7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars must read for all liberals & progressives!
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...
Published 23 months ago by Raven
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars OK political advocacy, but missing a grand thesis
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...
Published 16 months ago by Sitting in Seattle
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars must read for all liberals & progressives!,
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. What Alterman does do is analyze those factors that have crippled Obama's ability to meet his 2008 campaign promises in a robust way: the unrelenting power of corporate and monied interests, the abuse of money in politics, and a media that no longer attempts to foster useful public discourse.
Agree with Obama or not, this book is worthy a read for every progressive who truly wants to understand what has gone wrong -- and why. Alterman's discussions left me feeling physically ill at times, and ill at ease all of the time. Our government is deeply corrupt and without a strong effort to change the scourge of money in politics we do not have much hope of setting it on the path of actually serving the people who elects its lawmakers, instead of special interests, corporations, and the very wealthy.
42 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars There's only so much a President can do.,
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This review is from: Kabuki Democracy: The System vs. Barack Obama (Paperback)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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars OK political advocacy, but missing a grand thesis,
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.
5.0 out of 5 stars A PROGRESSIVE COMMENTATOR SUGGESTS THAT "THE SYSTEM IS RIGGED" AGAINST CHANGE,Why We're Liberals: A Handbook for Restoring America's Most Important Ideals, The Cause: The Fight for American Liberalism from Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama, What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News, etc. ("Kabuki" is the stylized Japanese classical drama, with elaborate make-up and costumes worn by performers.)
He wrote in the Introduction to this 2011 book, "For the truth... is that it does not much matter who is right about what Barack Obama dreams of in his political imagination. Nor are the strategic mistakes made by the Obama team really all that crucial... The far more important fact for progressive purposes is simply this: The system is rigged, and it's rigged against us. Sure, presidents can pretty easily pass tax cuts for the wealthy and powerful corporations. They can start whatever wars they wish and wiretap whomever they want without warrants... But what they cannot do... is pass the kind of transformative progressive legislation that Barack Obama promised..." (Pg. 4-5)
He cautions, "a similar sense of false security about any number of aspects of our government's regulatory responsibilities presently permeates our public life... this politically poisonous legacy of malign neglect has the potential to despoil almost every aspect of President Obama's agenda... It's as if Bush and Cheney left one time bomb after another and the Obama administration is being held responsible for failing to predict where and when each one will explode." (Pg. 16)
He asserts that the Fox News channel is "something new---something for which we do not yet have a word. It provides almost no actual journalism. Instead, it gives ideological guidance to the Republican Party and millions of its supporters... And because Fox manages to earn over a half a billion dollars a year... it functions as the equivalent of a political perpetual motion machine." (Pg. 74-75) He adds, "yet instead of objecting to the manner that Fox perverted the news for political purposes, the other networks appeared intent on aping it." (Pg. 98)
He laments, "Obama badly misjudged the willingness of Republicans to treat actual governance as their responsibility. He wasted months and months in pursuit of bipartisan support that was never going to materialize and in constructing what may have been unnecessary and counterproductive compromise proposals that were adopted largely for their likelihood to appeal to a group of chimerical Republican 'moderates,' almost all of whom felt far too threatened by the rise of the 'Tea Party' extremists in their districts even to contemplate cooperation with (him)." (Pg. 150)
Alterman's books are always thoughtful and provocative, and this one is no exception; progressives (or others) wanting to assess the Obama administration will appreciate this book.
5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Good the bad the ugly.,
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This review is from: Kabuki Democracy: The System vs. Barack Obama (Paperback)I believe this book should be a must read for the middle class, and lower income families. This sheds quite a bit of light on how the politicians manipulate our destiny, and how they prevent whatever good the President is trying to do, if it cost them money in the form of tax breaks for the wealthy. The bottom line is they don't care if the country is in debt, as long as they get there money.
33 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kabuki Democracy - more to see behind the painted screens,
This review is from: Kabuki Democracy: The System vs. Barack Obama (Paperback)This book is a must read for everyone. We all need to know the details of the rigging of this system we are told everyday is a democracy. We need to memorize these details so we spot them tomorrow in action, and so we stop blaming Obama for not getting done the work we thought we put him there to do.
Alterman sees the phenomenon exceptionally well. He explains why this government can move forward to cut taxes on the rich, spend ever increasing borrowed money on war contractors, and declare war on little countries under any pretense on any side of the world. That agenda is freely advanced, while progress for the Middle Class and working families is routinely and mysteriously thwarted despite Super Majorities in Congress and our man finally in the White House. His view is from the very center of an elaborate chessboard that's been constructed over decades to block legislation before the cameras and our very eyes. He sees every move into the distance up and down the rows and on the diagonals.
