News & Politics

Slate’s Field Guide to the Candidates 2004

“A valuable resource for the indecisive.”

 Between campaign Web sites, newspapers, magazines, and TV, resources abound to help voters pick a candidate in the Democratic primaries. Most of the information in Slate’s Field Guide is neither new nor surprising (hey, did you know John Kerry served in Vietnam?). Unlike much news coverage, however, it’s concise, well organized, funny, and irreverent—and thus a valuable resource for the indecisive.

 Each chapter covers one candidate, beginning with a page of biographical basics. The remainder of the chapter is organized into categories balancing “the best” with “the worst,” and gaffes and flip-flops with context and caveats.

 Under “The Best of Howard Dean” is an excerpt from a speech he delivered congratulating himself on signing Vermont’s civil-unions bill. Following the quote is a “reality check”—the state legislature was under court order to legalize either gay marriage or civil unions. “Given that choice, Dean took the moderate course.”

 “The Buzzwords of John Kerry” features a familiar Q&A-session sound bite: “I want to get back to a politics that dares to ask, ‘Why not?’ again.” Slate’s dissects: “What it means: Nothing. What it hides: I’m saying nothing.”

 Under “The Body Language of Bob Graham” are four photos labeled “the angry face,” “the urgent face,” “the excited face,” and “the lighthearted face.” The faces are identical: mannequin deadpan. The chapter ends with an essay prophetically titled “Bob Graham: Who Is He Kidding?”

 Which raises the book’s main failure: It’s out of date. Graham, Carol Moseley Braun, Dick Gephardt, and Joe Lieberman each get a full chapter, Wesley Clark only a few incomplete pages. Because a presidential primary evolves daily, such flaws are inevitable.

 The Virginia primary was February 10, the DC caucus was February 14, and the Maryland primary is March 2. If you haven’t chosen a candidate yet—or if you’re second-guessing your first choice—Slate’s Field Guide is well worth the $8.99.

William Saletan and the Staff of