maryland (ed. note: There is maybe nothing funnier to me in the world right now than the fact that O’Malley suppresses notes on his Tumblr, so there’s no effective way of telling what his readership is—which implies it’s very small. Either way, there’s literally no Twitter activity if you search the two most recent posts, which is, well, not a very good sign. ) and is also shopping a manuscript to publishers.

Bush is attempting to position himself as a digital candidate comfortable with technology and new means of communication; Politico points out that his “official gubernatorial portrait includes his Blackberry,” a reminder that the Republican hasn’t been governor of Florida since January 2, 2007. Much respect to the 61-year-old for looking out for his #brand, but the choice to go paperless here seems to be more about styling himself a certain type of politician rather than proving himself one through the substance of his text—especially since ebook versions of physical books are now the norm.

Furthermore, a previous MobyLives post quoted a British Library report partially attributing an uptick in visitors to a desire for physical books in an increasingly plugged-in world: “The more screen-based our lives, it seems, the greater the perceived value of real human encounters and physical artefacts: activity in each realm feeds interest in the other.”

While 2014 data on American library attendance is not yet available, there’s evidence to suggest Bush is going against reader trends to make a point. On top of that, he’s sacrificing the opportunity to tour his book and have it displayed, things that literally get his name and face out there in the lead-up to a White House run.

Then again, Politico mentions that he may eventually come out with a print version as well. The e-book-as-soft-launch has cost efficiency to it, but it’s also a copout: If he discovers there’s little interest in him as a candidate, no need to send the book to presses. But if he has to ask the Internet whether or not he’s popular, he’s probably not going to like the answer.

Then there’s O’Malley, who’s striving for the best of both worlds with an old-school book release and a blog, which he told the Baltimore Sun is “therapeutic” rather than fodder for his print publication.

“It’s a good way to harvest the memory of all that we’ve accomplished,” O’Malley said in an interview with the Sun. “I’ve been employed by the state as the one guy who gets to oversee the whole of government, and I feel like I have a bit of an obligation to share what I think I’ve learned about this corporation and this common good we hold.”

His therapy includes things like his 16 Strategic Goals for Maryland and outlining the state’s progress in skills training, which gives him more the air of the counselor than the patient in this session. But his tone is not one of the usual sober authority: he’s prone to poetic attempts not common in presidential discourse—some that work well:

Perhaps the greatest impact of GIS and mapping technology is its ability – with the right leadership and shared effort – to change the way we treat the earth and thereby improve the way we treat one another.

And others that work less well: “As a state, we kind of fell asleep with silly putty in our hair too.”

Adventures with imagery aside, O’Malley better really be writing this blog out of earnestness rather than as a campaign prelude. Though traffic numbers haven’t been released for Letters to the People of Maryland, it’s not like it’s had much viral appeal, and he’ll need all the popularity he can get to rise from the Democratic mass of humanity collectively known as Not Hilary.

Bush and O’Malley need voter awareness if they want to go from posturing in 2016 Eve to competing in 2016 proper. Come Iowa, their respective e-writings aren’t likely to stop them from falling asleep with silly putty in their hair.

 

Josh Cohen is a contributing editor for MobyLives.

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