The details of the various systems are all things we all need to know to see through this fog of class warfare: senate rules to avoid having a Bill in the first place. Then there are the pinch hits, the last minute additions and deletions that escape press detection sneaked in to gut the Bill's intent. If that has to fail for the cameras, exemptions are the consolation prize. Enforcement is anyway a non-starter since by now for a few decades regulatory agencies have been stacked with "kill the beast" appointees converted into permanent government employees. Agency rules can be suspended anyway by small separate bills nobody notices or has to talk about. The details are myriad and extend as far as the eye can see up and down the chessboard in every direction. I'll leave the rest of the best for the reader to discover.
We need to talk more about the conditions that give rise to this phenomenon, however, while giving him five stars for focusing the conversation. He speaks about the power of culture to seduce and blind. Just like the personal writings of enlightenment thinkers Capernicus or Spinoza are riddled with metaphors for sin and god, desperately searching for words to reach out of the linguistic fog of their times, Alterman's own scrupulous and dutiful "inside progressive media" knowledge doesn't allow him to see behind the painted screens on the sidelines of the kabuki stage. He mentions David Koch and the Koch Brothers as behind so much of the nasty deception. He cites Buckley vs Valeo which most neglect as the quantum attractor factor in all this mess even though that ruling enabled in the first place all this deception of voters, taxpayers, property owners, and retirement savers starting in the 1970s. Most of his peers leave that detail out despite their ad nauseum writings and railings about deception and its results across the heartland all the time.
Beginning to peer behind the painted screens, he cites the TWO taxpayers behind "Concerned Taxpayers of America", and the ONE behind "Taxpayers Against Earmarks". He cites these same types behind Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, Hoover Institution, American Crossroads, American Action Network, etc. in their game to dominate the political debate "with the demands of the exclusively super-rich". He cites the complicity of the Supreme Court in all of this duplicity since Burger, Rehnquist, Stevens, and Roberts despite Marbury vs Madison and their obligation to overturn anything disproportionate and imbalanced passed by congress that prevents all of us from protecting equally our property against the whims of these Tax-Cutters and Bubble Makers (who do always profit in both cases!). But, isn't Buckley vs Valeo and all these other chessboard moves invented and put in place since the 1970s simply a new rigging to preserve the long-held grip by these families or their predecessors over America that was slipping after the labor movement against FDR (over which he caved but gave them WWI war ships in Pearl Harbor and provocations against Japan) and the Civil Rights movement against Johnston (over which he caved and gave them more Vietnam, but anyway paid with one term)? Somehow an argument about protecting property rights from the capricious redistributing whims of a labor union unified mass democracy merited this ruling in this case brought for his social class by WF Buckley now known as "money as speech".* The minds of dynastic litigators can come up with this stuff. Now they have Roberts!
"When 'free-market' Republicans vote to support milk subsidies or sugar tariffs, or when 'pro-consumer' Democrats vote to exempt used car dealers from consumer financial protection legislation, it is easy to understand the mistrust and hard to believe that the influence of money hasn't weakened the ability of members to serve the principles, or even the interests, they were elected to represent."
What else is hard to believe here? Other writers who study declassified State Department and CIA papers call this phenomenon Alterman so well begins to deconstruct 'permanent government': an assortment of banking, academic, and clandestine alphabet agency operatives working the revolving agency doors in plain view on the chessboard squares no matter which party is "in power", and behind the scenes in clandestine operations to advance the interests of this small group of hidden super-rich. They are always in place to make their moves once all the front of screen Kabuki theater chessboard moves have been exhausted.
Anyone with any knowledge of any of these families and their money can see that sanctions against Cuba are now clearly linked to New York and New England banking interests who owned sugar plantations in that country for 300 years. Add to them expatriated dynastic land-owning Cuban families, who were always their peers and collaborators, perhaps suffering from the Stockholm Syndrome common in colonized countries. The sanctions against Iran are clearly linked to the losses of Rockefeller Chase Bank interests, designed as sanctions are, to undermine the 'respectable elements' and push an economically degraded and desperate populace of common people toward a belligerent reactionary right-wing with which we and our other puppet allies can more easily pick fights for the cameras, and for more right-wing votes here and everywhere. Add to that the money and property interests of powerful collaborator Iranians now expatriated across the USA. They are playing on all our post Powell political chessboards, and of all religions, they are active even in AIPAC. All these conflicts are called something else of course for public consumption, aided by media details Alterman covers superbly, but also Buckley vs Valeo, and now Citizens United. That something else sells to a gullible and misled American people whose property and wages are being systematically redistributed upward advancing only the interests of the super-rich. The real details of the sordid back-story behind those painted screens evades even the writers inside progressive media.
