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Democracy Derailed: Initiative Campaigns and the Power of Money Paperback – September 21, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

Longtime Washington Post scribe David S. Broder, considered by many to be the dean of Beltway journalists, delivers a pounding attack on ballot initiatives in Democracy Derailed. Available to voters in half the states and in hundreds of municipalities ("from New York City to Nome"), initiatives allow citizens to skirt the legislative process and put measures directly before voters. And this, writes Broder, "is alien to the spirit of the Constitution and its careful system of checks and balances." Furthermore, it "threatens to challenge or even subvert the American system of government in the next few decades." Broder begins with a history of initiatives, which grew out of the well-intentioned Populist and Progressive movements, quickly arriving at the present day and the numerous controversial measures on subjects ranging from taxes to campaign finance. Much of the book is devoted to the 1998 election cycle, with particular attention paid to California's Proposition 226--the paycheck-protection initiative that would have limited the ability of labor unions to spend members' dues on political activities. The fact that it ultimately failed doesn't undercut Broder's message, because so many other measures have been passed in California and elsewhere. The real strength of Democracy Derailed, however, isn't in its arguments against ballot initiatives, but in its description of how the business behind them really works. Broder spots moneyed interests everywhere; others will merely see citizens choosing to spend their dollars on politics. On one point Broder is indisputably correct: initiatives represent a grossly "unexamined arena of power politics." With this book, they become better understood. --John J. Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Now available in 24 states and the District of Columbia, the voter initiative process has been used to abolish affirmative action, expand casino gambling and deny educational and health benefits to the families of illegal immigrants. It has forced yes-or-no votes on issues as diverse as nude dancing and term limits, and, according to Pulitzer prize-winning Washington Post and syndicated columnist Broder (Changing of the Guard), it threatens to subvert the American form of representative government by allowing millionaires and special interests to rewrite state laws. In this well-argued and often chilling study, Broder scrutinizes the initiative process and delves into what one critic calls a "multimillion-dollar cottage industry" populated by paid signature gatherers, pollsters and public-relations firms. He finds democracy run amok: three wealthy men changed the drug laws of five states; billionaire Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen threw cash into a campaign to publicly finance a stadium for the Seattle Seahawks, a team he owned. The public, in turn, was stunned by initiatives and counterinitiatives on which anti-abortion, anti-hunting and pro-casino gambling forces, among many others, spent a quarter of a billion dollars in the 1998 election cycle alone. The centerpiece of the book is a balanced but tough-minded analysis of Proposition 226, the so-called "paycheck protection initiative" defeated in California after a viciously fought battle in 1998. Broder dissects the sloganeering of both sides to confirm a lobbyist's cynical assessment of the campaign as "a lotta little lies fighting one big lie." As tensions rise between direct democracy and representative government in America, this book gives a provocative critique of the initiative process as a panacea for democracy's ills. Author tour. (Apr.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 300 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; 1 edition (September 21, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156014106
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156014106
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #589,197 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful By John B. Maggiore on April 10, 2000
Format: Hardcover
An odd phenomenon of American democracy is that trust of government and voter turnout has dropped as the franchise has expanded. As the legally empowered citizenry becomes more diverse, its differences become more difficult to deny. This poses a problem for representative democracy - good representatives who take the concerns of many into consideration produce laws through compromises that rarely constitute wholesale victories for any particular faction. The result is the disenchantment of many, especially some of the more newly enfranchised populations (voter turnout is particularly low, for instance, amongst young people and African Americans). The traditionally powerful - the wealthy - have, since 1979 discovered a new way to exert their dominance, in the guise of an old populist device: initiative and referendum.
David Broder's new book touches on the philosophical origins of I&R, but its real value is its exposure of the money behind the industry. "Democracy Derailed" debunks the notion that ballot initiatives empower regular citizens by explaining the million-dollar minimum price tag to put a measure on the ballot in California. Broder details the layers of lawyers, media consultants, paid signature gatherers, and political professionals involved in simplifying and distorting the yes-or-no measures that have been mutating state laws in California and other states.
The reality of I &R is chilling, yet its illusion of citizen empowerment is alluring. So, "Democracy Derailed" is not only fascinating and compelling, but it is also a terribly important book. The mechanics of democracy rarely generate the attention of issues they are designed to address. It takes a writer of Broder's stature to draw attention to a subject such as this.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Joshua D. Hamilton on July 7, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Being a Californian, and one who works for a State Senator, I was interested to see what an outsider would have to say about our Great State. After chuckling about what some in the national media have said about California politics, I was surprised to see that Broder did a decent job in summarizing the recent proposition campaign in 1998.
His book is a case study that follows the money, and the advertising campaign tactics meant to trick and deceive voters. Unfortunately, this tale is all too common in Californian's high priced television driven political process. Broder could have chosen any major proposition ballot initiative in this state and produced similar results.
However, because Broder's case study and thesis is such a common occurrence in California, anyone with just a meager understanding of politics would have found the conclusion of this book axiomatic. Of course, this speaks to the well researched and truthful nature of the book, but I picked it up looking for special insight into the political process from a veteran reporter. Unfortunately, Broder's book shines no more light on the problem of money and the lack of checks and balances in proposition campaigns than already exists.
I don't want to sound like a snob, and in all honesty, I would recommend this book as a primer in California's proposition campaigns, but it only provided a basic understanding and little more.
A clear problem exists, and Broder does a good service in pointing it out so eloquently.
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16 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Don H. Kemner on April 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Broder's book opens a long awaited national dialogue. As journalist, he reports the story of state initiative politics tellingly. Five stars for this reporting. As national opinion analyst, however, I place a minus-one star on his solution to the problems in initiative lawmaking.
In reporting the advance of direct democracy, Broder suggests a bias against citizens as legislators. He entertains a stated attachment to Madison's skeptical view of people in this role. Absent is the counter balancing view of James Wilson whose role in the Constitutional Convention was second only to Madison's. According to Wilson, the people as ultimate lawmakers under our Constitution are denied direct statutory lawmaking procedures primarily because of lack of technology. Wilson's view finds no place in Broder's appreciation of the Framers' Constitution.
The initiative industry problematic--not unlike the admitted monied special interest industry on representative lawmakers--is ably described. But Broder here fails to see a solution to the former other than in restrictions on citizen access to initiatives. The battery of sensible systemic reforms offered in a 1992 report of the Institute for Governmental Studies (pp.210-212)is dispatched with the comment: "nothing came of these recommendations." He fails to explore the possibilities were these reforms legislatively implemented. What's wrong in the initiative process could easily be corrected if representative legislatures chose to do so. This too Broder ignores.
Having biased his report from the outset against initiative lawmaking, Broder engages in disinformation about Philadelphia II. According to Broder it "calls for essentially creating a new Constitution based on direct democracy.
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