73 of 93 people found the following review helpful
Edited to remove opening at suggeastion of earnest Amazonian, and to add several books and recommend my list of transpartisan books based in part on Reuniting America's list.
I have five pages of notes on this book, which is my 708th book of non-fiction pertaining to national security and competitiveness, and in the context of the other 707 books (okay, three on MGBs and three on menopause), this is, without question, a five star book.
There are several key points that I take very seriously, and I believe that this book could usefully be read with moderate Republican Clyde Prestowitz's ROGUE NATION, and Senator Edward Kennedy's AMERICA: Back on Track. Readers interested in my recommendations might also look at my lists, especially my lists of Democracy and on Collective Intelligence.
Key point #1: AUTHENTICITY is lacking in politics, and could be what wins the 2008 election for either John McCain, if he can avoid the "born again Bushophile" slander, or Mark Warner, if he can bring himself to field the moderate Republican from Maine Susan Collins as a Vice President, and a coalition cabinet committed to electoral reform. McCain is especially attractive to me because he could--as author Joe Klein notes--fix the military by ending military-industrial-congressional corruption and putting a stop to corporate welfare. Warner, on the other hand, could field a credible coaltion government that ends both the corruption of special interests and the corruption of the Republican and Democratic party leadership who force their party members to vote the party line instead of their conscience (see Tom Coburn's superb BREACH OF TRUST).
Key point #2: Consultants have drained democracy dry and actually driven voters away. This is almost a no-holds barred indictment of the consultants and polling firms that grew from the 1970's. The author is especially pointed and strong on Patrick Caddell and on Bob Shrum, with Joe Trippi getting honorable mentions. On the one hand, the author slams polling and consulting for distorting both what the people think, and for vacating the value of real leadership--he is compelling in suggesting that the people want leaders to lead with vision and authenticity, rather than follow the numbers like sheep.
Key Point #3: Politics, in its highest form, was Bobby Kennedy in Indianapolis on the night of Martin Luther King's murder by assassination. The author opens with this vignette, the rest of the book is about politics at its lowest form.
Key Point #4: Television has changed how we select our leaders, and this is generally a very very bad thing. In turn, the cost of television advertisements has fueled massive corruption within both parties. Since the airwaves are part of the public broadcast spectrum, it is certainly clear to me that we have to eliminate the cost of television advertising, and demand equal free time for all validated candidates, at all levels. This is a non-negotiable condition for democracy in the multi-media era.
Key Point #5: Witch hunts and negative politics are the stock of the mediocrities that populate both the Republican and the Democratic parties (I am a moderate Republican and consider both parties to be equally corrupt, the Democrats are simply more inept).
Key Point #6: Here the author is supported by Henry Kissinger (see my review of DOES AMERICA NEED A FOREIGN POLICY?), as both consider the speed of politics and the speed of the real world to have dramatically out-paced the sources and methods by which we acquire, evaluate, and act on information. Government--and the U.S. Intelligence Community and the general inter-agency policy deliberation process are, in one word, INCOMPETENT. We desperately need to harness collective intelligence through new open source software and open source intelligence capabilities that are widely and freely available to citizens as well as their elected or appointed representatives.
As a side note, the author documents the very early and heavy engagement of Saudi Arabia in sponsoring sophisticated and sustained polling of American views and concerns. It can be safely suggested that the Saudi Royal Family has funded sufficient polling to know America as well, or better, than most US politicians.
The author believes that the Reagan era killed concepts of civic duty and long term strategic sacrifice, and that a climate of intellectual cowardice and political correctness led to a shutting out of those who would speak plainly or serioiusly.
John Kerry is slammed as a banana peel politician who uses slippery words, Dick Morris is slammed as a charlatan, the Republicans are slammed for slease, anti-society, pro-market (that is to say, pro-already wealthy Wall Street), and for having no policy process (something moderate Republican and former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill supports in the book PRICE OF LOYALTY). The author slams Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and General Tommy Franks as delusional and unprofessional. As the recent chorus of generals including General Tony Zinni might suggest, the author is probably on solid ground with this assessment.
