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Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy Hardcover – October 20, 2005

4.3 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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The Black Presidency by Michael Eric Dyson
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

One of the mysteries of contemporary American politics is how, in the wake of triangulating Democrats, a small base of conservative Republicans has steered the country so far to the right. In this book, two political science professors from Yale and Berkeley examine ascendant far-right Republicans and offer a sobering analysis of their strategies, many of which, the authors argue, have weakened the ordinary voter's power to "ensure that American politics remains on center." Closely-argued and very readable, the book never sinks under the weight of its details; the authors use an ironic list of rules like "Don't Just Do Something, Stand There" to give chapter and verse on how the ultra-right "hide their radicalism in a thicket of policy detail" and use poll-driven language to sex-up initiatives lacking popular support. There are excellent passages on the "fiscal chicanery" of recent tax cuts and several damning vignettes of the maneuvers behind corporate energy subsidies, Medicare privatization and the Bush administration's complicity in relaxing environmental and work safety regulations. The authors compare "The New Power Brokers" who guide this revolution (Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Grover Norquist and Tom DeLay) to the Medici, but they emerge from these pages like little Machiavellis: ignoring dissent, threatening to fund the conservative rivals of moderate Republicans and quietly undermining alternative power bases. The authors believe this deep-pocketed elite will control the Republican party for some time to come. If that is true, this book should become required reading for anyone interested in the triumph of the neocons or worried about where they are leading America.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“Hacker and Pierson shrewdly assess the new structures of political power in our country and the success of conservative Republicans in mobilizing resources and framing political choices. This book is innovative, it’s important, and it will open many eyes. It is the book Karl Rove would wish he had written–if he were on the other side.”—E. J. Dionne, Jr., author of Stand Up, Fight Back and Why Americans Hate Politics


(E. J. Dionne, Jr.)

"Hacker and Pierson have produced the most penetrating study of contemporary American politics since Thomas and Mary Edsall's Chain Reaction. (And that was over fourteen years ago....) Every political journalist in America needs to read and heed this brilliant book."—Eric Alterman, author of When Presidents Lie and What Liberal Media?

(Eric Alterman)

"Off-Center proves two points beyond reasonable dispute. The first is that the current paralysis and polarization of the American political system is not some split-the-difference, everyone's-to-blame phenomenon. Instead, its worst aspects are direct results of Republican extremist tactics over the last decade. The second is that the consequences are bad for nearly everyone in the country, except for the very richest people and corporations. The book makes an important case convincingly."—James Fallows, author of Breaking the News
(James Fallows)

"Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson announce something that everyone will—and should—pay attention to. They have done something in this book that political scientists rarely do: they dissect the broad meaning of current political dynamics. By applying political science concepts to current events in very accessible ways, they help lay readers to get the big picture of contemporary American politics."—Richard Valelly, Swarthmore College

(Richard Valelly)

"Outdated political science clichés go flying like bad guys in a Kung Fu movie in this revelatory new book. American politics is supposed to be prone to stalemate. Extremists are supposed to be relegated to the dustbin of history. So how come policies so radically at odds with what the American people say they want have been locked in for the next generation? Hacker and Pierson brilliantly nail the case: the Republicans have rigged the system. Off Center provides the missing piece from What's the Matter with Kansas?: how they committed the crime, and where they hid the bodies. Pundits: read it and heed it."—Rick Perlstein, author of Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus

(Rick Perlstein)

"Off Center offers a penetrating and provocative commentary on the current state of party politics in the United States. Hacker and Pierson lend their considerable analytical gifts to one of the most important developments of our time—the emergence of a militantly conservative Republican Party that shapes the political agenda, controls the major governing institutions, and is poised to recast the welfare state in its own image. Not everyone will agree with the arguments of this book, yet no serious student of American politics will dare ignore the profound questions it raises about vitality of American democracy."—Sidney M. Milkis, White Burkett Miller Professor of Politics, University of Virginia

(Sidney M. Milkis)

"Off Center is an important and provocative new book. It will capture imaginations and inspire argument both in academic circles and among the educated public. This book will be widely read—and vociferously debated—in colleges and universities and in the media. I think this is a home run.”—Theda Skocpol, Harvard University
(Theda Skocpol)

“The young authors are progressives. . . .public intellectuals with expert research skills. . . .their pithy, well-written book is certainly worth reading.”

