On Tuesday next, American voters will reach the end of another campaign that has been far too long, and in some respects, as trivial as lengthy. But somehow, miraculously, the appetite for examining presidential elections and the stakes that ride upon them endures. For those who wake up on November 7 with a leftover appetite for more, here are some of the more deserving dishes. PACKAGING THE PRESIDENCY
A History and Criticism of Presidential Campaign Advertising By Kathleen Hall Jamieson Oxford University Press. 505 pp. $19.95
THE MIDST of a presidential campaign is a dandy time for the appearance of Kathleen Jamieson's encyclopedic work, which is already enjoying a brisk seasonal notice. Within its limits -- the author, who teaches at the University of Maryland, is not particularly concerwith the contents of the presidential "packages" she examines -- this book tells you all you could ever wish to know about the evolution of campaign advertising, chiefly electronic, since the age of media politics dawned in 1952. (Adlai Stevenson, running against Dwight D. Eisenhower in that year and in 1956, was probably the last presidential candidate who will ever summon his "television adviser" to adjust a hotel television set.)
In her introductory survey, Jamieson establishes that the noise and nonsense of television campaigning are not new. There has always been a broad streak of frivolity in presidential campaigns, all the way back to the torchlight-parade era. She is sharply critical (usually on grounds of effectiveness) of some examples of the advertiser's art. But Jamieson is, on the whole, almost giddily optimistic and upbeat about the trends. She not only accepts the domination of presidential selection by television; she even regards it, with some qualifications, as a less than negtive development.
Her basic argument is that campaigns must be understood as wholes. The candidate's acceptance speech usually sets a theme to which the advertising campaign adheres; spot ads and televised speeches are best viewed as elaborations on that theme.
Moreover, she accepts the argument, naturally popular among the political media managers, that voters usually get a good idea in the end of the basic issues and the qualities of the candidates. In the face of the conventional assumptions that most Americans are bored by electronic politics (a possibility surely suggested by the steady plunge in voter turnout) she cites surveys that purport to show that the "salience" of political issues in the national consciousness has increased since the 1950s.
This reviewer is one sorehead who would like to bask in this glow of confidence about the benevolence of media politics; but even with Jamieson's discerning guidance I have my doubts.
No matter, however. For an informative and scrupulously detached treatment of this undoubtedly critical aspect of modern politics, Packaging the Presidency seems to me definitive. Jamieson is not only an indefatigable researcher; she writes clearly and pleasantly. The flaw of the book, itself minor, is that it is surely mistitled. Her subject is not the packaging of the office itself, but of the candidates for it. There is a significant difference. Whatever is misleading about the hopes and expectations aroused by packaged campaigns is beyond the scope of this book. But that is more often than not where the price of packaging is paid, often in the coin of disillusionment and cynicism. THE POLITICAL PRESIDENCY.
Practice of Leadership. By Barbara Kellerman. Oxford University Press. 300 pp. $22.50
THERE ARE two classes, broadly speaking, among analysts of the American presidency. There are those who believe the presidential failures, recent and historical, were essentially personal; and there are those who see disabling structural weaknesses in the office or its powers.
Barbara Kellerman obviously belongs with the first group. Her book originated, she tells us, as an extended reflection on Jimmy Carter's failures as a political leader. The approach here is both historical and comparative. Kellerman studies a succession of tests of recent political leadership, from John Kennedy's quest for a tax cut to Ronald Reagan's quest for budget cuts in 1981-2. There are also essays on Lyndon Johnson and the poverty program, Richard Nixon and the family assistance plan, and Gerald Ford and the 1974 tax cut; and, of course, Jimmy Carter's long campaign for a comprehensive energy program.
In a preliminary chapter which I found a bit too schematic for practical purposes, Kellerman constructs an elaborate typology of leadership traits and assets. Fortunately, these refinements do not mar her rather well managed historical essays.
The working theory of The Political Presidency is simple: "The president who is motivated and equipped to be politically skilled will prove to be a more effective leader in American political culture than the one to whom politicking is irrelevant or even distasteful."
Unsurprisingly, the inquiry into these tales in presidential leadership, some successful and others not, bears out the theory. Old-fashioned political and human talents go far. Personal warmth, ease with professionals in politics, a zest for the great political game, a willingness to treat patiently and sympathetically with members of Congress (traits so lacking in Carter and Nixon, and so well developed in Johnson and Reagan) -- these qualities work, at least with Congress.
Kellerman, it seems to me, has with some skill accomplished the reinvention of a political wheel, though the simplicity of the trick is cleverly masked by a flourish of theory about roundness and the usefulness of spokes.
