As Obama and Romney prepare to square off for the second time tonight, most of us will be watching as much for the theater of the event as for revelation of political agenda. Will either candidate deliver the decisive blow that seemed to be missing from their first go-round? Will there be a race-defining moment -- like Nixonâ€™s sweaty agony, or Democratic vice presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen's 1988 dismissal of Dan Quayle with the zinger "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy" -- that solidifies the candidateâ€™s image in the minds of the viewers? And will Candy Crowley fare better with critics than Jim Lehrer did? To prepare, a few biographies and memoirs of the candidates and the stakes.
"Tension City: Inside the Presidential Debates" by Jim Lehrer
Lehrer was criticized for not being an aggressive enough moderator during the first Obama-Romney face-off, but it couldnâ€™t have been for lack of experience. The newsman has refereed a dozen presidential debates, including crucial Kennedy-Nixon bouts and Obama-McCain during the last election cycle. Lehrer includes the exchanges that won (and lost) campaigns, but also takes the reader behind the lecterns to reveal backstage stratagems and off-camera maneuvering, highlighting how much the debates are about making the candidates look, and not just sound, presidential.
"The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama" by David Remnick
While Lehrer disappointed pundits during the first debate by being too hands-off, Obama was similarly criticized for being too controlled and dispassionate, more college professor than leader of the free world. If this assessment is accurate, itâ€™s fair to ask how he got that way. In this biography, New Yorker editor David Remnick traces the evolution of Obamaâ€™s beliefs and personality, highlighting early friendships and romantic relationships. (Obamaâ€™s standard reply to a girlfriendâ€™s professions of love was "Thank you.") This biography is not just gossip and pop psychology, though -- Remnick seeks to place Obamaâ€™s coming of age as a man and a politician in the larger context of the nationâ€™s political, racial, and social development.
"The Real Romney" by Michael Kranish and Scott Helman
Itâ€™s possible that Romney had the advantage going into the first debate simply because heâ€™s been an enigma to many voters, and the debate was a chance to see him speak and react on his feet. But did we see the true candidate that night, and if not, will he reveal himself tonight? In this biography by two Boston Globe reporters, based on five years of reporting, we follow Romneyâ€™s political ascendancy from his affluent childhood in Michigan, his years as a Mormon missionary, his tenure at Bain Capital and his governorship of Massachusetts. Along the way, Kranish and Helman write, he learned how protect his image and evaluate each political decision with the ultimate prize -- the presidency -- in mind.
"Dreams from My Father" by Barack Obama
The outlines of the presidentâ€™s biography should be well known to most Americans by now -- the early years in Hawaii, raised by his white mother and grandparents; the time at Columbia University, when he learned his Kenyan father had died in a car accident; his formative experiences as a community organizer in Chicago that made him decide to run for Senate. But this memoir, which Obama first published when he was just beginning his political career (it was reissued in 2004 and became a bestseller following his keynote address at that year's Democratic National Convention)Â gives insight into the president not just as a leader, but as a thinker and writer. At times surprisingly candid about his struggles and personal setbacks, this memoir shows the president as a boy, a teen, and a man defining himself in a changing world.
"Turnaround: Crisis, Leadership, and the Olympic Games" by Mitt Romney
One of the lesser known chapters in Romneyâ€™s biography is his involvement in the 2002 Salt Lake Olympic Games. In 1999, the Games were troubled by disorganization and a vote-buying scandal when the city leaders asked Romney to take over as CEO. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 added security concerns to the list of potential problems for the Olympics, but Romney managed to produce a safe and successful competition. In this business memoir, he writes of his leadership philosophies, including his aversion to sales and his belief in the importance of surrounding yourself with a competent staff. Does he plan to run the country the way he ran the Olympics? Tune in tonight to find out.