On being cynically realistic
January 17, 2008

Review by Mark Adams

"A light hearted romp" will not be found in any descriptions about The American Lie: Government by the People and Other Political Fables (Paradigm Publishers, July 2007), a book by Johns Hopkins University political scientist and author Benjamin Ginsberg.

Ginsberg covers examples of political lies, deception, money, power and status from George Washington to George W. Bush. He puts forward the idea that what is happening in American politics today is little different than what has gone before and every citizen should be sure to adhere to the first rule of defensive politics. And that first rule is to be "cynically realistic". While plumbing the depths of elected officials' activities he skims past many of the root causes of their duplicitous machinations such as campaign financing, corporate personhood and suspect elections. He makes a strong case for public campaign financing and repealing corporate personhood rights. However, he doesn't seem to explicitly say it.

While describing politics he repeats common GOP wisdom in that what is happening in politics today is just standard operating procedure. Remember that Clinton did it. Nothing new here, just go about your business.

Ginsberg colors the messenger the same as the message. As an example he describes Senator George Allen's 2006 political downfall, after he made a racist comment to a citizen at a public rally, the same as Dan Rather's career downfall after he presented to the public a non-original but factually accurate document regarding President GW Bush being AWOL during the Vietnam era. One would expect there to be more intellectual curiosity and concern about looking into the historical facts about our first president ever with criminal convictions ( three DWIs).

Ginsberg writes, "Presidents in recent years have also moved to circumvent Congress by relying, whenever possible, upon executive orders rather than legislation and upon executive agreements rather than treaties requiring Senate approval." He stops short of calling our current administration a dictatorship and lulls the reader back into a sense of complacency as he compares the current president's singular titanic number of presidential signing statements to the combined paltry few authored, in aggregate, by previous leaders.

While describing the machinations over the current administration's early inception to push to eliminate Social Security, Ginsberg presents the arguments for the GOP's Social Security privatization proposals without ever providing the warning to the unsuspecting reader that the so-called "free market" touted by some politicos today, as the end all and be all of our future, has a few huge bloody holes in it. You will have to read other books to find out about the periodic lack of morals, honesty and ethics, while swimming in the polluted waters of the "free market".

Non-voting citizens will likely never crack the covers of this book. I suspect only a relatively few voting citizens will be found seriously plying its pages as well. For those who enjoy overturning every pebble in the creek or wading deep into the weeds, The American Lie is for you. But one should be "cynically realistic" even in reading this book which proposes as the voters' motto, "If in doubt, vote them out."

Ginsberg states, "In the absence of solid information to the contrary, voters may safely assume that their elected officials are duplicitous, venal and self-serving. Perhaps this characterization would not be true of some, but it is true of so many that voters would seldom be wrong if they simply resolved to vote against all incumbents unless they knew of some compelling reason to do otherwise." What the author fails to inform us about, and give perspective to in this voter motto, is the systemic problems with our political system as manifested by voting irregularities/fraud/disenfranchisement and our vote being turned over to private corporate voting machines as mandated by the Help America Vote Act of 2002. Today California, Florida and Colorado have decertified these electronic voting machines as mandated by HAVA and Ohio is in the process of doing same.

So, be "cynically realistic," and if you want to learn more about our political process, read this book but keep on the lookout for others.

Title - The American Lie: Government by the People and Other Political Fables

Author - Benjamin Ginsberg

Publisher - Paradigm Publishers (7-30-07)/256 pp./$19.95 (available at amazon.com)

Paperback - # ISBN-10: 1594514135 # ISBN-13: 978-1594514135

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