Election Guide: Politics Made Easy

NEW YORK TIMES ELECTION HANDBOOK, Harold Faber (ed.), McGraw-Hill Paperbacks, 192 pp., $.95.

It is a tattered cliche--and occasionally a valid one--that journalists are a cynical lot to whom nothing is sacred. Yet the ink-spattered devils of the nation's press could hardly be in it for the money: they could make more as electricians and work better hours. They are not exactly showered with glory or prestige, and only a well-publicized, atypical few attain "positions of power."

Why, then, do they do it? Some journalists--the good ones at least--sustain the cherished faith that they are performing a noble service without which democracy could not endure.

Despite academic arguments about the infeasibility of modern democracy, citizens still vote for their president and representatives in Congress. And if these elections are to have any meaning in terms of the issue facing the nation, the press must perform the task of educating an uninterested, ill-equipped, distracted electorate.

The New York Times has thus published an Election Handbook, which contains between its paper (and therefore cheap) covers a cogent summary of information relevant to the forthcoming election. The book is not meant for Harvard government majors, perhaps not even for the most impenetrable science types. It is meants for the average voter who, alas, probably won't read it. Nevertheless, the Election Handbook is a valuable public service.

Far From Scholarly

The book is not a triumph of scholarship. Some articles (all are written by Times reporters and editors), such as Tom Wicker's "The President," read like a bad Gov 1 text. Others, such as the articles on the issues--civil rights, economics, war and peace--read like warmed-over Sunday magazine pieces. The best articles are an intelligent analysis of "The Republican Strategy" by Joseph Loftus, and a witty discussion of the "Imponderables" of electioneering by Cabell Phillips. The final third of the book is a consise rundown of the political situation in each state, and the back is an election night scorecard.

Capsules on Candidates

The most entertaining section contains capsule descriptions of the candidates, and reveals the following facts: Yale men (Shriver, Scranton, Morton) outnumber the Harvard men (Lodge, R.F. Kennedy); three vice-presidential hopefuls (Humphrey, Hatfield, McCarthy) are former college professors; Goldwater's wife's maiden name was Johnson; Lodge has stomach ulcers.

Some of the short descriptions are amusing. (Bobby Kennedy is termed an "avowed enemy of James R. Hoffa"). But even brevity is no excuse for such barbarities as the note which says Sargent Shriver "Insists that intellectuals should have a role in American life." And is it fair to say that Richard Nixon thinks the "U.S. goal must be free Cuba, free Soviet Union, free China"? Surely he has not abandoned the oppressed peoples of Eastern Europe or Tierra del Fuego.

Ungainly Prose

Unavoidably, events render parts of a book like this irrelevant. Moreover, the Handbook is written in the same ungainly prose ("The Kennedy political problems will be treated as having passed with him") that clutters the daily Times.

The role of the newspaper remains that of teacher and this book, despite many grevious faults, is thus a worthwhile undertaking.

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