A humdrum analysis of the American political system by Bennett (Poli. Sci./Univ. of Washington)—who, while disavowing gloom-and- doom prophecy, comes close to it anyway. Bennett contends that the election system has shut off the flow of new governing ideas in American politics. He finds the reasons for this in campaign financing, particularly in limitations enforced by the need to raise vast sums of money; in the systematic marketing of candidates, which manufactures content for otherwise empty campaigns; and in what he calls ``the perfection of techniques for controlling the news media,'' about which he somewhat bafflingly concludes that ``editors and their reporting staffs increasingly resign themselves to reporting what officials say and do.'' The author goes on to examine in detail the 1988 elections; changes in the traditional uses of media, money, and marketing; the effect of these on elections; and the diminishing faith of Americans in their system of government. The analysis is useful in showing how consultants determine what groups to target and what messages to use—why Dukakis, for example, shied away from the ``L-word'' and said nothing to blacks (because the groups he was targeting weren't sympathetic to either). But too much here is asserted rather than examined: the decline in American voting, for instance, is, despite Bennett's pessimism, not much less than in the crisis year of 1932 (1988: 50.2%; 1932: 52.4%)—and this in spite of the fact that, meanwhile, blacks and 18-year-olds, whose voting frequency is way that of below other groups, have been enfranchised, and improved health care has greatly increased the numbers of those over 75, who for health reasons often find it difficult to vote. Bennett's analysis tends to the fashionable, and his suggested reforms to the ho-hum.
Read full book review >