Liz Alexander's Reviews > The Can't-Idates: Running for President When Nobody Knows Your Name

The Can't-Idates by Craig Tomashoff
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it was amazing
bookshelves: non-fiction-memoir

Coming from a country that once boasted a political candidate with the name Screaming Lord Sutch (founder of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party), I was immediately drawn to this book. Not least to discover that over 1,4000 ordinary citizens are running for POTUS in the current presidential race. A topic made all the more timely, given the rise of Donald Trump whom many appear to believe represents the views and values of average Americans.

Craig Tomashoff, a self-described lover of stories, has written a wonderful series of eye-opening tales. Deftly crafted and beautifully written as befits a former executive editor of TV Guide and a journalist whose contributions have graced the Boston Globe and Rolling Stone. He drove 10,000 miles (and thanks the AARP in the acknowledgements for the discounts he was able to accrue!) to interview 15 "Can't-idates." Those seemingly crazy people who even think it's possible in this "land of the free" to become president "when nobody knows your name."

From the moment I began the Introduction (read it: it's compelling, clever and cutting in its assessments of the political process in the U.S. today), this book was a page turner AND a tear-jerker. Where these everyday Americans mirror the current batch of presidential candidates is that few of them seem to have any clear agenda--as in concisely stated, realistic policies--for actually changing things. Where they differ greatly is that none of the Can't-idates have the kind of money needed to make even a minor a dent in the U.S. political universe.

But this isn't a book entirely focused on politics. What Mr. Tomashoff wisely realized was that it's the "extraordinary personal stories that set them on their political path" that make this book such a compelling read. From Doug Shreffler, who allegedly did something he cannot talk about for the CIA and is convinced "everyone in his hometown was a government agent there to protect him," to Ronald Satish Emrit, a man who failed the bar four times yet that isn't stopping him suing over 100 entities including the Social Services Administration, Medicare and the Archdiocese of Miami. And who accuses the Federal Election Commission of not accommodating his depression.

Then there's the wonderfully named Sydneys Voluptuous Buttocks who may not even exist, given that the author never actually got to meet her, just the two-man "committee" who so named her. (And I assume are responsible for the missing apostraphe, rather than this being an oversight on the part of the book's editor?) Because "Politicians are assholes. So we thought it'd be funny to run a campaign about somebody's actual ass."

It's not simply that these citizens haven't a snowball's chance in hell of actually becoming POTUS that's at issue here--and saddened me most--it's the fact that none is likely to even influence policy a tiny bit. That at least occurred in the U.K. where some of the "loony ideas" of Lord Sutch's party eventually got entered into British law, despite his party never winning a single seat (example: passports for pets (2001), saves pooches having to go into quarantine for long periods).

I got the impression this book was a rite of passage as much for the author as it was for the people he interviewed. Mr. Tomashoff deftly weaves in the soul-wrenching with the highly amusing as he intersperses each essay with anecdotes related to his own life. ("When it comes to Father of the Year voting, I rank somewhere between Darth Vader and Homer Simpson.") The author is a stunning writer who had me laughing out loud (no mean feat with a book!) at his self-depracating quips, but also had me weeping in places. This was especially true in the chapter dedicated to Luis Ramos. This is a man to whom life continues to rain down one misfortune after another and who left school at 21 with a D+ GPA. Yet is as innocently and wonderfully positive as Forrest Gump. If only members of Congress would take note of an ordinary guy pointing out that, "People have to stop playing the blame game and start working with each other as a team..."

I only have two beefs about this book--not enough for it to warrant anything less than 5 stars, however. First, twelve candidates would have been enough for me. It's a quick and easy read, but by the time I got to Lori Fleming's story I felt I was reading more of the same. And second, while I love the engaging and smart title, The Can't-idates--and this is the best possible description of its content--I wish the book could have been called the Can Do-idates. How else to describe the spirit of ordinary folks that dream of serving their country? Despite the mixed support of friends and family and even a companion who (not unreasonably) asked, "Who wants that job?"

Still, overall the book reminded me of the part of JFK's inaugural address where he says, "My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." In the case of the Can't-idates, there seemed to be a bit of both. While it was impressive how committed each appeared to be at serving their country by running for the highest office in the land, I was left with the impression that the goal they'd set themselves was giving each of them a new lease of life. Helping them deal with the not-inconsiderable baggage of their lives by making them happier, less insecure and more engaged with life.

Thank you, Mr. Tomashoff...I swear that if your name were David Sedaris, you'd be on the New York Times bestseller list by now!
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Reading Progress

March 21, 2016 – Started Reading
March 21, 2016 – Shelved
April 1, 2016 – Shelved as: non-fiction-memoir
April 1, 2016 – Finished Reading

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