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You Can't Be President: The Outrageous Barriers to Democracy in America Paperback – September 9, 2008


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Melville House (September 9, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1933633603
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933633602
  • Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 5.4 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,391,144 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Alexis de Tocqueville is a guiding spirit for this wide-ranging text, which advances a familiar argument: that moneyed and privileged interests, rather than the needs and opinions of ordinary citizens, dominate contemporary American politics. MacArthur, president and publisher of Harper's magazine, begins by lamenting the lack of basic comprehension of the Constitution and American government on the part of the political and media elite. From there, he proceeds thematically, considering the influence of the Republican and Democratic parties, the effects of social class and education, among other topics. Detours into local politics, including an extended account of a dispute over the construction of a Target store in Portsmouth, R.I., feel digressive, as do the author's occasional forays into history, in which he takes aim at targets on both sides of the political aisle from Joseph McCarthy to Woodrow Wilson and James Polk. MacArthur's book will likely inspire like-minded political progressives, despite his harsh criticism of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, but its crossover appeal may be limited. (Sept.)
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About the Author

JOHN R. MACARTHUR is the president and publisher of Harper’s Magazine. An award-winning journalist, he has previously written for The New York Times, United Press International, The Chicago Sun-Times, and The Wall Street Journal. He is also the author of the acclaimed books The Selling of Free Trade: NAFTA, Washington, and the Subversion of American Democracy, and Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War. He lives in New York City.

More About the Author

JOHN R. MACARTHUR is the president and publisher of Harper's Magazine. An award-winning journalist, he has previously written for The New York Times, United Press International, The Chicago Sun-Times, and The Wall Street Journal. He is also the author of the acclaimed books You Can't Be President: The Outrageous Barriers to Democracy in America, The Selling of Free Trade: NAFTA, Washington, and the Subversion of American Democracy, and Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War. He lives in New York City.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Chris A. Mcninch on September 3, 2008
Format: Paperback
Everyone hears it as a kid, that they can be anything they want when they grow up; be it cowboy, astronaut, dinosaur, or, of course, President of the United States. John R. MacArthur's fascinating new book You Can't Be President reveals that unless you're part of an extremely select minority all of those career paths are about equally as viable. I don't necessarily read a lot of political books (though I like to think I follow politics a bit more closely than the average bear) yet from the second I picked this up I was instantly engrossed. It's written in an extremely accessible and involving, but also utterly convincing, style that explodes one of the fundamental precepts of our society: that with enough hard work and elbow grease you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. It's an incredibly thought-provoking and infuriating book that's definitely "must-read" for this election year.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Cooke on September 19, 2008
Format: Paperback
I've never read a book like this. For starters it's a page turner. The stories told reveal terrible truths about this nation. Truths more frightening and more deeply rooted than I had any idea. Rarely do we gain access to the depth of reporting evidenced here.

The book is a ripping indictment of what most of us know in our gut. And despite the onerous knowledge haunting any reader who cares for democracy, the result is somehow incredibly provoking and inspiring. I hesitate to repeat the contents of the book when its author does such a thorough and artful job. Also I hesitate to say things which really require many paragraphs to begin to understand. That and the sound-bite is way too effective a bait for the internet trolls.

Suffice it to say that I extend gratitude toward the author and hope that many read this book and are as inspired as I am to follow Jefferson's dictum so aptly quoted in MacArthur's first chapter: "We are never permitted to despair of the Commonwealth."

Count one more standing with you John MacArthur. You are a true patriot.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Dirk J. Willard on November 8, 2008
Format: Paperback
For those of you who don't understand the reference to David Halberstam he was a much feared and respected journalist who wrote about everyone from Eisenhower to Carter. To his credit he was on Nixon's enemies list and Lyndon Johnson had him followed.

It's easy to see how John MacArthur, an award-winning journalist, author of "The Selling of "Free Trade": NAFTA, Washington, and the Subversion of American Democracy," could win the ire of the Bush clan and the Clintons. His copy is straight-forward, easy to read, in a style anyone can follow, loaded with supportive information that blends seamlessly with his theme: government by the people is a myth. The approach is not so much an attack when he has done so well to support it as an indictment of the American political system. Hopefully, we will see some changes in the future under Obama.

In this book Mr. MacArthur describes how party bosses, like Richard Daley of Chicago and the Clintons rule with an iron fist. How without so much as a nod from the federal government, Daley destroyed Meigs field in what the Chicago Sun-Times described as a land grab. No doubt some of Daley's rich realtors, donors to his reign as mayor, got richer. MacArthur describes it best:

"Just before midnight on March 30, 2003, with no warning to the Federal Aviation Administration, Daley ordered bulldozers under police escort to rip into sections of the nearly 4,000-foot runway and thus render it unusable for takeoffs and landings."

The author has much to say about the 2004 presidential campaign and Hillary's ambition to be president no matter what it cost the nation. MacArthur describes it on page 66:

"In [Hillary's] view, Howard Dean's very nomination posed a major threat to her power over the Democratic Party.
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5 of 9 people found the following review helpful By S. Sherman on December 7, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
John R. MacArthur ("Publisher, Harper's Magazine", as is stated prominently on the cover of the book, as if this makes him some kind of moral or intellectual giant) is a sort of patrician radical liberal. He is very, very angry about the direction the US is going in, with the complete domination of the political system by money. Yet he also seems a little too removed from the chaos of everyday existence among the bottom half of Americans to score a real knockout punch. His political equivalent is Ned Lamont, the rich guy who became a national hero among liberals for defeating Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut Democratic Primary, but then couldn't rally an electoral majority to rid us of Lieberman once and for all.

MacArthur's title is a riposte to a Junior Scholastic magazine article that in typical pollyanish fashion celebrated US democracy. By 'you', who can't be president, he means someone who wants to overcome the barriers to social change in the US. He then lays out many of the forces that narrow the path down which American democracy moves--lobbyists, the two party duopoly, the media/elite alliance, the numbing domination of the American marketplace by a few chains. He also has a vivid chapter about the limits of Barack Obama's early political career, marked by an aversion to courageous stances in favor of relentless careerism. By contrast, his idea of how democracy and citizenship should work is epitomized by the story of Conni Harding, who fought against the siting of a Target store in her town. It is an interesting story, but I think it reveals the limits of MacArthur's politics. Should social change really just be about blocking the destruction of small towns, rather than the reordering of national priorities?
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