The Can’t-idates: Running For President When Nobody Knows Your Name, Book Review

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By Craig Tomashoff

New York voters might recognize the name Jimmy McMillan. If they don’t, they probably will recognize his trademark slogan, The Rent Is Too Damn High. The personalities featured in Craig Tomashoff’s book, The Can’t-idates, would probably consider themselves fortunate if they managed to achieve anything close to Mr. McMillan’s fame. This is true, despite the fact that each of Mr. Tomashoff’s Can’t-idates aspires to the highest office in the United States, the presidency.

Why has Mr. Tomashoff devoted so much attention to such improbable characters? Why did this author journey across the United States to learn about long-shot aspirants, and why did he think their quixotic efforts warranted a book? Mr. Tomashoff offers an answer to these questions. “We’d probably all be a bit better off,” he suggests, “occasionally stepping outside ordinary expectations, despite the inevitable mocking we’re destined to endure.”

For those of us who live in New York, this explanation may ring true as we recall the several campaigns of Jimmy McMillan. Most of us smiled when Mr. McMillan gave interviews. We cheered when he went toe-to-toe with Andrew Cuomo (New York’s governor) on the debate stage. We didn’t cheer so much for Mr. McMillan’s success as much as we did for his bravado, his brash individuality. We live in a country that lauds individualism. Our national icons, those common historical reference points, are people who defied authority and convention: pioneers, even revolutionaries. These determined non-conformists didn’t bow to authority, they rose up in protest. They defied the status quo (otherwise we’d be living under the Union Jack).

Today, those of us who live in the United States may be spoiled and soft, but we were raised on stories that heralded independent action. And so we applaud the Jimmy McMillans, and the Can’t-idates, even as we smile at their folly. Most of us settle for a lean version of democracy. We do our bit by voting. Not Jimmy McMillan. Not the Can’t-idates. These outliers embrace a robust democracy. They want to be intrinsic to the process. In a way, they are the ultimate democrats, the apotheosis (no matter how humbly cast) of the American ideal.

The Can’t-idates is not a brilliant book, but it is well written. Mr. Tomashoff has come up with an interesting concept, one he manages to make entertaining and relevant. It takes an insightful intellect to see value in a subject that so many lightly dismiss. This book deserves attention. It is a good read and a worthy effort. I recommend Craig Tomashoff’s The Can’t-idates.

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