On a nuanced note, the author considers Shrum to be off-base in advising Senator Edwards to focus on class warfare, as he finds that this mantra is not effective with either the bi-partisan "common guy" or the social conservative "leave me alone" group. Everything I read in this book confirmed my view that the next congressional election needs to be about personal integrity and indepedence and authenticity, and the next presidential election needs to be about electoral reform--about re-engaging and honoring the votes of every citizen, and keeping those who are elected honest after the fact of election.
I may have read a different book than that which has been so demeaned by the other reviewers to date, but I can certainly say that I did read every word of this book, and I found the author to be thoughtful, authentic, and worth every minute that I spent absorbing his views.
Running on Empty: How the Democratic and Republican Parties Are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do About It
Who Will Tell The People? : The Betrayal Of American Democracy
Democracy's Edge: Choosing to Save Our Country by Bringing Democracy to Life
Escaping the Matrix: How We the People can change the world
Society's Breakthrough!: Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People
The Tao of Democracy: Using Co-Intelligence to Create a World That Works for All
All Rise: Somebodies, Nobodies, and the Politics of Dignity (Bk Currents)
The Two Percent Solution: Fixing America's Problems in Ways Liberals and Conservatives Can Love
The Radical Center: The Future of American Politics
THE SMART NATION ACT: Public Intelligence in the Public Interest
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Joe Klein has spent his career interviewing and writing about politicians. This book, Politics Lost, pulls together various threads from this experience to give an interesting, personal glimpse into politics for those of us who have never met a president or presidential candidate. Unfortunately, it's not a pleasant picture. Our schools tend to teach us that our system of government works very well, a shining example for the world. Not so, according to Joe Klein's view of it. He sees, as the subtitle says, that American democracy has been trivialized.
That point is made, and made convincingly. But for me, Joe Klein's description and analysis of prominent politicians formed the heart of the book. For example, he does not like Howard Dean, finding him shallow and of little substance. On the other hand, he does like John McCain, finding his "straight talk" refreshing. The personal details he relates about McCain added depth to the portrait Klein painted of him. He notes that McCain's arms function so poorly that he cannot raise them enough to comb his own hair. That a result of the several times his arms were broken during his years of captivity in Vietnam.
He also tells of John Kerry's standing up for the other military veterans in the Senate, regardless of party. That, and some other personal details about Kerry made him seem more human than he did on the campaign trail.
And that is the strength of Joe Klein's writing. Yes, he takes sides, praising Robert Kennedy to the stars and criticizing other people. But unlike similar books on politics, Klein's writing seems more thoughtful, seeing the human side (both good and bad) of politicians ranging in philosophy from Kennedy to Reagan, and in between.
I'm not a fan of books on politics. Perhaps I made a mistake reading one of Ann Coulter's books and one of Al Franken's. Both I found to be shallow and boring. Perhaps you have to be a partisan of like stripe to enjoy those.
But with Joe Klein's Politics Lost, anyone can find valuable views. In fact, as much as anything, Klein's book made me think again that the extreme partisanship, the focus on Republican battling Democrat, misses the point. Will we ever see our government leaders focus on running the country rather than on getting elected? Or has the emergence of the perpetual campaign Klein talks about made that impossible?
Let's hope that Politics Lost can be found again.
26 of 34 people found the following review helpful
It sure is easy for pundits and commentators to get book deals these days, when you can sell a tirade of personal opinions and second guessing as in-depth political analysis. Joe Klein has the added distinction of criticizing other people for doing exactly what he does, and of complaining about political and media trends from which he benefits directly. Klein has a reasonable basic point here about modern lowest-common-denominator politicking, in which image and sloganeering are seen as more important than knowledge and leadership. But Klein, in a display of mind-boggling myopia, can't even see that this exact same phenomenon allows weak and opinionated books like this to qualify as serious political analysis.
