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Kabuki Democracy: The System vs. Barack Obama Paperback – January 11, 2011


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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Eric Alterman is a CUNY Distinguished Professor of English and Journalism, a media columnist for the Nation, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, and the author of seven books, including the national best-sellers What Liberal Media? and The Book on Bush. He lives in New York City.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 214 pages
  • Publisher: Nation Books (January 11, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1568586590
  • ISBN-13: 978-1568586595
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,201,211 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Frank Lynch on January 11, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Many years ago I read an article in The Atlantic which discussed economies as oil tankers. In the same way that oil tankers can't turn on dimes, any President's impact on the economy is slow to marerialize - - that is, if you're looking for everything to be sewn up in the same 22 minute horizon of a sitcom. Presidents have an impact, but you wouldn't feel it soon enough for the next election. That was the point of the article in The Atlantic.

Alterman's taken it beyond lowering your expectations due to slow reactions. He looks at the numerous constraints which surround change - - structural, political, and cultural. He also looks at the personalities of the players. Short term, there's plenty of reason to lower your expectations from what Obama can deliver in one term, back half of a mid-term, or a second term.

This is a call for patience and diligence, to moderate your expectations. I first read this over the summer, when portions were published on The Nation's web site. It's not an easy message. But truth doesn't always come easy.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Raven on January 3, 2012
Format: Paperback
Quite frankly, I'm shocked that there are only six reviews on this provocative book. Eric Alterman gives an analysis regarding our rigged political system that is thoughtful, factual, and given without hysteria. To his credit, he makes no bones about the fact that his politics are liberal, yet he presents his material without hyperbole. In my opinion, Kabuki Democracy was written for a left of center audience, not the least of who are the leftist critics of President Obama's accomplishments, or the lack thereof.

I don't know that it's necessary to list the topics that Alterman addresses or the merits of his conclusions -- most of which I agree. These are well-discussed in other reviews, as well as information about the book. Stylistically, this is not the easiest of reads; although a professor of journalism, Alterman's prose can seem convoluted because of the lengths of his sentences and paranthetical explanations within them. I did, however, read it in a few hours and will use the book as an outstanding resource when defending my political opinions regarding the state of our system and President Obama's job performance.

Let's get one thing straight: Kabuki Democracy is NOT an apology for Obama's policy failures since 2008. At the outset, Alterman lists those failures and acknowledges his own disappointment in the things President Obama has given in to. He believes that White House strategy had been politically naive and that Obama's advisors were ill-equipped to make wise decisions in face of the brutality of Washington politics.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Sitting in Seattle on August 12, 2012
Format: Paperback
Eric Alterman is a well-known liberal blogger, professor, and political journalist, and I enjoy reading his columns just as I enjoy reading political analysis from many points of view. I looked forward to this book, even though I just read it (a bit late in the game). Note that I'm not reviewing from any particular point of view here, just trying to lay out this book in its own terms.

If you enjoy discussions such as Paul Krugman, Rachel Maddow, and Chris Hayes (whether you agree with them or not), then you likely will enjoy this book. It presents a laundry list of problems (from a liberal point of view) that engulf Washington: corporate influence, the domination of PACs, the complicity of the media, democracy-blocking rules in the Senate, etc. And it faults President Obama for naivete at how the system really works.

All of that is fine as far as it goes. However, that's also the problem: that is ONLY as far as it goes. I was hoping the book would have a grand thesis, as is hinted in the title: "oh, yes, we are like kabuki and here's how and why." But it doesn't. It calls for reform of this, change of that, alteration of rules over there, better behavior, more transparency, and so forth and so on. In other words, a bunch of little to medium changes that might, somehow, add up to systematic reform.

There is no grand vision here -- which is OK, as long as you know what to expect. FWIW, I'm not sure anyone has such a grand vision, and analyses like the ones here may be helpful to get there.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Here, Eric Alterman, a superb political analyst, in this book, "Kabuki Democracy: The System vs Barack Obama," gets us very near the crux of the matter in describing just how both the mechanics of our Kabuki Democracy works, and how the structural constraints that control it from above operate. But since he unwittingly conflates the two, actually seeing structural (or procedural) issues as being secondary to the mechanical issues, his analysis falls just short of actually getting us to where we really need to be.

Despite this, we owe him a serious debt of gratitude, and must be grateful for such a clean and detailed analysis of the "low theater" that the American legislative process represents. However, arguably, rather than the "shadow boxing," or "Kabuki dance" that goes on, on the congressional floor, what we really needed was a synthesis -- a connecting of the dots between "high" and "low" theater; i.e., between the way the money and influence is deployed and flows from the top to the bottom to set the parameters for rule-making and constraining the procedural issues -- where the steps of the Kabuki dance are designed and used to gum-up the works of the American political process.

In Mr. Alterman's hands, the dance of our democracy is more about "low theater" -- the "tools and mechanics" used to manipulate the asymmetric levers of the Corporate instigated ideological culture -- things like secret holds, ear marks, controlling the message of the press, suppressing the vote, lobbyists rewriting legislation, etc.
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