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Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics Hardcover – September 28, 2010

4.3 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Praise for Herding Donkeys

“The resurgence of the Democratic Party in the past two election cycles is one of the most important—and least understood—political stories of the new century. Ari Berman tells that tale with reportorial verve, a keen eye, a sharp pen, and a wealth of fresh insight. If you want to understand the grassroots revival of progressivism in America, and also the new challenges and aching disappointments that have come along with it, this is the book to read.” —John Heilemann, national political columnist for New York magazine and coauthor of Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of Lifetime

“Ari Berman has written a political narrative so revelatory and exhilarating it kept me up nights reading. Herding Donkeys is some of the freshest and incisive political reporting out there, and Berman, who has the keen eye of a novelist, is one heck of a storyteller.” —Alex Kotlowitz, author of There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America

Herding Donkeys is essential to understanding how the Democratic Party came back from the dead in 2006 and 2008. But it’s especially good at explaining what happened to all of Barack Obama’s grassroots energy. This is a hopeful but also sobering tale, told with strong inside reporting.” —Jonathan Alter, author of The Promise: President Obama, Year One

Herding Donkeys is political reporting at its finest. In his spirited debut, Ari Berman takes readers inside the back rooms and living rooms where politics actually happens, but his novel vantage point doesn’t prevent him from rendering the tough but fair judgments every great political reporter needs to make. This is a ripping account of the Democratic Party through an intense period of historic transformation.” —Michael Tomasky, author of Hillary’s Turn: Inside Her Improbable, Victorious Senate Campaign

“An intriguing behind-the-scenes look at how the Obama campaign built on the grassroots movement that had catapulted Dean to prominence . . . Engaging and balanced—a stand-out book.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“With a keen appreciation of political strategy as well as an eye for telling anecdote and amusing detail, Ari Berman tells the amazing story of the Democratic party’s revival. Berman’s reporting vindicates the fifty-state strategy of Howard Dean and the determined organizing of Barack Obama—and shows why grassroots activism is still the most potent force for change in America.” —Joe Conason, author of Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth

“Ari Berman tells the rollicking and rousing story of the fight for the soul of the Democratic party that has reshaped American politics. Full of riveting revelations, vivid reporting, and a cast of colorful characters, Herding Donkeys captures the exhilaration of the grassroots insurgency that Howard Dean launched—and Obama seized—to realign our political map. At a time of disillusionment with establishment politics, this book is solace for the soul. It is a timely reminder that the grit of tenacious organizers and antiestablishment politicians in red, blue, and purple states alike offers Hope 2.0.” —Katrina vanden Heuvel, Editor and Publisher, The Nation

" While a scoop-rich tome like John Heilemann and Mark Halperin's Game Change can tell us a lot about how campaigns are won and lost from the top down, Berman's more thoughtful book is equally good fun in telling the story of the election from the bottom up." —Dana Goldstein, The American Prospect

About the Author

ARI BERMAN is a political correspondent for The Nation and an Investigative Journalism Fellow at the Nation Institute. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, and he is a frequent commentator on MSNBC and National Public Radio. He lives in New York City.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1St Edition edition (September 28, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374169705
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374169701
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #265,343 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Howard Park on October 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Herding Donkeys" is about the singular political journey of Howard Dean and several unknown (at least on the national level) grass roots activists in places like Boise, Waco and Western North Carolina who laid the foundation for the election of Barack Obama and many Democrats in Congress in 2006 and 2008. In some ways the story is a familier one -- feisty outsiders get fed up and plot thier way to political power even where they are outnumbered and ignored by power brokers in state capitols and, especially, Washington, DC. The book gives a sense of what made the Obama Campaign different -- because it began as a progressive movement in 2003 and 2004 when nobody outside of Chicago had ever heard of Obama.

Dean, an outsiders insider, is juxtaposed against Rahm Emmanual who plays the part of an insiders insider. The two are the Democrats' yin and yang. This book is told from Deans perspective as well as the organizers who learned campaigning and new internet tools with Dean and never stopped until Democrats took Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008. Occasionally the chronology in the book is confusing as characters such as Dean then Obama organizer Jeremy Bird bounces from New Hampshire to South Carolina to Ohio to Washington. Herding Donkeys captures much of the zeitgeist of a time that has passed and hints at what has become of the forces that propelled Obama in 2008. It's an look at what political organizers do in places like Colorado Springs and Florence, SC before the big money and big media take hold of a movement and many of the brash young organizers move to Washington to replenish the ranks of the dreaded establishment.

Berman's achievement is that he has written a new kind of campaign book.
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Format: Hardcover
As a Northerner living in South Carolina, I was intrigued by Ari Berman's book describing the transformation of red states to blue or purple. His book vividly portrays the `hidden' democrats in America's blue states. It was heartening to read how the progressive democrats began to emerge from their cocoons to support Obama. They went from a minority to a majority; a force of nature.
Behind that force of nature, however, was Howard Dean, who motivated thousands of volunteers to rally behind their candidate and stand up for Change!!

Berman's descriptions of people and places make the book a page turner. I could not wait to read what happened in Idaho, Indiana, Texas, North Carolina, Ohio and was intrigued by the 200 people he interviewed. I was also given much needed insights as to how the political system works and fails. Ultimately Howard Dean who launched a successful 50 state strategy, does not get acknowledged, nor lands a position in the new Administration.

The last part of the book describes the challenges that Obama has faced and how
his administration did not support the constituency that elected him and the consequences which may be obvious in this coming election.

However, the book is upbeat, informative, and I am looking forward to a sequel. Nice job, Berman!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Subtitled "The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics," it is primarily a history of the significance of Howard Dean in the recent developments of the Democratic Party.

You may recall that Howard Dean was one of the also-ran candidates early in the 2004 primaries. His candidacy fizzled, but not his rather radical 50-state strategy for rebuilding the party which had been divided and conquered by the Bush campaign. His point was that grass roots action was the strength of the Democratic party, and therefore the party needed to abandon the top-down mentality of those who wanted to pull the strings from Washington.

Not long after he gave up on his bid for the White House, he was elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee. The party, for good or ill, has not been the same since. Most specifically, the Dean strategy was adapted and adopted by the Obama campaign in 2008, while Hillary Clinton clung to the insider party machine. We all know how that turned out.

Unfortunately, the machine reasserted control once Obama won, and most specifically in the person of Rahm Emmanuel. Rahm hated Howard Dean, and the feeling was (probably still is) mutual. Emmanuel is an insider's insider, and Dean is the rebellious outsider. Obama went from outsider to insider in November of 2008, and developed under Emmanuel's advice. Advice that backfired on him more than once.

What emerged from the grass roots success of 2008 included Organizing for America, the organization I have been working with in the lead-up to the 2012 campaign. And Ari Berman sees OFA as the best hope we have for a real reform of how politics is done. Makes me feel good. Makes me feel so good I'm going to add half a star to my rating. There.
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By J. Duran on January 16, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you want to know how political campaigns are managed from the grass roots, you'll enjoy the account of the work of Gov. Howard Dean in the Democrat Party. He revitalized the grass roots of the party in all 50 states while he was National Chairperson of the party. Interesting read!
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