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Spoiling for a Fight: Third-Party Politics in America Hardcover – February 8, 2002

4.7 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Focusing, to a large degree, on Ralph Nader's highly publicized but unsuccessful bit for the presidency, Sifry, a former editor at the Nation, charts the history and potential of third-party politics in the United States. Arguing with intelligence, a massive array of facts and a sly wit, Sifry claims that our two-party system is a "duopoly" that decisively dictates national politics through control of federal money and does not reflect the views or needs of many Americans. Casting a wide political and sociological net, he explicates the rise of "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore politics;" explains how third-party candidates can circumvent the lack of federal funding (Ross Perot and his Reform Party had other sources of funding), and a party's lack of profile (Jesse Ventura's American Reform Party relied on the former wrestler's name recognition and an appeal to a working-class constituency). Sifry also documents how alternative groups such as the Green Party or the Working Families Party can work through their constituents' differences to find common goals. In this debut book, Sifry presents a vivid tapestry of the problems faced by, as well as the enormous potential promise of, alternative political parties. Always optimistic, Sifry is never naeve (he details with precision how the Gore campaign countered Nader's popularity by addressing issues raised by the latter without ever integrating them into the Democratic platform) and presents a balanced, important and enlightened new way to think through the political process. (Feb.)Forecast: Sifry's study is a bit too dense for most general readers, who will more likely turn to Ralph Nader's own Crashing the Party (Forecasts, Dec. 17, 2001).

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

For anyone interested in learning about alternatives to the two major American parties, this book is definitely worth reading. Sifry, currently a senior analyst with Public Campaign, a nonprofit election reform group, writes with compassion, if not always balance, about the voter's need for more electoral choices. He chronicles the development of Ross Perot's Reform Party, including Jesse Ventura's successful organization in Minnesota, Ralph Nader's Green Party, and the Working Families Party in New York State. The stories are enriched with quotes and insights from candidates and key players. However, the author fails to explain the drawbacks associated with changes in electoral laws that would permit small parties to win office (i.e., a parliamentary-type system), namely, multiparty coalitional governments, more extremist candidates (some of whom would gain office, as in Switzerland, Austria, and Israel), and further fragmentation of the American electorate. Still, Sifry's work dovetails nicely with Gordon S. Black and Benjamin Black's The Politics of American Discontent (LJ 4/15/94) and is also more readable than that book. Should the reader seek a more balanced and analytical account, Steven J. Rosentone and others' Third Parties in America (Princeton Univ., 1996. 2d ed.) is a classic. Recommended for all public and academic libraries. Thomas J. Baldino, Wilkes Univ., Wilkes-Barre, PA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (February 8, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415931428
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415931427
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,161,083 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Richard L. Winger on March 10, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book contains a riveting history of the Reform Party during the period 1996-2000. It seems to be the only book which has this history. It tells how Ross Perot lost control of the Reform Party to Pat Buchanan.
There's plenty of other fascinating material in the book also, especially about the Green Party, and new material about how Jesse Ventura was elected Governor of Minnesota in 1998, and about how a majority of justices on the U.S. Supreme Court are hostile to new and minor political parties (this conclusion is clear from Sifry's account of the Forbes debate decision, and the Twin Cities Area decision about "fusion").
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This book is an excellent, if anecdotal, analysis of the third party political movements that have arose during the last twenty years. Sifry is perceptive and mostly objective journalist who provides an apparently accurate anatomy of the fortunes of third parties starting with Jessie Ventura's unlikely campaign for Governor. He is especially good in his dissection of the Reform Party (Ross Perot) and the Green Party (Ralph Nader) both of which gained national prominence briefly. In the end the U.S. political `establishment' consisting of mainstream media, the established parties and the special interests supporting both proved to be too formidable for these pesky outsiders.

Yet as Sifry demonstrates that is not the whole story. The third parties of Perot and to a lesser extent Nader were built on very fragile foundations. Perot in the end did much to undermine his own chances because of his desire for complete party control and paranoia over losing that control. Nader did not have the charisma to match his unflinching honesty and dedication. Both the Reform Party and the Green Party failed to develop a truly compelling national vision and a cadre of dedicated zealots to promote that vision. This made both vulnerable to the pressures of the established parties that do offer national visions, however flawed, and cadres of true believers to promote their visions.

Sifry is clearly in sympathy with the idea of a third party challenger to the entrenched interests represented by both Democrats and Republicans (which he refers to as the "Duopoly"). He attempts to point the way to actually establishing a viable third party, but this reader was left thinking that his heart was just not in it.
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This is easily one of the best books on late 20th century third party politics out there. As a journalist who covers third parties this election year, I found this book to be immesely helpful in its analysis of the Reform Party effort as well as a superb account of Nader's unsuccessful 2000 run. If you are reading just one book on third party politics, this should be it.
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I am not giving up on fielding a third-party team in 2008. All three of those running are part of the two party organized crime spoils system, and to mock 41, "this will not stand."

This book is beyond five stars for its relevance, timeliness, and detail. It has gripped me all morning, and the level of detail including specific names, is phenomenal.

Although the author does not cover the 27 secessionist movements (but does cover the Vermont Progressive Party) and I could find no mention of the The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World, I am totally impressed by the structure, the discipline, the detail. I started with the index and that alone persuaded me this was a phenomenal book worthy of every voter's attention.

The book was published in 2003, to early for the author to be following Reuniting America and its transpartisaship meme, or the World Index of Social and Environmental Responsibility (WISER) described in Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Social Movement in History Is Restoring Grace, Justice, and Beauty to the World but I can say with certainty that this author, who he knows and what he knows, is an essential contributor to appreciative inquiry and deliberative democracy.

I have a number of notes, and unlike many books, there is a lot in here that I simply did not know (I did not pay much attention in classes until I earned my MPA because it mattered).

+ Abe Lincoln was a third party candidate for president.
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