Granted, this book gets off to a pretty good start, with a prologue describing a 1968 campaign speech by Robert F. Kennedy, in which RFK spoke intelligently and respectfully to an African American crowd just hours after the Martin Luther King assassination. Klein laments the total disappearance of RFK-style dignity in modern American politics, and vows to analyze what has gone wrong and how modern campaigns can be made intelligent again. But this potential focus promptly disappears without a trace after the prologue. What follows is actually a history of the influence of villainous pollsters and consultants in recent presidential campaigns. Klein usefully criticizes the sappy image experts and number crunchers first, before spending much more time second guessing, with 20-20 hindsight, the losses of unsuccessful candidates.
The unintentional irony of Klein's punditry is unstoppable throughout the book. He complains about everyone else's unyielding ideology while simultaneously, and unilaterally, pronouncing certain positions, such as U.S. military superiority, as "correct" or "unassailable." Klein laments how over-hyped pollsters have made it a liability for politicians to appear realistically human, but then declares that certain presidential candidates (Democrats in general and Al Gore in particular) lost because they didn't appear - you guessed it - realistically human. In another contradiction, Klein forgives George W. Bush for lacking issue-specific knowledge, but later slams Howard Dean for the exact same thing. Klein also fancies himself a nonpartisan because he can criticize and disagree with both Republicans and Democrats, but this is merely an equal-opportunity mutation of the shallow punditry that he disdains from everyone else in his field. Even in these ridiculous political times, it's stupefying how much this book contributes to, and benefits from, the very problems it claims to debunk. But that's what passes for "analysis" these days. [~doomsdayer520~]
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on August 7, 2006
Joe Klein, the famed political observer and critic, levies his newest assault upon political consultants. Klein argues that the incessant polling and focus grouping of political campaigns have robbed our politicians of their authentic voice. Political speeches are now watered-down, pre-packaged and sterilized messages devoid of all spontaneity. He further contends that elected leaders are forced to be on a "permanent campaign," meaning that they continuously follow polls and public opinion rather than, well, lead. "The presidency of George W. Bush represented the final, squalid perfection of the Permanent Campaign that Pat Caddell first suggested to Jimmy Carter in 1976." To this point, I cheer Klein on with a loud and supportive "right on."
It is difficult, however, to stand behind a reporter who cannot see the proverbial plank in his own eye. Klein fails to take a modicum of responsibility for his own patronage of the "Permanent Campaign." As a reporter, he must admit that the 24-hour news cycle and the sound bite hunting pundits create the demand for overly-tested statements. Klein calls for spontaneity, but spontaneity means making mistakes and being human. The incessant replay of Dean's scream or Kerry's famous line, "I voted for it before I voted against it," doesn't inspire a candidate to be authentic and natural in the campaign process. Klein berates Gore's consultants for "over handling" the message, while he simultaneously criticizes Gore's bad (and, most likely, spontaneous) behavior in the 2000 presidential debates. My god, in this climate, wouldn't you opt for caution? Klein would do well to include himself and his political press cronies in this lashing.
It is important to remember that Joe Klein is first and foremost a critic. As many in his line of work tend to do, he relishes the opportunity to launch a spurious attack while he contributes little to advance the collective (and much needed) dialogue.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
It must be tough to follow losing presidential campaign after losing campaign for decades. You see missed opportunities. You are dismayed by how phony people come across who are pretty decent in private. You see the same mistakes made over . . . and over . . . and over again. Ultimately, you must also get a little jaded as two very wealthy people square off in 2004 with only personalities being pursued in the campaign. It must be good therapy to write a book about your frustrations.
The bulk of Politics Lost recounts vivid moments from the campaign trail that Mr. Klein has experienced. He likes politicians being candid and unscripted in heart-felt ways. I do too. But I found that I got pretty tired of Mr. Klein being tired by all the lack of candor in the babble of badly scripted, badly acted speeches.
Beneath his fundamental point about permanent campaigning led by consultants being a bad way to run a campaign, there's a more fundamental point: If you win with consultant-driven campaigning based on personalities, you can't govern unless you get handed a national crisis on a platter. The American political process is broken. Few would disagree.
You needed to read a book to learn that? Well, hardly.
