Who would have guessed that Jeff Greenfield, the smug, sanctimonious Nightline critic, had a smart, sharp, funny novel in him? Already slated to become a feature film, THE PEOPLE’S CHOICE: A CAUTIONARY TALE offers a ”What if?” game based on a constitutional loophole. Say the President-elect dies. His Vice President ascends to the Oval Office, right? Not necessarily. We the people don’t actually choose the President; we choose 538 electors, often anonymous factotums who, in theory, cast the ballots that the popular vote mandated.
But what if the Vice President-elect is more fit to serve waffles at an IHOP than to serve as leader of the free world? Would the electoral college balk? Greenfield could have written a dire essay warning of such possibilities; instead he has cloaked his analysis in wicked satire. His poli-sci-fi novel provides great sport for pundits inside the Beltway, who will try to suss out the inspiration for such characters as Ted Block, the dim-witted Vice President-elect; Rev. W. Dixon Mason, smooth-talking, sharp-dressing presidential aspirant; and Avi DuPoir (as in avoirdupois, loosely translated, to have weight; even more loosely translated, fatso), popular liberal-bashing radio host.
Ultimately, though, the characters — and there are more than 90 of them — fail to move us because Greenfield has not made any one person the emotional heart of the novel. His tale convinces us only that we might wind up with an incompetent president. As if that hasn’t happened before. B+