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Politics Lost: How American Democracy Was Trivialized by People Who Think You're Stupidby Joe Klein
Synopses & Reviews
People on the right are furious. People on the left are livid. And the center isn't holding. There is only one thing on which almost everyone agrees: there is something very wrong in Washington. The country is being run by pollsters. Few politicians are able to win the voters' trust. Blame abounds and personal responsibility is nowhere to be found. There is a cynicism in Washington that appalls those in every state, red or blue. The question is: Why? The more urgent question is: What can be done about it?
Few people are more qualified to deal with both questions than Joe Klein.
There are many loud and opinionated voices on the political scene, but no one sees or writes with the clarity that this respected observer brings to the table. He has spent a lifetime enmeshed in politics, studying its nuances, its quirks, and its decline. He is as angry and fed up as the rest of us, so he has decided to do something about it — in these pages, he vents, reconstructs, deconstructs, and reveals how and why our leaders are less interested in leading than they are in the permanent campaign that political life has become.
The book opens with a stirring anecdote from the night of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. Klein re-creates the scene of Robert Kennedy's appearance in a black neighborhood in Indianapolis, where he gave a gut-wrenching, poetic speech that showed respect for the audience, imparted dignity to all who listened, and quelled a potential riot. Appearing against the wishes of his security team, it was one of the last truly courageous and spontaneous acts by an American politician — and it is no accident that Klein connects courage to spontaneity. From there, Klein begins his analysis — campaign by campaign — of how things went wrong. From the McGovern campaign polling techniques to Roger Ailes's combative strategy for Nixon; from Reagan's reinvention of the Republican Party to Lee Atwater's equally brilliant reinvention of behind-the-scenes strategizing; from Jimmy Carter to George H. W. Bush to Bill Clinton to George W. — as well as inside looks at the losing sides — we see how the Democrats become diffuse and frightened, how the system becomes unbalanced, and how politics becomes less and less about ideology and more and more about how to gain and keep power. By the end of one of the most dismal political runs in history — Kerry's 2004 campaign for president — we understand how such traits as courage, spontaneity, and leadership have disappeared from our political landscape.
In a fascinating final chapter, the author refuses to give easy answers since the push for easy answers has long been part of the problem. But he does give thoughtful solutions that just may get us out of this mess — especially if any of the 2008 candidates happen to be paying attention.
"The people castigated in this lively but self-contradictory jeremiad make up the 'pollster-consultant industrial complex' of political handlers responsible for today's bland, prefabricated candidates, carefully stage-managed campaigns and vacuous, focus-grouped policy proposals. Political reporter and Time pundit Klein (Primary Colors) traces the political consultants' influence through pungent insider accounts of presidential campaigns from 1968 to the present, throwing in plenty of his own armchair quarterbacking of triumphs and fiascoes. Throughout, he deplores the deadening of American political culture and celebrates the few politicians, like Ronald Reagan and John McCain, who occasionally slip the consultant's leash, blurt out an unfashionable opinion, take a principled stand or otherwise demonstrate their unvarnished humanity. Unfortunately, Klein's politics of personal authenticity — he longs for a candidate 'who gets angry, within reason; gets weepy, within reason... but only if these emotions are rare and real' — seems indistinguishable from the image-driven, style-over-substance politics he decries; he just wishes the imagery and style were more colorful and compelling. Moreover, Klein's insistence that the electorate cares much more about the sincerity or 'phoniness' of a politician's character than about policy issues puts him squarely in the camp of people who think voters are stupid." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A highly entertaining tour of how political consultants progressively hijacked the presidential campaigns of the last 40 years." Washington Post
"For all of Klein's colorful invective and entertaining anecdotes, it is not always clear exactly what his beef is. His real, implicit lament seems to be less the ascendancy of consultants than the decline of the Democratic Party." Chicago Sun-Times
"This is ultimately an entertaining, valuable work. People ought to be for this book before they're against it." New York Times
"If you're looking for opinionated, gossipy dish about the consultants and the candidates, this book is for you." Boston Globe
"Although Klein identifies himself more as a Democrat than a Republican...his diatribe is aimed with equal vigor at members of both political parties." Balitimore Sun
"This is a passionate, often hysterical, but ultimately sad look at modern American politics." Booklist
"[A] pleasure for politics junkies." Kirkus Reviews
One of today's top political observers dissects the last 35 years of American politics as he shows how Democrats have lost the country's support and why the Republicans have, in so many instances, dominated the political agenda.
Klein, one of today's top political observers and bestselling authors, has watched from the inside as consultants, pollsters, the twenty-four-hour cable news cycle, and the lack of courage in so many of our political leaders have chiseled away at Washington's integrity. Klein's intimate knowledge of the system and the people who run it, as well as his unparalleled backroom access to leading figures, informs his dissection of the last thirty-five years of American politics as he shows how Democrats have lost the country's support and why the Republicans have, in so many instances, dominated the political agenda.
Klein still harbors hope for the future, and in addition to his brilliant, if dismaying, analysis of the political landscape of the past three decades, he lays out a plan and a vision for what the next president must do to regain the trust of the country and turn politics back into an honest and passionate profession. In doing so, he has written a book that will define the run up to the 2008 presidential election and spark more debate than any political book of this or the next few seasons.
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