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Politics Lost
Cover of Politics Lost
Politics Lost
How American Democracy Was Trivialized By People Who Think You're Stupid
by Joe Klein
Borrow Borrow
People on the right are furious. People on the left are livid. And the center isn't holding. There is only one thing on which almost everyone agrees: there is something very wrong in Washington. The country is being run by pollsters. Few politicians are able to win the voters' trust. Blame abounds and personal responsibility is nowhere to be found. There is a cynicism in Washington that appalls those in every state, red or blue. The question is: Why? The more urgent question is: What can be done about it?
Few people are more qualified to deal with both questions than Joe Klein.
There are many loud and opinionated voices on the political scene, but no one sees or writes with the clarity that this respected observer brings to the table. He has spent a lifetime enmeshed in politics, studying its nuances, its quirks, and its decline. He is as angry and fed up as the rest of us, so he has decided to do something about it—in these pages, he vents, reconstructs, deconstructs, and reveals how and why our leaders are less interested in leading than they are in the "permanent campaign" that political life has become.
The book opens with a stirring anecdote from the night of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. Klein re-creates the scene of Robert Kennedy's appearance in a black neighborhood in Indianapolis, where he gave a gut-wrenching, poetic speech that showed respect for the audience, imparted dignity to all who listened, and quelled a potential riot. Appearing against the wishes of his security team, it was one of the last truly courageous and spontaneous acts by an American politician—and it is no accident that Klein connects courage to spontaneity. From there, Klein begins his analysis—campaign by campaign—of how things went wrong. From the McGovern campaign polling techniques to Roger Ailes's combative strategy for Nixon; from Reagan's reinvention of the Republican Party to Lee Atwater's equally brilliant reinvention of behind-the-scenes strategizing; from Jimmy Carter to George H. W. Bush to Bill Clinton to George W.—as well as inside looks at the losing sides—we see how the Democrats become diffuse and frightened, how the system becomes unbalanced, and how politics becomes less and less about ideology and more and more about how to gain and keep power. By the end of one of the most dismal political runs in history—Kerry's 2004 campaign for president—we understand how such traits as courage, spontaneity, and leadership have disappeared from our political landscape.
In a fascinating final chapter, the author refuses to give easy answers since the push for easy answers has long been part of the problem. But he does give thoughtful solutions that just may get us out of this mess—especially if any of the 2008 candidates happen to be paying attention.
From the Hardcover edition.
People on the right are furious. People on the left are livid. And the center isn't holding. There is only one thing on which almost everyone agrees: there is something very wrong in Washington. The country is being run by pollsters. Few politicians are able to win the voters' trust. Blame abounds and personal responsibility is nowhere to be found. There is a cynicism in Washington that appalls those in every state, red or blue. The question is: Why? The more urgent question is: What can be done about it?
Few people are more qualified to deal with both questions than Joe Klein.
There are many loud and opinionated voices on the political scene, but no one sees or writes with the clarity that this respected observer brings to the table. He has spent a lifetime enmeshed in politics, studying its nuances, its quirks, and its decline. He is as angry and fed up as the rest of us, so he has decided to do something about it—in these pages, he vents, reconstructs, deconstructs, and reveals how and why our leaders are less interested in leading than they are in the "permanent campaign" that political life has become.
The book opens with a stirring anecdote from the night of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. Klein re-creates the scene of Robert Kennedy's appearance in a black neighborhood in Indianapolis, where he gave a gut-wrenching, poetic speech that showed respect for the audience, imparted dignity to all who listened, and quelled a potential riot. Appearing against the wishes of his security team, it was one of the last truly courageous and spontaneous acts by an American politician—and it is no accident that Klein connects courage to spontaneity. From there, Klein begins his analysis—campaign by campaign—of how things went wrong. From the McGovern campaign polling techniques to Roger Ailes's combative strategy for Nixon; from Reagan's reinvention of the Republican Party to Lee Atwater's equally brilliant reinvention of behind-the-scenes strategizing; from Jimmy Carter to George H. W. Bush to Bill Clinton to George W.—as well as inside looks at the losing sides—we see how the Democrats become diffuse and frightened, how the system becomes unbalanced, and how politics becomes less and less about ideology and more and more about how to gain and keep power. By the end of one of the most dismal political runs in history—Kerry's 2004 campaign for president—we understand how such traits as courage, spontaneity, and leadership have disappeared from our political landscape.
In a fascinating final chapter, the author refuses to give easy answers since the push for easy answers has long been part of the problem. But he does give thoughtful solutions that just may get us out of this mess—especially if any of the 2008 candidates happen to be paying attention.
From the Hardcover edition.
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    1

    The Burden of Southern History

    As Robert Kennedy campaigned through Indiana in the days after Martin Luther King was killed, a precocious and passing-strange high-school senior named Patrick H. Caddell was going door-to-door in the working-class neighborhood of north Jacksonville, Florida, asking the residents about their presidential preferences for a poll that he had devised as a class project. There was a lot of support for Alabama governor George C. Wallace, which was no surprise: north Jacksonville was deep, deep South, pickup-truck-with-a-gunrack country. But Caddell was stunned by the number of people who said they supported Robert Kennedy or "Wallace or Kennedy, either one."

