My Dad, John McCain
I have complained before about the prominence of the candidates’ children and grandchildren in this US election campaign. “Past your bedtime”, I find myself clucking whenever they are seen hugging the candidate at any hour after 7.00 in the evening.
What I hadn’t realised is that there is a whole genre of eulogistic books on the candidates written for ‘younger readers’. At first sight, My Dad, John McCain looks the worst. Written by daughter Meghan McCain, it is aimed at the pre-teen market (reading age 4-8).. Economical with some of the truth (the first Mrs McCain is airbrushed out, for example), it plays to the young, tough, blokeish rebels in its readership:
"He wasn't a very good student...he broke a lot of rules, but he liked football and wrestling. He wasnt' the biggest or the strongest guy on the football team - but he was one of the toughest. He just wouldn't give up."
But there’s plenty of patriotism too of course (combined with a distaste with parts of animals that other people eat but we don’t). Try this (taken from the Huffington Post’s very full extracts) on Vietnam:
"My dad and the other prisoners were treated badly. He didn't get the right kind of medical care for his broken bones, and the food was really bad -- once he found a chicken foot in his lunch. ...But then my dad got a chance most prisoner's didn't. Since he was an admiral's son, the Vietnamese who had captured him said they would let him go home. My dad was hurt, sick, and scared. But he knew there were some things more important than himself - like his faith in God, his country, and the men he served with. My dad wouldn't go home and leave his friends. I think only a great man would have made that choice."
What’s especially the matter with a chicken foot, I hear you wonder (at the same time as you reflect on the cuisine on offer in Guantanamo).
But, dreadful as this is, the Obama books – and there is more than one -- hit even lower depths (except they’re not written by his daughters).
Barack Obama, Son of Promise, Child of Hope by Nikki Grimes is, as its title hints, particularly cloying. Never mind maverick patriotism, here god him/herself appears to have a direct line to young Barack. One Sunday in church he (that’s god) says, “Look around you. Now look at me. There is hope enough here to last a lifetime.” And somewhere along the line, Obama seems to turn into Moses.
Religion is less in your face in Jonah Winter’s Barack, also aimed at under 10s. But you still have to put up with him being born on a “moonlit night” (really?) to a Mom “white as whipped cream”. And no less puke-making is Garen Thomas's, Yes, we can, aimed at slightly older kids. How about this, quoted by the New York Times reviewer: “There has emerged a new leader who seems to be granting Americans a renewed license to dream. . . . People believe he understands them, because by some measure he is them. . . . He manages, through what appears to be genuine concern, to uplift those who have fallen and bring hope anew to both the cynic and the idealist.”
The books are selling in large numbers, and presumably not only to cynical adults wanting a laugh. Ms McCain’s story is (as I write) in the 300s of Amazon.com, Son of Promise is in the 400s.
What on earth are the kids who read this hype going to conclude about the political process when the new president turns out to be a pretty ordinary guy, and not Moses after all?
I fell to thinking how lucky we were that Gordon Brown and David Cameron didn’t get written up like this, or encourage others to do so (though I’m not 100% confident that Cameron would be totally averse) -- when I listened to David Cannadine’s excellent programme about the BBC and the Royal Family. In the middle of the war, he told us, Children’s Hour had wheeled out Princess Lilibet to address the children of the nation (no tape was played, sadly).
Maybe the British don’t have much of a leg to stand on.