A dose of cynicism for the uninitiated
August 01, 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 that every citizen should be sure to adhere to the first rule of defensive politics: be "cynically realistic."

While plumbing the depths of the activities of elected officials 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, although he does this indirectly.

In defining politics Ginsberg repeats common GOP wisdom in that what is happening in politics today is just standard operating procedure. Remember Clinton did it. Nothing new here. Just go about your business.

Ginsberg colors the messenger the same as the message. As an example, he gives the same amount of significance to Senator George Allen's 2006 political downfall after he made a racist comment to a citizen at a public rally as the career downfall of Dan Rather after he presented the public with a non-original but factually accurate documentation of President G.W. Bush being AWOL during the Vietnam era. The reader rather might expect the author's having exhibited more curiosity and concern over our first president to have criminal convictions (three DWIs).

"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," Ginsberg writes. However, 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 titanic number of presidential signing statements to the combined paltry few authored in aggregate by singular leaders.

While describing the machinations over the inception and the ongoing administration's 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 or trusting 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 morals, honesty, ethics--and periodic lack thereof--swimming in the polluted waters of the "free market."

In proposing 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 Ginsberg fails to inform us about--and give prospective to in his voter motto--is the systemic problems within our political system as manifested in voting irregularities: fraud, disenfranchisement and our vote being turned over to private corporate voting machines mandated by the Help America Vote Act of 2002. Thankfully, California, Florida and Colorado have de-certified these electronic voting machines fostered by HAVA. And Ohio is in the process of doing the same.

Non-voting citizens never will crack the covers of this book. No doubt few voting citizens will be found plying its pages as well.

But for those who enjoy overturning every pebble in the creek or wading deep into the woods, this book is for you. Even so, the reader should be "cynically realistic," as the author warns, even in reading his own book.

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

Author - Benjamin Ginsberg

Publisher - Paradigm Publishers /256 pp./first ed. (7-30-07)/$22.95 at amazon.com

ISBN-10: 0393064883; ISBN-13: 978-0393064889

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