I was disappointed that the book missed addressing a more fundamental point: Why is the electorate willing to let politics collapse as a somewhat honorable activity? Some would argue that it's because the government counts less and less in terms of how it affects peoples' lives. Others would argue that politics is more like rooting for your favorite football or baseball team; it's a sport rather than a serious practice. I'm not sure, but I would have liked Mr. Klein's views on that question. But, alas, he doesn't like to look to the electorate very much. He prefers to pillory politicians, pollsters, and consultants.
If you like to see politicians and consultants on both sides of the aisle Gored and Bush-whacked in print, you'll like this book much better than I did.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 9, 2006
Joe Klein, columnist for "Time" magazine and author of "Primary Colors," has followed every presidential campaign since 1968. He is a pundit's pundit who follows the behind-the-scences maneuvering of political handlers and consultants. His new book is an indictment of how politics has changed over the last 30-odd years, and how it has been taken over by these marketing professionals. Klein laments the loss of authenticity in political discourse. Today's candidatles no longer seem to be able to utter meaningful and memorable sentences.
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.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 25, 2006
Columnist Joe Klein, who now writes for TIME magazine, has always had a penchant for frankness. In fact, this tendency has brought him lots of criticism, especially from the political left. Throughout his writing career, he has refused to join in the liberal knee-jerk acceptance of open-ended welfare, affirmative action, and a host of other sacred oddities that masquerade as social policy. In his most recently published book, Politics Lost: How American Democracy Was Trivialized By People Who Think You're Stupid, Klein describes, through his first-hand observations of several presidential campaigns, how diverse "consultants," public relations specialists, pollsters, and various kinds of "handlers," have overtaken the political process and the people who run for public office. These media-conscious gurus have transformed the American political process, rendering it unrecognizable to those eighteenth century Founders. Klein says of these political wizards, "Their impact on politics has been perverse . . . they have drained a good deal of the life from our democracy."
Klein tells a little about his own political background, claiming that he came to politics as a liberal and eventually grew into a moderate, "a common enough journey." However, he says, "To be moderate is to be homeless in 21st century American politics." Nor, he adds, is it easy these days to be a classic liberal or a conservative.
His description of the current state of affairs of the two major political parties and the cowardly politicians who infest them is sadly an accurate one. These are individuals who, because they are ever mindful of the dangers on all sides, are "terrified that the next thing they say will become the fodder for a thermonuclear negative ad." Hence, they grow ever more cautious. "We are drifting," writes Klein, "toward a flaccid, hollowed-out democracy where honest debate is impossible--a democracy without citizenship."
Although Klein admits in the book to a tendency to wander away from his main topic (there is so much to say, after all), his personal insights make this a text worth reading.
6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on August 17, 2006
I purchased this book after reading an interview with Joe Klein online. His thesis that both or either the politicians or their "handlers" think we, the public, are stupid may have been misplaced. After reading this book describing ad nauseam the culture and egos of political handlers, I'm left with the impression Klein thinks his readers are stupid. I admire his writing ability but "Politics Lost" could be summed up by a comment Klein made in his Internet interview: America has become a culture of lying, where the public knows their leaders are lying, but get caught up with media fascination with "How good a liar is that particular leader" -- or for that matter any public figure. Lying, unfortunately has become a political art form (i.e., "spinning") rather than being treated as a sign of not really caring or gross "indifference" toward the public. Were he really to focus on the "art of lying" by politicians and political operatives in America this book would not be a lost opportunity, for example, by documenting an "insider's" view of Karl Rove's Machiavellian machinations. Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel has stated that "The opposite of love isn't hate; it is indifference." The real danger of "Politics Lost" is that it fails to recognize that we have come to a perilous point in our society where the public has become too inured to lying to do something about it!
8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on June 24, 2006
Klein cuts right to the core of what is wrong with American politics today: the politicians are canned, market-tested, focus-grouped and polled into oblivion. Each politician is a Xerox copy of the last, with very few exceptions. Voters have been conditioned by the omnipresence of television to accept this kind of mass-produced, sterilized garbage as high political discourse, and as Klein so excellently shows, we are all much worse for it.
