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Pennsylvania Avenue: Profiles in Backroom Power: Making Washington Work Again Paperback – April 28, 2009
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Despite the partisan ideology that has gridlocked Washington, D.C., behind-the-scenes power brokers are able to get laws passed, deals done, appointments made. Correspondents Harwood and Seib profile some of those power brokers, including lobbyist Ken Duberstein, businessman David Rubenstein, Democratic strategist Rahm Emanuel, Republican strategist Karl Rove, fund-raiser Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and policy advisor Elliott Abrams. The authors detail how these power brokers rose to influence, some crossing party lines, and how they maintain their positions. In transactions from the Dubai ports deal debacle to the public relations battle over Wal-Mart and behind-the-scene machinations of the war in Iraq, the authors examine the influence of the powerful who don’t let ideology get in the way of the deal. Harwood and Seib examine Washington’s earlier history and the new strains produced by unprecedented ideological polarization, devoid of any of the personal camaraderie of the past. They conclude by exploring prospects for the future as both political parties recognize the gridlock and make efforts to soften the sharp edges. --Vanessa Bush --This text refers to the MP3 CD edition.
“Essential reading for anyone interested in the inside workings of American politics.” —Brian Williams, anchor, NBC Nightly News
“Fresh and stimulating . . . Harwood and Seib take readers behind Washington’s facades, showing how business really gets done.”—New York Times Book Review
“Among their peers, John Harwood and Gerald Seib are respected as the gold standard of deep and honest reporting. Some journalists pretend they know what is going on; Harwood and Seib really do, as they prove once again in this evocative and insightful book.” —David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize—winning author of First in His Class: A Biography of Bill Clinton
“Informative and timely . . . [Readers] will come away with a greater knowledge of how the Washington power game is played.”—Washington Times
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Thus begins this compendium of Beltway Biographies compiled by Harwood and Seib. Various behind-the-scenes characters are profiled and one or two of their individual successes and failures in "getting things done" are highlighted.
Throughout, the authors try to illustrate--indeed, seem to yearn for--a time when relations between the parties were better. To be sure, while the politics of bygone eras saw their own tensions and fundamental differences, more often than not, most politicians of different stripes could at least agree on big picture issues such as the Cold War.
According to the authors, that changed--and they make their case in the sections on Ken Mehlman and a few, sprinkled allusions to Barack Obama--when the Baby Boom generation developed ideological fault lines during the Vietnam War. The differences that separated the factions born of that conflict exist to this day. In short, there is a basic distrust between the two main factions and both work to undermine the ideas of their opponent, no matter the cost.
To this basic explanation, they would also seem to add the significant role the modern mass media has played. This factor they highlight in their profile of Karl Rove, who also holds this view, and whose position is that a mass media explosion led to more outlets competing against each other. This provided incentive to produce compelling content. The subsequent emergence of the "talking head" format on television has only served to continually feed the partisan beasts. We talk past each other an awful lot these days.
There are also some good bits not related to the main thesis. The chapter on Elliot Abrams includes as fair and concise an explanation of the much maligned "neocons" as I've seen, for example. Abrams also explains that a Presidential speech is a major event because it "compels the administration to decide what it really believes." Perhaps. Though I suspect more than one politician has delivered a major speech based more on what he thought the audience wanted to hear rather than what he really believes.
In summary, the authors are even-handed with their subjects, including fair and illuminating portrayals of some selected successes and failures enjoyed (or not) by these beltway insiders. It is a well-written and informative work that concisely describes how things get done. Yet, the authors' obvious desire for a kinder, gentler Washington sometimes seems overwrought. I don't believe I'm alone in being neither as optimistic, nor desirous, of a Washington, D.C. where everyone gets along and gets things done. Sometimes, the best thing that Washington can do is nothing, after all.
Through great background research and first hand interviews with key players such as Karl Rove, Ed Rogers, Ken Duberstein, this is an excellent book for those wanting to know how deals are made, and how the wheels of power are greased".
Pennsylvania Avenue, Profiles in Backroom Power offers a series of profiles of people that most Americans probably see quoted in mainstream media everyday, but have no idea why they are opinion leaders.
The book is interesting if just for the profiles, but it also ties together how many of these players on the chessboard interact. These power brokers either succeed or fail in a way that creates the headlines we all read.
I think this book should be mandatory reading for all aspiring political science students or anyone who wants a better understanding of how the most famous Avenue in the United States really works.
I look forward to a sequel in 2009 when a new wave of deal makers ride into town.
Most recent customer reviews
And this reasonable, well-written book gives it to us...and its nice and refreshing to read a book about politics and Washington without people...Read more