The author is careful to note that her treatment of presidential leadership excludes, by design, all qualitative issues -- such as whether the programs and policies fought for were, or would have been, good for us. Her concern is with the techniques and arts of persuasion only. The Political Presidency may not force those of the other school of thought about presidential failures to surrender. It will remind them (especially proponents of the six-year, non-renewable term) of the peril of trying to make presidents into super civil servants, "above" politics. BEYOND THE SAFETY NET.
Reviving the Promise of Opportunity in America. By Sar A. Levitan and Clifford M. Johnson Ballinger. 187 pp. $16.95
BEYOND the Safety Net is an unabashed polemic, but so far as I can judge a scrupulously well-documented one. The authors conduct a strong assault on what they view as the mythology of President Reagan's social policies.
"Reaganism," they argue, has sought with notable success to redefine the problems of poverty and dependency. These flaws are no longer to be seen -- at least if you buy the Reagan view -- as the result of either misfortune or structural faults in the American economic system. Instead, we are invited to regard them as the reflection of moral shortcomings in those who are consistently poor, unemployable or otherwise dependent.
For the great majority of prosperous and upright citizens, they suggest, this moralistic view is comforting. It offers convenient reassurance about the nature and promise of modern industrial society. It invites the assumption that "wealth is a mark of distinction," while poverty "is the just consequence of personal inadequacies -- physical frailty, mental deficiencies and behavioral defects."
The authors of Beyond the Safety Net scorn that smug view. As they view the matter, poverty and dependency are at least far more complex matters; they usually if not always reflect the failure of society to offer aggressive efforts in job training and retraining, so that the victims of dependency may boost themselves into the economy.
In this and other respects, their book makes the usual liberal assumption that structural flaws in society are meliorable, if not permanently soluble, given will and resources. What has flagged under Reagan, they argue, is will, not means.
With an abundance of evidence, Levitan and Johnson insist that the Reagan administration has not kept its pledge to protect the "truly needy," nor to leave intact a social safety net. Its policies have been demonstrably injurious to many of the poor and dependent, especially the "working poor" whose incomes hover at or near the poverty line. The supplementary welfare incomes of the working poor have been aggressively cut or cut out, in an effort to force them off the rolls.
While conceding some usefulness to the work-related attitudes central to the Reagan vision, the authors regard the Reagan "revolution" as a whole as an invitation to complacency, even "a debilitating cynicism regarding the appropriate roles and capacities of government."
Beyond the Safety Net will obviously appeal more to critics of the Reagan policy than to those who applaud it. But even those who find its arguments adverse will, I suspect, be informed, stimulated and challenged. There is no doubting the point of view; but that apart, this is a useful primer to the most sharply contested issues of social policy in our time. RACE, RELIGION, AND THE CONTINUING AMERICAN DILEMMA By C. Eric Lincoln Hill and Wang. (Publication date: Dec. 5.) 228 pp. $17.95
THE "continuing dilemma" of Eric Lincoln's title is the dilemma defined 40 years ago by the Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal: racial inequality in a land theoretically devoted to political equality.
In spite of the striking improvements since Myrdal wrote, Lincoln for the most part adopts a plaintive, occasionally even gloomy, tone. In his view, black life in America is still burdened and circumscribed in ways hurtful and highly visible to blacks, but less so to whites.
Consider, for instance, the taboo against exhibitions of black sexuality in the media: "Until very recent times even so innocent an act as kissing was absolutely forbidden to blacks performing on television or the screen -- even if they were married! Whites could kiss horses, dogs, cobras or each other, but kissing among blacks was considered offensive, vulgar and a serious breach of social propriety."
I suppose Lincoln has more than impressions to support this observation, but there is no reason to doubt its accuracy. That such a taboo might exist, obvious from one perspective and invisible from another, is precisely the author's point.
Lincoln, who teaches at Duke University, has written extensively on blacks and religion. He is an authority on the history and role of the black church -- the primary institution of solidarity, social survival and political as well as religious activity in the black community. There are fascinating discussions of the origins of the Black Muslim movement, the peculiar outlook of the Mormon Church and much else. This is more a collection of linked essays than it is a sustained argument.
Even those of us who fancy we know something of the history of race relations in America have much to learn from Eric Lincoln. And learning it is a more than usually appropriate and useful undertaking in an election year that has witnessed the first major black candidacy for the presidency. Race, Religion and the Continuing American Dilemma is not only informative; it is a powerful antidote to the complacency arising from the significant progress of the last 30 years. It's easy to forget, or not to notice, how the nation's unfinished work looks from the black perspective. Lincoln, in offering that perspective, is a passionate, colorful, contentious writer. At his best he achieves a considerable power and eloquence.