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Politics Lost: How American Democracy Was Trivialized By People Who Think You're Stupid First Edition Edition

3.8 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0385510271
ISBN-10: 0385510276
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The people castigated in this lively but self-contradictory jeremiad make up the "pollster-consultant industrial complex" of political handlers responsible for today's bland, prefabricated candidates, carefully stage-managed campaigns and vacuous, focus-grouped policy proposals. Political reporter and Time pundit Klein (Primary Colors) traces the political consultants' influence through pungent insider accounts of presidential campaigns from 1968 to the present, throwing in plenty of his own armchair quarterbacking of triumphs and fiascoes. Throughout, he deplores the deadening of American political culture and celebrates the few politicians, like Ronald Reagan and John McCain, who occasionally slip the consultant's leash, blurt out an unfashionable opinion, take a principled stand or otherwise demonstrate their unvarnished humanity. Unfortunately, Klein's politics of personal authenticity—he longs for a candidate "who gets angry, within reason; gets weepy, within reason... but only if these emotions are rare and real"—seems indistinguishable from the image-driven, style-over-substance politics he decries; he just wishes the imagery and style were more colorful and compelling. Moreover, Klein's insistence that the electorate cares much more about the sincerity or "phoniness" of a politician's character than about policy issues puts him squarely in the camp of people who think voters are stupid. (Apr. 18)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* In 1948 when Harry S. Truman accepted the Democratic nomination, his spontaneous reference to Turnip Day in Missouri evoked a candor and authenticity that later helped him win the presidency. Klein, author of Primary Colors (1995), frames much of his analysis in the context of Truman's remark. Unfortunately, political consultants have been intent on purging Turnip Day spontaneity in favor of poll-based, risk-averse blandness that bodes ill for American democracy. It was brilliant numbers cruncher Pat Caddell who gave birth to polling and introduced the notion of the permanent campaign. Reagan pollster Richard Wirthlin identified "Reagan Democrats" and helped broaden the base of Republicans. Among the other well-known consultants Klein dissects are Dick Morris, "whose smarminess was legendary and ambidextrous," and Roger Ailes, "the perfect rogue." Klein admits to a fondness for political mavericks who have "Turnip Day moments up the wazoo," including Jerry Brown and Howard Dean, all big on candor but short on warmth. Conversely, Bill Clinton is a "human Turnip Day" who knew how to use consultants but relied on his own political instincts. Most modern candidates have allowed consultants to market them to the point that they will never deviate off message and buy into packaged campaigns based entirely on research. Disdaining the convention of political books with a final chapter that offers solutions, Klein instead insists that politicians figure out for themselves how to engage and inspire voters. This is a passionate, often hysterical, but ultimately sad look at modern American politics. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (April 18, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385510276
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385510271
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #996,931 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert David STEELE Vivas HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on May 31, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Edited to remove opening at suggeastion of earnest Amazonian, and to add several books and recommend my list of transpartisan books based in part on Reuniting America's list.

I have five pages of notes on this book, which is my 708th book of non-fiction pertaining to national security and competitiveness, and in the context of the other 707 books (okay, three on MGBs and three on menopause), this is, without question, a five star book.

There are several key points that I take very seriously, and I believe that this book could usefully be read with moderate Republican Clyde Prestowitz's ROGUE NATION, and Senator Edward Kennedy's AMERICA: Back on Track. Readers interested in my recommendations might also look at my lists, especially my lists of Democracy and on Collective Intelligence.

Key point #1: AUTHENTICITY is lacking in politics, and could be what wins the 2008 election for either John McCain, if he can avoid the "born again Bushophile" slander, or Mark Warner, if he can bring himself to field the moderate Republican from Maine Susan Collins as a Vice President, and a coalition cabinet committed to electoral reform. McCain is especially attractive to me because he could--as author Joe Klein notes--fix the military by ending military-industrial-congressional corruption and putting a stop to corporate welfare. Warner, on the other hand, could field a credible coaltion government that ends both the corruption of special interests and the corruption of the Republican and Democratic party leadership who force their party members to vote the party line instead of their conscience (see Tom Coburn's superb BREACH OF TRUST).

Key point #2: Consultants have drained democracy dry and actually driven voters away.
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Format: Hardcover
Joe Klein has spent his career interviewing and writing about politicians. This book, Politics Lost, pulls together various threads from this experience to give an interesting, personal glimpse into politics for those of us who have never met a president or presidential candidate. Unfortunately, it's not a pleasant picture. Our schools tend to teach us that our system of government works very well, a shining example for the world. Not so, according to Joe Klein's view of it. He sees, as the subtitle says, that American democracy has been trivialized.

That point is made, and made convincingly. But for me, Joe Klein's description and analysis of prominent politicians formed the heart of the book. For example, he does not like Howard Dean, finding him shallow and of little substance. On the other hand, he does like John McCain, finding his "straight talk" refreshing. The personal details he relates about McCain added depth to the portrait Klein painted of him. He notes that McCain's arms function so poorly that he cannot raise them enough to comb his own hair. That a result of the several times his arms were broken during his years of captivity in Vietnam.

He also tells of John Kerry's standing up for the other military veterans in the Senate, regardless of party. That, and some other personal details about Kerry made him seem more human than he did on the campaign trail.

And that is the strength of Joe Klein's writing. Yes, he takes sides, praising Robert Kennedy to the stars and criticizing other people. But unlike similar books on politics, Klein's writing seems more thoughtful, seeing the human side (both good and bad) of politicians ranging in philosophy from Kennedy to Reagan, and in between.

I'm not a fan of books on politics.
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Format: Hardcover
It sure is easy for pundits and commentators to get book deals these days, when you can sell a tirade of personal opinions and second guessing as in-depth political analysis. Joe Klein has the added distinction of criticizing other people for doing exactly what he does, and of complaining about political and media trends from which he benefits directly. Klein has a reasonable basic point here about modern lowest-common-denominator politicking, in which image and sloganeering are seen as more important than knowledge and leadership. But Klein, in a display of mind-boggling myopia, can't even see that this exact same phenomenon allows weak and opinionated books like this to qualify as serious political analysis.

Granted, this book gets off to a pretty good start, with a prologue describing a 1968 campaign speech by Robert F. Kennedy, in which RFK spoke intelligently and respectfully to an African American crowd just hours after the Martin Luther King assassination. Klein laments the total disappearance of RFK-style dignity in modern American politics, and vows to analyze what has gone wrong and how modern campaigns can be made intelligent again. But this potential focus promptly disappears without a trace after the prologue. What follows is actually a history of the influence of villainous pollsters and consultants in recent presidential campaigns. Klein usefully criticizes the sappy image experts and number crunchers first, before spending much more time second guessing, with 20-20 hindsight, the losses of unsuccessful candidates.

The unintentional irony of Klein's punditry is unstoppable throughout the book. He complains about everyone else's unyielding ideology while simultaneously, and unilaterally, pronouncing certain positions, such as U.S.
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