- 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 (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
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- #1598 in Books > Politics & Social Sciences > Politics & Government > Elections & Political Process > Elections
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Politics Lost: How American Democracy Was Trivialized By People Who Think You're Stupid First Edition Edition
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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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*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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Top Customer Reviews
Klein begins his book by citing an example of a spontaneous, consultant-free moment in political history when Robert F Kennedy addressed an inner city crowd in Indianapolis about the death of Martin Luther King. Kennedy gave the speech against the advice of his aides - he too had consultants. When he broke the news, he quoted Greek tragedian Aeschylus and told the crowd that, "I had a member of my family killed." He asked the audience to go home and pray, and, as it turned out, Indianapolis was one of the few major cities that did not have riots that night.
Klein is most critical of the Democrats. His main targets are the recent presidential campaigns of Al Gore and John Kerry. In both cases the candidates seemed "overly cautious, cynical, mechanistic, and bland." He speculates that neither candidate had the self confidence to say what they really wanted to say, since the Democratic Party did not have a coherent platform. According to Klein, their political handlers had reigned them in so tightly on content and language that the end result was sterile consultant-speak.
The politicians that Klein admires are the naturals: Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan. Klein argues that they were so successful because they made good use of their consultants without being controlled by them. This, however, points to a problem in a book about consultants. How much influence do they really have? Klein may be giving them too much credit. Clinton and Reagan were both gifted politicians above and beyond their consultants. Gore and Kerry, on the other hand, were both natural stiffs, and their choice of consultants made them even more uninspiring.
The question that one is left with is why do candidates continue to hire these political handlers when it should be obvious to everyone that political discourse is becoming more and more trivial and innocuous. The answer, of course, is getting elected. Candidates address large and diverse constituencies. The tactical goal is to pander to the greatest number and to offend the least. Fine-tuning one's speech with this in mind is how elections are won. There is nothing unscripted, everything is staged. When one thinks of unscripted moments in recent presidential elections, think of Howard Dean's spontaneous remarks. And look what happened to him.
It's politics lost. Neither Joe Klein nor anyone else will be writing a sequel called "Politics Found" anytime soon. Nevertheless, if you are a politcal consultant or handler this book is a must-read.
The book rambles a bit, it is almost anecdotal at times, but I have now adjusted to that style.
The main point he makes, for me anyway, is that the honest and truly sincere candidate is being smothered by the consultants and the professional campaign managers and spin merchants. Not enough 'Turnip Days' and you have to read the book to understand that.
Thanks Joe from a kiwi New Zealander who really wants America and Americans to succeed as they deserve to, but the politicians they get are the result of a destructive electoral process, and now you have a somewhat dysfunctional Congress, even though you have an amazing and intelligent President.
It's a typical Time magazine one-simple-note theme: "the big bad consultants did it". That banality is supposed to explain the decline and fall of politics. It's as rational as blaming election results on rainy days. Despite his alleged years of experience, Klein was always a camp follower and never part of a winning political team. He doesn't understand campaigns include hundreds of petty little details that add up to victory or defeat.
Political campaigns are like building a brick house. The campaign focus is the "big picture" of a completed house, as in 1992 when Clinton stressed "It's the economy, stupid" and in 2000 when Bush emphasized "compassionate conservativism". For those in press release journalism, a big picture explains a whole campaign. Such reporters either ignore, don't know or have contempt for the real work and strength of a campaign in the thousands of bricks and timbers and boards and nails and other bits and pieces that make a finished house.
For example: Klein ignores Latinos, just as Time magazine ignores Latinos. An Arizona State University survey of 1,550 stories in Time, Newsweek and US News and World Report last year indicates only 1.2 percent were specifically about Latinos and only 14 percent of stories had any mention of Latinos. Even then, most were negative. But, anyone who looks at Jimmy Carter's 1976 winning margin in Texas needs to look at the voter turnout in the Rio Grande valley. Ignoring Latinos is like ignoring rain in the Sonoran Desert.
Take away that narrow margin in Texas in 1976, plus a few other narrow margins in other states, and the importance of Latinos becomes obvious. In 2000, Bush targeted Latinos in one of the closest elections in history. Latinos were one vital factor among many that produced victory; no single factor is ever dominant.
It illustrates the weakness of this book; the one-note focus on election consultants ignores hundreds of competing but equally relevant factors. This one-note theme is how Time editors simplify complex issues because they think readers are too stupid to understand the complexity of elections or anything else above a Grade 6 level of reading, 'riting and 'ritmatick.
At best, the book is a jackdaw of interesting tidbits, amusing trivia amd half-baked ideas. Obviously, it's a waste of time for anyone with a intellect above that of 'People' or 'Time' magazines. Time made a fortune by trivializing complexity, and Klein is obviously one of its finest employees. But, elections are complex events. So is good reporting.
If you like Time, it's an ideal book. For those who graduated from elementary school, you deserve something better.