Despite mounting evidence like the Loyd Jowers civil case won by the Martin Luther King Jr Family in Memphis and other investigations into scandals like Watergate, Iran-Contra, War on Drugs, and 9/11, independently funded, independently acting 'permanent government' to advance interests of the chessboard and outside the Kabuki theater is an idea Alterman mentions not at all. Nor is the idea of clandestine operations against American people committed right here in sovereign territory. But, one step at a time is good. Whistle-blowers are increasingly coming forward to talk about it.
Alterman closes the books as if new awareness of the Kabuki moves and new self-organization by people like us alone can unite Americans to withstand this phenomenon once enough of us know about it. He can suggest this only perhaps because he doesn't know what other writers covered about CIA study programs starting in the 1970s that deconstructed the genesis of labor and civil rights movements with Phd students using complexity theory, so they could be permanently blocked. Deconstructing the Kabuki theater notwithstanding, the questions remain unanswered: blocking moves authorized by whom? paid for by whom? in the interests of whom?
Alterman's book is a great start. From the mere category of 'interesting if true', committed readers should now revisit the inconclusive conclusions of Church and Warren commissions to fully understand the extent to the rigging of this government off the chessboard of legislating, and behind the painted screens on the sidelines out-of-view of audiences and media insiders. Evidence without a doubt will be hard to come by because clandestine operatives are trained to avoid detection and arrest. Is Alterman's culture of peer review at university or inside progressive media a barrier to investigating such 'interesting if true' leads? Is the power of culture in academia and progressive media so severe, is the object lesson of others like Pierre Salinger who ventured in too far, or an anthrax package at ABC News, too much of a specter?
"The problem, moreover, can only worsen, as the big American banks become increasingly global in their orientation and thereby put the entire world economic system at risk with their irresponsible investments, undertaken outside the authority of any US or even West European regulatory agency."
Irresponsible for whom? It only takes knowledge and insight of the whys and wherefores of the players in the Napoleonic Era to know just how lucrative is putting the "entire world economic system at risk." Bankers in that era made their fortunes seducing Kings and their Courtesans into costly expansionary war, borrowing money, blowing up nations in asset bubble and debt crises, and then enforcing austerity on the working families while cleaning up in "distressed asset" markets. Distressed by whom? Such good fortune became the basis for "Dialogues in Hell between Machiavelli and Montesquieu" and reused again in "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" in the next century. When another King and his entourage of money men and war industrialists needed a cover-up, his secret police and conservative media tools of a different era obliged!
"Lewis Powell laid out the ambitions of the wealthy conservatives in a now infamous 1971 memo to director of the US Chamber of Commerce to use their financial power to transform American political culture into one in which wealth and power could be unleashed upon the rest of us without the need for stealth or even explanation. Powell...identified the enemy...sought to undermine the 'respectable elements of society' whom he intended to replace with people like themselves." Those respectable elements of society are clearly the decent hard working honest Middle Class families who were always the majority here.
ACORN, Sherrod, covered by Alterman, and now Arizona are all "first strikes". It doesn't matter what happens afterward with a criminal charge let's say against Sarah Palin for speech to incite violence. The useful damage is already done. The Tipping Point toward destabilization is one more step toward reached. First strikes show not only to us but to the perpetrators themselves the power they possess over us at each turn where they are not stopped by States Attorneys or Courts. They already know their power over the chessboard and all the players on it so aptly defined by Alterman. That they designed themselves. They already know what their other powers are behind the painted screens to undermine 'respectable elements'. That is what we now need to know!
The construction of the elaborate chessboard of blocking moves would only be required in society that must keep up the appearance of a constitutional democracy. Only as the public grew in education and money making skill did it learn to challenge long held authority and become a threat. This is the same story for a rising French Protestant Middle Class in a similar gambit started against them 500 years ago. Reading between the lines and into the future we see how the system distorts and manipulates our minds, but also how it easily advanced "no child left behind" with the aim of enforcing multiple choice tests in place of critical thinking.