(John J. Dilulio Jr., Chronicle of Higher Education)

"[This] book offers one of the more original and thought-provoking takes on American politics in recent years."
(Eyal Press Nation)

"An important new book."—Paul Krugman, New York Times

(Paul Krugman New York Times)

"Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson argue convincingly. . . . The book's detail, specificity, and comprehensiveness make it a vital contribution."—Christopher Hayes, Washington Monthly

(Christopher Hayes Washington Monthly)

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (October 20, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300108702
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300108705
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #733,228 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson have written a distinctly unusual book. Political scientists don't often write books that take sides in political arguments, and when they do, they usually don't do any better at it than common or garden pundits. It's hard to combine the attention to detail and to careful argument that academics are supposed to have with a passionate concern for the results of the fight. Off Center pulls off both. On the one hand, it is very clearly the work of people who have thought carefully and hard about how politics works. There's a depth of analysis here that's completely absent from the common or garden partisan bestseller-wannabe. But on the other, it doesn't pull its punches. Hacker and Pierson have no compunctions in arguing that the current Republican hegemony is dangerous, and needs to be rolled back. (rest of review below fold)

They start by examining the conventional wisdom that American politics has strong centripetal forces, so that political parties have strong incentives towards moderation. According to both centrist pundits and many political scientists, parties that don't cater for the moderate voter should get booted out of office. This political commonplace doesn't appear to be true any more, to the extent that it ever was. The Republicans have been transformed over the last twenty years from a loosely organized coalition in which moderates appeared to have the upper hand, to a party that is astonishingly well disciplined by the standards of American political history and dominated by right-wing radicals. How has this happened?

Hacker and Pierson immediately discard two common explanations, neither of which is supported by the facts.
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Format: Hardcover
Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson's highly readable book is a timely look at how extremists pulled the Republican Party to the right--and are now pulling the country along.

Even if it does not reflect a majority of Americans (who have more liberalized attitudes on abortion, contraception, and GLBT issues) the right learned that who is in control ultimately decides the agenda. Room in the 'big tent' for moderates in the mold of William Weld and Gerald Ford is rapidly shrinking today; the official party machinery does not recognize their positions on social issues as 'good policy'.

That shrinking environment produces an extreme polarization. Ironically as they accuse the Democratic party of being 'extremist left-wingers' the Republican Party moves ever-further to the right. Flying in the face of conventional electoral wisdom (which says the most voters are in the middle) this strategy has only become more pronounced in the past years.

The strategy is abetted by very careful media positioning. Using legislative leadership and media allies (ahem...Fox News) these extremists are able to convince a majority of the American public to 'trust us'. In other words, how a policy is sold becomes more important than that policy's actual effects upon the American people. We saw this both with President Bush's tax cuts package and the war on terror, both of which were originally adopted without significant visible public dissent 'We' are convinced that 'we' are included in the people to actually benefit from a bill---despite being in a much lower economic bracket.

I also appreciated their examination of the political role of agencies.
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Format: Hardcover
OFF CENTER is a wonderfully provocative yet deeply serious new book about the larger political forces behind today's headlines. Written by two of the nation's sharpest political scientists, it explains how the Republicans gained power--and what they are doing to try and keep it. This fast-paced book contains penetrating discussions of many crucial issues, including taxes, Social Security, and election reform. The authors' most disturbing claim--sure to spark debate among professors and politicians alike--is that the GOP has deliberately and skillfully weakened the normal mechanisms of electoral accountability in order to serve a privileged few. Whether one believes that the Republican majority is undermining American democracy or that it is saving it, this is a tremendously stimulating book that all informed Americans will want to read.
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Format: Hardcover
You can ignore some of the more vitriolic reviews of this political science treatise, ranting either for or against, just because it criticizes the Republicans. Such reviews are from pundits who read a lot of popular commentary, and think they understand real politics. There is a very large difference between political commentary, which is the sloganeering of popular observers ranging from Michael Moore to Ann Coulter, and political science, which is backed up by solid academic theory and scientific evidence. Those of us familiar with academic dissertations in this field will be pleasantly surprised by the readability of this one. If you're also exasperated by the continually lowest-common-denominator jingoism of today's political discourse, then you'll also be surprised by the strength of this book's positions.

Hacker and Pierson explain, from a true political science perspective, the inordinate power of the ultraconservatives in today's political environment, and how this is possible when they espouse policies that are so far from the ideological "center." The authors provide convincing evidence that the Republicans' true success has arisen not from connecting with voters on real issues, but by consolidating power from within the party, and by manipulating governmental rules and procedures. The far-Right Republicans have also bullied their more moderate colleagues into taking more extreme stances, thus leaving ultra-Rightists as the only choice for more moderate voters who lean naturally toward the Republicans or don't wish to vote for the Democrats. Therefore, the far-Right has succeeded in advancing an extreme economic and military ideology that is far from the Centrist view of the vast majority of Americans.
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