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Do we really learn anything from political memoirs?

Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm and her husband, Dan Mulhern, have a new book out titled, "A Governor's Story: A Fight for Jobs and America's Economic Future." Christina Shockley spoke with Granholm and Mulhern about their book last week and it got us thinking:

What can you really learn from a political memoir? Are they filled with honest introspection or just self-congratulatory drivel? To help us answer these questions, we called up Craig Ruff, Senior Policy Analyst with Public Sector Consultants.Ruff explains that politicians have a number of reasons for putting their experiences into print.


“Sometimes,” he says, “it is just about money. They are looking for royalties.” In other cases a memoir contributes to the historical record by offering insight into political decision-making.

“They are looking to set the record straight… They convey the lessons that they learned while in office, and hope that others would learn from those lessons,” says Ruff.

Governor Granholm published A Governor’s Story just months after leaving office, allowing little time for historical reflection. However, Ruff says, “It is fresh, and the recollections are fresh,” which may be a reason why the book was published so soon.

Ruff gives another reason for the timing, “That is: to ward off any other complaints about your service in public life.”

But if a memoir serves to justify and absolve, what is there to learn beyond the political message? These accounts offer anecdotes, insider stories, and a spectator’s seat at closed meetings and private conversations.

Craig Ruff explains that “Others, however, will take from these books some measure of the real personality” of a politician.

“We examine through the eyes of the political leader what motivated him or her to do certain things,” says Ruff, a perspective no analyst or pundit can claim.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Radio’s Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Christina began her career in radio at Michigan Radio while a student at the University of Michigan. She was a producer and researcher for The Todd Mundt Show, and then hosted Weekend Edition.
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