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on September 3, 2008
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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on September 19, 2008
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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on November 8, 2008
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. Unlike Kerry (Who she hardly supported) and the other candidates, Dean was not dependent on the traditional Democratic money pool controlled by Bill and Hillary."

Quoting another Democratic insider, "Hillary's future depended on George W Bush remaining in the White House."

So, rather than allowing the election of an inspirational leader, Billery installed Terry McAuliffe, a friend and ally, to run the Democratic Party. Obviously, he was sacrificed (for the greater good, in Hillary's opinion). The Clintons left their party with a second choice candidate: John Kerry --- one that the Clintons did not support.Ironically, McAuliffe paid the price later by being replaced by Howard Dean.

The Clintons, de facto bosses of the Democratic party, not only failed to support Kerry they went after Dean in ways that no loyal American could conceive: they supported a 527 group calling itself "Americans for Jobs, Health Care, and Progressive Values." This group went after Dean during the Iowa caucuses with savage TV ads known as the "Go Back to Vermont" campaign. Perhaps this division within the Democrats created an opportunity for the Republicans so they attacked Dean. On page 75, the author gives us his assessment:

"... Bush and the Republicans feared Dean's antiwar and anti-deficit message --- feared that he would make a stronger opponent than the ambivalent and tortured John Kerry, who voted for the Iraq War resolution."

In the end, both parties eliminated from the race a candidate who might have changed things for the better.

I have a few more pages to read in this book before adding my final comments. So far, John McArthur has made his point. We (the American people) must change this system. Hopefully, the first step is voting into office a president who appears little tainted by the corruption of the system. We must be more vigilant. We must strive to be better consumers, to ask why a party is doing something, not just go back to our lives and hope that by electing a good man we made a difference. Government of the People is not quite correct --- it is a "Republic" not a democracy. We elect people who represent us. Let's all be activists. Join an activist group --- like Public Citizen. Be a part of the force that pushes government to do the will of the people. Let your voice be heard! Don't let lobbyist and the rich control our America.

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on July 8, 2009
YCBP is a fast-paced run through the many ways our "Democracy" fails to be democratic. While depressing, these weren't exacly revelations. Rather, many of these examples demonstrate John Dewey's truism that "politics is the shadow cast over society by business." Keep in mind, however; this isn't a "deep" or analytical book. YCBP is mildy interesting but nothing special. I've read better books along these themes so I would recommend that you keep looking...

Not terrible but not recommended.
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on December 7, 2008
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? Is it possible that MacArthur is one more in a long line of writers mistaking NIMBY (not in my backyard) for the ultimate expression of democracy? Is democracy really about individuals standing up to the powerful, or about mobilizing coalitions of the weak to transform the balance of forces in the political sphere? Can we talk about the failures of American democracy and what is needed to transform it without soberly discussing the beneficiaries of the lobbyists, the chain stores, the party duopoly, etc, which go well beyond some tiny elite?
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on March 10, 2010
While this was a very interesting book that shows some of the obstacles to becoming President, it does not, as the title indicates, close the doors to the office. As recently as 1992 a man who grew up in a modest middle class household did become President and, if his own account is to be believed, he did it without sacrificing his own values. Yes, it is very difficult to get past the elitism of our government institution, but not impossible. Reaching into the House of Representatives can be done even by those who reject party affiliation. Reaching the Senate can be done from a good standing in the House. And reaching the Presidency from the Senate has been done a lot. The money for campaigns remains the largest obstacle for the principled candidate, but Barack Obama collected over two million from small donations. Some modest changes to the laws governing campaign finance should enable anyone to reach the Presidency.
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on November 26, 2008
The book starts strong and on topic but quickly veers off into disjoint and unrelated topics such as the siting of Big Box Retailers. The last third of the book drags horribly and is of little consequence since the presidential election is past.
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