America has devised numerous mechanisms to rid itself of presidential candidates who have outlived their usefulness; these range from the ballot box to comely women draped in Confederate flags. Lamentably, it has devised no comparable method to rid itself of the cultural debris from their final, doomed campaigns. I am not speaking of placards, buttons or funny hats, but of the dire biographies and autobiographies that their campaigns inspire, containing passages such as:
"Gerry scrawled a farewell next to her freshman roommate's photograph: 'Dear Deb, can you believe it's all over? I won't forget all the wonderful times we had together. The song contests, picture, games, just everything.' "
"It was far too early to grow confident, far too early to run anything but frightened. But that day in Detroit in 1983, John Glenn could be forgiven if he dreamed of the Oval Office."
There are 27 books with names like "My Name Is Geraldine Ferraro: An Unauthorized Biography," "John Glenn: The Astronaut Who Would Be President" and "California Dreaming: The Political Odyssey of Pat & Jerry Brown" in the public library across the street from my home. They weigh a total of 38 pounds and occupy 49 inches of shelf space. Tarrytown being no different from many other small towns, there is every reason to believe that this affliction is transcontinental.
What is most paradoxical about these books is that while you can get people to write them -- usually during a lunch break at the Democratic National Convention -- you can't get anyone to read them. Roger Rappaport's "California Dreaming" has never been checked out of the Warner Library, and Linda Ronstadt had not yet discovered Nelson Riddle the last time anyone borrowed Orville Schell's "Brown." A good five years has elapsed since anyone borrowed John Hersey's "The President: A Minute-by-Minute Account of a Week in the Life of Gerald Ford." And no one has been breaking down the doors for "Hubert: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Humphrey I Knew," written by HHH's personal physician, who had previously penned "The Solid Gold Stethoscope." Hernando de Soto's biography has been borrowed more recently than "Mondale: Portrait of an American Politician," as have Ed McMahon's, Magda Goebbels', Jack Paar's and Linda Lovelace's.
This subject first came to my attention when, cruising through the biography section at my library, I stumbled upon a chilling volume titled "The Man From Plains: The Mind and Spirit of Jimmy Carter." The dust jacket described it as "closely reasoned" and "deeply provocative," and had a photograph of Carter in dungarees, plaid shirt and hiking boots, introspectively stomping through a wheat field.
Right beside the book was an equally ominous volume titled "Jimmy Carter: The Man & the Myth." There is a lingering debate as to how much of a man Carter actually was, but the evidence is fairly clear that there wasn't any myth. This book was inspired by the author's previous "best seller: "JFK: The Man & the Myth." It is not too early to begin worrying about "Pierre du Pont: The Man & the Myth."
Down the shelf from the Carter books was "Jerry Ford: Up Close," published shortly after Ford replaced Richard Nixon. In the introduction, author Bud Vestal notes that until he undertook this project, "even in Michigan, no library had a book about Ford." Nothing speaks more eloquently of the exquisitely rigorous fashion in which this nation selects its chief executives.
Alarmed by all this, I started checking out books by or about folks who had left office on the dead run. It took me three trips, and I've got long arms. I included all the books by people who had run for president or vice president and not made it, but I also included Jerry Ford and Jimmy Carter because each was an incumbent who got the hook. I left out figures of mythical wealth such as the Kennedys -- there are two dozen volumes on them in my library -- and Nelson Rockefeller. I also left out Barry Goldwater and George Wallace, who made their marks on American history in other ways both before and after their presidential runs and are not yet ready for the literary junk heap.
My research extended no further than the biography section. I didn't dig out Gary Hart's novels, Eugene McCarthy's poetry, Mario Cuomo's diaries or anything by Mo Udall. I didn't want to overdo it.
It had already been overdone. The 27 books I discovered took up more space than the library's entire holding of organic-gardening manuals, more space than the complete works of Joyce Carol Oates.
What can be done to correct this appalling misuse of library money and space? I have a few suggestions:
1. Pass legislation requiring defeated presidential candidates personally to remove these volumes from the library shelves of the nation within six months of their defeat. The manual labor would help take their mind off the sting of being spurned.
2. Limit the number of spouses' autobiographies to the number of terms their spouses actually served. Thus, Betty Ford, whose most recent self-portrait is "Betty: A Glad Awakening," should be retroactively required by law to arrange for the removal of all copies of "The Times of My Life." The same goes for Rosalynn Carter, who, having published "First Lady From Plains," should now stop.
3. Impose severe cuts in federal aid on libraries that deliberately purchase the autobiographies of foreign politicians' ex-wives (e.g., "Margaret Trudeau: Beyond Reason").
4. Extend presidential terms to 16 years to reduce the number of biographies.
Mr. Queenan is a writer who lives in Tarrytown, N.