The age of orators and compromise has given way to the five-second sound byte and vicious, unwavering partisanship in an attempt to keep poll numbers up in what has become a permanent re-election campaign. Politicians are now far more concerned with the prospect of being re-elected that they will rarely advocate an idea that is below 50% in the opinion polls, and any idea they share with voters has been dial-tested and phone banked to the point where any offending idea - any originality of thought - has been weeded out because of its possibly negative effects over the course of a news cycle.
It is a shame politics has become so trivial, and Klein is the first to admit his part in this downward trend. But unlike most, Klein realizes what he has done and aspires to fix it through this book. His attempt, though a small step, means something.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By Joe Klein's reckoning, the greatest scourge of political consultants in the past three decades has been the elimination of Turnip Days - and he may well be right. The peculiar name of this lost element of politics arises from the candicacy of Harry Truman in 1948. At his Democratic Party acceptance speech where he was challenging a do-nothing Republican Congress to reconvene on July 25, President Truman alluded to a Missouri tradition of planting turnips that day, rain or shine. According to Klein, it was a speech straight out of the man, loaded with words and references to Truman's own down-home roots. A genuine, non-scripted, non-manufactured moment in which America saw their President as the man he really was, warts and all. We've hardly had a Turnip Day moment since, and in Klein's view, it's been the ruination of American politics and the cause of horrendous candidacies (Gephardt, Doukakis, Kerry) and equally horrendous Presidencies (Carter, both Bushes, even parts of Reagan and Clinton).
In its basic structure, POLITICS LOST is a history, a chronological retracing of American politics from Jimmy Carter to the 2004 Bush/Kerry election, with particular emphasis on pollsters and political consultants. In Klein's view, this new breed of unelected unknowns have evolved from advisors and strategists to incessant surveyors, focus group holders, and message and candidate micro-managers battling with near-paranoid fervor to suppress anything smacking of reality and spontaneity. As the author retraces successive Presidential election campaigns from Carter/Ford to Bush/Kerry, he introduces us to the little Oz-wizards pulling the strings from behind the curtains. Everything begins with pollster Pat Caddell. After that, it's Richard Wirthlin, John Sears, Bob Teeter, David Doak, Bob Shrum, Mark McKinnon, Dick Morris, James Carville, Ed Rollins, Lee Atwater, Roger Ailes, Joe Trippi, and a host of others. Even to readers for whom those names are already familiar, the stories are simultaneously fascinating and disturbing. Democrats and Repbublicans alike should feel a deep sense of shame over what their leaders have wrought in the last thirty years - hardly "democracy" as the Founding Fathers imagined it.
Klein's negative attitude toward professional political consultancy picks up steam in his writing as he progresses chronologically, and justifiably so. By the turn of the millennium, Presidential political campaigns have become a national disgrace, a black mark on the entire concept of democracy. Candidacies are manufactured for emotion and appearance, devoid of substance and content, and the most telling moments in the last three elections have been gaffes or negative ads and attacks. Not surprisingly, the American electorate increasingly elects not to participate, as if a trip to the voting booth means pointlessly soiling one's hands in the whole nasty business. One of the conjectures in POLITICS LOST is that the entire process increases the likelihood that the country will end up with ineffectual Presidencies. From Carter to Reagan to Bush I to Clinton to Bush II, this certainly seems to be the case (with Clinton being the only pause in this steep slide into the intellectual and effectiveness abyss).
In the book's final pages, Mr. Klein practically begs some future candidate to break this cycle and present himself or herself as just a normal human being. Say what you think and mean what you say; don't hide behind pages of polls and empty, feel-good, focus group-tested slogans. The author may indeed be onto something, judging at least in the Democratic candidates' case by people's continued collective unease with Hillary Clinton and their early surge of enthusiasm for Barack Obama (who appears to be less fresh and more scripted as time passes). As Klein might have it with regard to the so-called political pros, "a pox on all your houses." POLITICS LOST is a fascinating survey of recent Presidential campaign history and a worthwhile read for what it says about our leaders, our political processes, our democracy, and ourselves.