The Literary Vices Project: An Introduction

GOING ROGAINEThe chatter started last spring: Sarah Palin was writing a memoir, and it would be published in 2010. I moved my literary terror alert level from blue (“guarded”) to yellow (“elevated”), but I figured I had plenty of time to prepare, figured I could safely spend the summer dozing-and then, last week, I awoke to a sudden code red. The chatter had changed: Sarah Palin had written swiftly and devotedly, her publication date was now November 17, 2009, and the title of the memoir would be Going Rogue: An American Life.

Yes, sooner or later, they all go rogue. Sooner or later, these Vice Presidents (or aspiring Vice Presidents, or former aspiring Vice Presidents) all go rogue and publish a memoir. Or at least some pensées.

Geraldine Ferraro wrote a memoir after she lost in 1984, and Edmund Muskie wrote a memoir after he lost in 1968, and Dan Quayle wrote a memoir called Standing Firm, on the dust jacket of which is a photo of Dan Quayle standing soft. Dick Nixon, when he was a former Vice President, wrote a memoir called Six Crises, and then, when Nixon became a former President, Gerald Ford, himself formerly Vice President, wrote an autobiography called A Time To Heal. Joe and Hadassah Lieberman wrote a husband-wife memoir called An Amazing Journey: Joe and Hadassah’s Personal Notes on the 2000 Campaign. Al and Tipper Gore also wrote a husband-wife book (Joined at the Heart: The Transformation of the American Family) and so did Dick and Lynne Cheney (Kings Of The Hill: How Nine Powerful Men Changed The Course Of American History), and although neither of those books are memoirs, both are obviously must-reads. Even Spiro Agnew wrote a memoir. The only one who seems not to have written any book at all is Lloyd Bentsen, which is a shame, because he served with Jack Kennedy, he knew Jack Kennedy, he could have written all about Jack Kennedy.

Collectively vice presidential letters constitute a substantial genre, and a paradoxical one. Your job as Vice President is to be someone other than yourself. You mute your own ideas, you defer your own agenda, you become the nation’s most prominent executive assistant. (The exception that proves this rule is, naturally, Dick Cheney.) It begins the hour you join the ticket, and it doesn’t end until your President dies, or retires, or loses an election. All of which, of course, is opposite to your job as a memoirist. As a memoirist, you must be yourself. You must always reveal, never conceal; you must make your soul clap its hands and sing. Oh, you may have political scores to settle, you may have agendas to establish, you may want to run for President yourself. But as a memoirist you must first explain to America that the person they have come to know as you-the Vice President or aspiring Vice President who used your name and who borrowed your face and who boasted about your resume-was in fact someone else. You? You? You are not the Vice President. You are an author. And your memoir is available now, wherever books are sold.


In these giddy weeks before Going Rogue goes bestseller, I propose a project. I will review our nation’s vice presidential canon. It is a vast literary heritage. I am a slow reader. But I shall do my best. And first up, this Thursday, is Geraldine Ferraro, who wrote her book in 1985, immediately after she did not become Vice President in 1984.

Rudolph Delson lives in Brooklyn. He has won no awards and earned no distinctions. His novel “Maynard & Jennica” is now available in paperback.