    Caddell had no precise sense of what pollsters did--what sort of questions they asked or, more important, didn't bother to ask (in fact, very few people did at that point)--and so he invented his own rules as he went along, asking open-ended questions, having conversations really, digging deeper, probing the nuance and intensity of the responses. Why did they support Wallace? Was it because he had supported "segregation forever" in Alabama? And what was it about Kennedy that they liked? And what on earth did they think Wallace and Kennedy--who had battled each other, famously, over the admission of black students to the University of Alabama, and who now were taking opposite sides on Vietnam--had in common? The answers came in blunt, simple sentences:

    "They're tough guys."

    "They protect the little guy."

    "You can believe 'em."

    Hmmm. Caddell began to understand that there was more to the Wallace phenomenon than racism--although there was certainly plenty of that. Wallace voters also were classic, gutbucket Southern populists, angry at the bureaucrats and stuffed shirts and big corporate guys and the intellectual elites who ran the show. "But, you know," Caddell told me years later, "the thing that really blew me away in north Jacksonville was when I'd ask them about the war. They didn't see themselves as hawks or doves. They weren't part of the elite conversation that was taking place in the media. It was their kids who were over in Vietnam bleeding to death. And so it was, 'Stop this horseshit! Either go all out and win the damn thing, or get out and bring the boys home.' It was mind-blowing, and it made perfect sense. The people who were polling the war had it all wrong. 'Are you in favor or are you opposed' just wasn't the right question."

    And so, even before he had graduated from high school, Pat Caddell had begun his quest: to find a way to speak to those alienated Southern populists, to lure them back to the Democratic Party despite their essential cultural conservatism. This would also become a central question in the life of the Democratic Party, which began to experience a deep electoral swoon as it was abandoned by middle-class white voters, first in the South in the 1960s, then across the country in the 1980s. Furthermore, Caddell had intuitively grasped an aesthetic truth about the sampling of public opinion: "It is not a scientific process," he told me thirty-seven years after he had first walked the north Jacksonville precinct. Poll results were not to be taken literally; they were to be read--and there could be a variety of readings. "I could get a fucking monkey to draw a sample. But that's the end of the science," he said, referring to the statistical models used to approximate the demographic composition of the public. "The rest is . . . is . . . I mean, it's a crude tool. You're trying to apply a linear measurement to something nonlinear: how people think, their emotions, the whole...
About the Author-
  • Joe Klein is a political columnist for Time magazine. He is the author of five previous books, including Primary Colors and The Natural.
Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine Klein's premise--that American politics have been corrupted and dumbed-down by consultant- and pollster-driven campaigns--is laid out in accessible conversational detail. Terence McGovern's delivery is straightforward, perhaps to the point of being deadpan, but the listener won't miss a word or salient point. If the topic does not grab your attention, the narrator won't. But if you want a detailed litany of how elections have become more about media dissection of process and less about real issues of importance to voters, then you'll listen intently. Klein includes many interesting details of presidential campaigns since Truman '48, but the price is a somewhat loose train of thought. T.F. (c) AudioFile 2006, Portland, Maine
  • Los Angeles Times
    "No other book published on [Clinton] offers such smart analysis, judicious reporting, or accomplished prose. Klein's account of the presidency is remarkably balanced and intelligent."
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch "[The Natural] is a book with insight, balance, and bright writing . . . A century from now, some serious historian will be glad that Klein wrote this slender book . . . A mother lode of contemporary observations."
  • William Kennedy, front page, New York Times Book Review "Funny, adroitly written, and, in sum, the first savvy synthesis of the Clinton Age."
  • Christopher Buckley, The New Yorker "An absolutely dazzling book, the best political novel in many years, one that manages to be simultaneously cynical and redemptive, funny and profound, reportorial, satirical, and thrilling."
  • Michael Lewis, New York Times Book Review "Breaks all the rules and lives to tell about it . . . There is a wonderful honesty about [Primary Colors], a refusal to give in to the conventional interpretation of people and events that cripples so much that is written about politics."
  • Alex Beam, Boston Globe "A delight to read. The author knows politics . . . and writes like a dream."
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How American Democracy Was Trivialized By People Who Think You're Stupid
Joe Klein
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