Preferences of one centralized Board of Education in one state of Texas can easily purge the nation's textbooks of any heroic references to the struggle for democracy, or even the European or Athenian Enlightenments. They can easily find a way to redact Thomas Paine to suit them. No need for enlightenment in Texas. Profits are good and the desperate workers from an "economic system put at risk" are coming despite the lowest % for healthcare coverage, lowest % of college education, and highest % of illegal NAFTA refugees(speaking of economic systems south of the border put at risk) to keep wages preternaturally low. They'll have more pawns on our chessboard soon. With the systematic dumbing down of Americans, even this expensive elaborate chessboard constructed since the 1970s will soon be obsolete! We'll be back as they always wished it had remained, in the 1880s!
It lets software billionaires decide that small class size (and therefore higher unit cost and tax assessment) doesn't matter, "good teachers do". But, that is nothing new. JD Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie formed education foundations to re-design education systems and shape the American mind the way they wanted it shaped. Rockefeller very successfully introduced petrochemicals into medicine with a philanthropy in medical education program that "unleashed wealth and power without the need for stealth or explanation". That is old hat around here that Powell only wanted to re-up. Being a law firm partner, he was always well paid to advance his secretive clients' interests as agent.
This book is an excellent start to a story that has to continue, get bolder, and step out of insider cultures and comfort zones! In "power of culture", we also need to identify the Stockholm Syndrome that keeps this whole system going. It replenishes the ranks every generation, decade, and mid-term election with dutiful tools to undermine the 'respectable elements'. They are the people who are not us, will never be us, will never marry our daughters, but who do want to be us! It can even keep the respectable elements themselves in line, evidently! Great book to spread around!
*In light of the lengthy discussion in the book about this SCOTUS genetic predisposition toward advancing Corporate personhood and "money as speech", since Corporations are people, effectively serving the same unifying function for unearned income dividend earners as labor unions once did for wage earning working families, can't the case be made on the same property protection precedent that labor unions should now be people too? To give working families the equal collective protection corporate shareholders get disproportionately to protect their property from redistribution? Redistribution up or down should be irrelevant. The property of the masses has clearly been disproportionately pillaged from Bubble Bust and Deficit Spending whims of those over-protected by the Supreme Court, and who are really in power. We'd better hurry to get the cases up, before Roberts guts the precedent for use of statistical evidence to show systemic injustice! He's working on it, according to Fortune this week!
7 of 18 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Obama- It's STILL Not His Fault! Really?,
This review is from: Kabuki Democracy: The System vs. Barack Obama (Paperback)Right!
* It's not his fault he decided, after knowing the economy was ever-sinking even on the campaign trail, that he skipped a jobs bill (or a band-aid, cheap version of one, as he has now) and pushed the Congress to write a health care overhaul that the majority of America didn't want before, during, or after it was passed - and still does not want.
* It's not his fault he cozied up to Wall Street so much and for soooo much money, etc (Read: Charles Gaspirino's book [...] .
* It's not his fault 4 points he guaranteed for his Stimulus/Pork-U-Lust bill would do/not do failed (including unemployment would go past 8% if it didn't pass).
* Waited until re-election time to put out a so-called jobs bill (seems to be a cheap, band-aid, perhaps) he cooked up over a weekend or so.
* Not his fault he didn't keep his promise to Latinos/Hispanics to push/pass 'comprehensive immigration reform' his first year.
* Has a Democrat-controlled Congress for 2 years and did not do a lot he could have, but didn't.
We've been hearing this robotic mantra for 3 years from BO & his devotees.
37 of 112 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not His Fault (of course),
This review is from: Kabuki Democracy: The System vs. Barack Obama (Paperback)If you have ever wondered how quickly a Leftist can change directions based upon who is in the White House, read this book. As opposed to his other book, The Book on Bush, Alterman goes into great detail about how Obama can't be held responsible for anything that happens under his administration, due to a burdensome Washington bureaucracy. While everything that happened from 2000 to 2008, according to Alterman, was entirely Bush's fault, nothing that will happen from 2008 to 2012 will be Obama's fault because he is, by definition, faultless. From the increase in troops in Afghansitan, to the increase in Predator assassinations, to the failure to close the Gitmo prisons, to the increase in domestic spying...it's all got nothing to do with Obama and his empty promises. It's all due to Washington, and that inevitable faceless bureaucracy.
So take heart Leftists. Your guy isn't a wimp, he's a Don Quixote.
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Kabuki Democracy: The System vs. Barack Obama by Eric Alterman (Paperback - January 11, 2011)