Politics Lost: How American Democracy Was Trivialized By People Who Think You're Stupid (英語) ハードカバー – 2006/4/18
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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.
PRAISE FOR THE NATURAL
“No other book published on [Clinton] offers such smart analysis, judicious reporting, or accomplished prose. Klein’s account of the presidency is remarkably balanced and intelligent.” —Los Angeles Times
“[The Natural] is a book with insight, balance, and bright writing . . . A century from now, some serious historian will be glad that Klein wrote this slender book . . . A mother lode of contemporary observations.” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Funny, adroitly written, and, in sum, the first savvy synthesis of the Clinton Age.”
—William Kennedy, front page, New York Times Book Review
PRAISE FOR PRIMARY COLORS
“An absolutely dazzling book, the best political novel in many years, one that manages to be simultaneously cynical and redemptive, funny and profound, reportorial, satirical, and thrilling.” —Christopher Buckley, The New Yorker
“Breaks all the rules and lives to tell about it . . . There is a wonderful honesty about [Primary Colors], a refusal to give in to the conventional interpretation of people and events that cripples so much that is written about politics.” —Michael Lewis, New York Times Book Review
“A delight to read. The author knows politics . . . and writes like a dream.” —Alex Beam, Boston Globe
Klein begins his book by citing an example of a spontaneous, consultant-free moment in political history when Robert F Kennedy addressed an inner city crowd in Indianapolis about the death of Martin Luther King. Kennedy gave the speech against the advice of his aides - he too had consultants. When he broke the news, he quoted Greek tragedian Aeschylus and told the crowd that, "I had a member of my family killed." He asked the audience to go home and pray, and, as it turned out, Indianapolis was one of the few major cities that did not have riots that night.
Klein is most critical of the Democrats. His main targets are the recent presidential campaigns of Al Gore and John Kerry. In both cases the candidates seemed "overly cautious, cynical, mechanistic, and bland." He speculates that neither candidate had the self confidence to say what they really wanted to say, since the Democratic Party did not have a coherent platform. According to Klein, their political handlers had reigned them in so tightly on content and language that the end result was sterile consultant-speak.
The politicians that Klein admires are the naturals: Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan. Klein argues that they were so successful because they made good use of their consultants without being controlled by them. This, however, points to a problem in a book about consultants. How much influence do they really have? Klein may be giving them too much credit. Clinton and Reagan were both gifted politicians above and beyond their consultants. Gore and Kerry, on the other hand, were both natural stiffs, and their choice of consultants made them even more uninspiring.
The question that one is left with is why do candidates continue to hire these political handlers when it should be obvious to everyone that political discourse is becoming more and more trivial and innocuous. The answer, of course, is getting elected. Candidates address large and diverse constituencies. The tactical goal is to pander to the greatest number and to offend the least. Fine-tuning one's speech with this in mind is how elections are won. There is nothing unscripted, everything is staged. When one thinks of unscripted moments in recent presidential elections, think of Howard Dean's spontaneous remarks. And look what happened to him.
It's politics lost. Neither Joe Klein nor anyone else will be writing a sequel called "Politics Found" anytime soon. Nevertheless, if you are a politcal consultant or handler this book is a must-read.
The book rambles a bit, it is almost anecdotal at times, but I have now adjusted to that style.
The main point he makes, for me anyway, is that the honest and truly sincere candidate is being smothered by the consultants and the professional campaign managers and spin merchants. Not enough 'Turnip Days' and you have to read the book to understand that.
Thanks Joe from a kiwi New Zealander who really wants America and Americans to succeed as they deserve to, but the politicians they get are the result of a destructive electoral process, and now you have a somewhat dysfunctional Congress, even though you have an amazing and intelligent President.
It's a typical Time magazine one-simple-note theme: "the big bad consultants did it". That banality is supposed to explain the decline and fall of politics. It's as rational as blaming election results on rainy days. Despite his alleged years of experience, Klein was always a camp follower and never part of a winning political team. He doesn't understand campaigns include hundreds of petty little details that add up to victory or defeat.
Political campaigns are like building a brick house. The campaign focus is the "big picture" of a completed house, as in 1992 when Clinton stressed "It's the economy, stupid" and in 2000 when Bush emphasized "compassionate conservativism". For those in press release journalism, a big picture explains a whole campaign. Such reporters either ignore, don't know or have contempt for the real work and strength of a campaign in the thousands of bricks and timbers and boards and nails and other bits and pieces that make a finished house.
For example: Klein ignores Latinos, just as Time magazine ignores Latinos. An Arizona State University survey of 1,550 stories in Time, Newsweek and US News and World Report last year indicates only 1.2 percent were specifically about Latinos and only 14 percent of stories had any mention of Latinos. Even then, most were negative. But, anyone who looks at Jimmy Carter's 1976 winning margin in Texas needs to look at the voter turnout in the Rio Grande valley. Ignoring Latinos is like ignoring rain in the Sonoran Desert.
Take away that narrow margin in Texas in 1976, plus a few other narrow margins in other states, and the importance of Latinos becomes obvious. In 2000, Bush targeted Latinos in one of the closest elections in history. Latinos were one vital factor among many that produced victory; no single factor is ever dominant.
It illustrates the weakness of this book; the one-note focus on election consultants ignores hundreds of competing but equally relevant factors. This one-note theme is how Time editors simplify complex issues because they think readers are too stupid to understand the complexity of elections or anything else above a Grade 6 level of reading, 'riting and 'ritmatick.
At best, the book is a jackdaw of interesting tidbits, amusing trivia amd half-baked ideas. Obviously, it's a waste of time for anyone with a intellect above that of 'People' or 'Time' magazines. Time made a fortune by trivializing complexity, and Klein is obviously one of its finest employees. But, elections are complex events. So is good reporting.
If you like Time, it's an ideal book. For those who graduated from elementary school, you deserve something better.
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