The Outrageous Barriers to Democracy in America
Or, why a progressive presidency is impossible
John R. MacArthur
The publisher of Harperâs Magazine presents âan able, witty, and suitably pissed-off guideâ (Bookforum) to American politics.
Barack Obama swept into the White House in January 2009 still floatingâor so it appeared to millions of his admirersâhigh above the crude realities of contemporary American political life. Old-fashioned landmarksâparty loyalty, ideology, campaign fundraising, patronage, corruption, even raceâseemed hopelessly outdated as points of reference for understanding what was trumpeted as a new phenomenon in the nationâs civic history.
But nearly four years after Barack Obamaâs election, elite interests in America remain triumphant. Nearly all measures of inequality continue to rise. And barriers to entry to our political process have reached nearly insurmountable heights.
Looking closely at Congress, elections, and money in politics, and sparing neither side of the political spectrum, John R. MacÂArthur delivers a devastating exposĂŠ of the entrenched interests and elites that make change in Americaâeven by a supposedly progressive presidentâso arduous. What, MacÂArthur asks, could change this system?
âThis book lays bare the malfunctions of our democracy and the solutions in a superb literary style and a convincing manner.âÂ âGeorge McGovern, Democratic candidate for President, 1972
âIf national campaigns are exhibitions of elaborate theater and Cicero and Machiavelli wrote scripts that candidates would be wise to recite, MacArthur, the former investigative reporter and publisher of Harperâs Magazine, cuts down the curtain to expose the direction, stage setting, and choreography that takes place behind the scenesâŚ. MacArthurâs undressing of the American mythos posits that perhaps you can be president, but before you think about it, you better have the connections necessary to earn the approval of a major political machine, raise hundreds of millions of dollars, and please the media outlets that not only report, but shape the news.â âThe Daily Beast, â10 Books to Read for the Election Seasonâ
âA chapter-by-chapter postmortem of cherished American ideals. . . MacArthurâs tone is wry-enraged, but he includes serious anecdotal discussion, looking at the startling numbers behind election-year pomp and following the end result of our politics to Americaâs economically depressed, hollowed-out small cities.âÂ âTime Out Chicago
âHis careful narrative of political power abuses, from the national to the local, from yesterday to today and maybe tomorrow, shows us that if we do not become committed as âwe the people,â we will continue to be ruled by âthey the corporations.â âÂ âRalph Nader
âA no-nonsense political reporter.â.â. a stiff antidote to the pleasant notion, voiced somewhere in this country every few milliseconds in an election year, that anyone, from any background, can grow up to be president.âÂ â¨âChicago Sun-Times
âA critiqueâcogent and mostly unassailableâof the corrupt, self-serving nature of contemporary American âdemocracyâ.â.â. Maybe a dozen more books like this one .â.â. and peopleâs attention will finally be drawn to the rot in the system and away from fleeting symptoms of that rot.âÂ ââ¨The Brooklyn Rail
âAn able, witty, and suitably pissed-off guide.âÂ âBookforum
âA courageous book that takes a bold new approach in the field of American political science. It helps to explain how presidents are chosen and elected, including in the money-fueled 2008 contest. This singular work is thoroughly documented, clearly written and convincingly reasoned. I suggest that it be placed on the bookshelfânext to the Constitution and the Federalist Papersâby students, librarians and thoughtful voters.âÂ â¨âHerbert MitgangÂ â¨Society of American Historians and author of â¨Abraham Lincoln: A Press Portrait
âThis book had a profound impact, as indeed it should have for every American who reads it. Itâs an excellent, excellent book, perceptive and intelligent and inspiring.âÂ â¨âJohn AndersonÂ â¨independent candidate for president, 1980
âThis book challenges the âwu wuâ we all profess and preach to children: that anyone can be President. This is one of our nationâs core beliefs, even though facts donât sustain it. I challenge you to read it and make your own decision as to whether our âcore beliefâ is reality or a total myth.âÂ â¨âPatricia SchroederÂ â¨Democratic candidate for President, 1988