Letís get this out of the way: Joe Klein has some strong political viewpoints. You may not agree with them all; I certainly donít.
But he doesnít let that get in the way of telling a story, and you shouldnít let it get in the way of listening. Itís an important story, and one that Klein, an inside observer of many of the more dramatic political campaigns of the last half century, is uniquely qualified to tell: the story of Politics Lost: How American Democracy Was Trivialized By People Who Think Youíre Stupid.
Despite Kleinís current affiliation with the Republican party, this is surprisingly not a story aimed at Democrats (although there are Democrats in it). Itís a story about pollsters, the rise of ad campaigns, the end of honest speeches, the growing irrelevance of political conventions, and just about every other ailment of American politics that makes otherwise informed, involved citizens shake their heads on election day and say ďheck with it, letís stay home.Ē
Chronicled here, with surprising even handedness, are the first televised debates, the rise of negative campaigning, the horrible moment when it was first realized a candidate could win not by making people vote for him over his opponent but by making people not vote at all; the rise of the consultants, including the contradictorily successful Bob Shrum; the advent of the neoconservative political machine; and the strange, unpleasant campaigns of 2000 and 2004. If youíve ever wondered why all the candidates sound alike, why no matter who you vote for, they vote for the same policies, or just why political advertising is so dreadful, Klein has an answer for you; just be prepared not to like it very much.
Klein weaves it all into a compelling narrative made all the more intriguing because a little thing like the fate of our country may actually depend on understanding it. He offers no easy solutions to the problems revealed in Politics Lost; but this may be one case where understanding the problem is itself enough to begin the solution.