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The Corruption of American Politics: What Went Wrong and Why Hardcover – August, 1999
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Elizabeth Drew, longtime Washington correspondent for The New Yorker, provides an up-close look at the scandalous roots of America's political culture. With its focus on campaign-finance reform, The Corruption of American Politics is not a flashy read but a surprisingly engrossing one, full of vivid characterizations and sly observations (one senator, for example, is described as "unburdened by brilliance"). Drew places her subject in the larger context of what has happened to American political life since Watergate. The public has lost most of its faith in government, she writes, warning: "Lack of trust creates the risk of susceptibility to demagoguery, or of abuses of the democratic process." Her behind-the-scenes descriptions are a real strength--she has incredible access to Washington's movers and shakers--but they also give rise to a weakness: the politicians who double as sources tend to come off well, while the reverse is true for those who didn't invite Drew into their confidence. In addition, readers who lean conservative may detect a whiff of liberal bias on these pages; yet they need not agree with all of Drew's judgments to appreciate her journalism. For a glimpse at how Washington really works--from the naked partisanship of Congress to the White House spin machine--Elizabeth Drew is hard to beat. --John J. Miller
Drew has been writing about Washington for a generation, so she is more than qualified to consider "the debasement of American politics over the past twenty-five years." In Whatever It Takes , she described how campaign finance law was manipulated in 1996; it was said that Senator Fred Thompson (R-TN) kept a copy of her book nearby as he headed the Senate committee investigating campaign finances. It comes as no surprise, then, that Corruption is largely about the travails of that committee and the unsuccessful efforts of legislators, including Thompson, John McCain (R-AZ), Russ Feingold (D-WI), Christopher Shays (R-CT), and Marty Meehan (D-MA), to pass legislation to reform the system. But the same issues central to the campaign reform battle--the dominant role of money, intense partisanship, lack of civility, erosion of trust, institutional failures, lack of leadership--were on display in the impeachment struggle, which Drew also discusses here. True to her years with the New Yorker, Drew never hesitates to deliver opinions; how awful to be one of the legislators she labels a "dim bulb" ! For political junkies and others who care about what happens inside the Beltway, Corruption offers fascinating insider detail. Mary Carroll
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Drew is sometimes charged with that dogmatic descriptor "liberal bias," but her heroes in this book are two Republicans: Fred Thompson and John McCain. So I don't think said "bias" influences this book one way or another (anyone can find bias if looking for it). Rather, the heroes of the book are those who try to "do something" for the public good, and the villians are those who manipulate the policital process to block the do-gooders.
Drew can be a bit pithy and spiteful, but isn't that part of her charm? Any hack can report the facts of a Senate floor debate, but very few (1) have access to the much more important behind the scenes deal-brokering and (2) have the integrity and journalistic chops to gossip about it. Reading her describe a Senator that you've always suspected of being an idiot as an idiot shoud be part of the fun, regardless of your political preference.
In sum, if you follow politics with any sort of a balanced view, you should enjoy The Corruption of American Politics. It's an insider account of how Congress slowly works for the public good, but only to a point. Good stuff.
Overall she gives a very good analysis of the current state of American politics, which comes down to one thing - it takes lots of money to win. Unfortunately that means that the politicians we have spend a great amount of their time asking, begging and anything else to get money. I also found the discussion on the increase levels of partisan tactics to be very concerning. How can anything worth while get done in the current environment? Lastly she also dropped into the book interesting details of the rules of the House and Senate. Overall the book was interesting and well written.