In a novel but weakly supported premise, British political scientist and BBC elections analyst King argues that the American...


RUNNING SCARED: Why Politicians Spend More Time Campaigning Than Governing

In a novel but weakly supported premise, British political scientist and BBC elections analyst King argues that the American infatuation with holding government leaders accountable renders them much more vulnerable to the whims of the electorate than their counterparts abroad. King argues that, compared with electoral systems in Germany and England, for example, America's short terms, weak parties, open primaries, and the enormous expense of campaigns force American politicians to continuously elevate electoral imperatives over good government. His solution includes lengthening congressional terms of office and strengthening the role of party officials in selecting candidates (as opposed to primaries), and stronger adherence by elected officials to their party's line. Unfortunately, he moves much too casually from premise to solution. Consider: King offers no analysis that could suggest advantages associated with the US's relatively high levels of accountability as compared with other countries. Further, the inability of senators to enjoy the benefits of lengthy terms is dismissed in a single paragraph by referring to the pervasiveness of ""America's electioneering atmosphere."" Although obviously relevant for assessing the probable effects of lengthening congressional terms, this ""atmosphere"" then disappears from King's book along with the Senate. It is possible that lengthening congressional terms would, for example, reduce the pressure on officeholders to constantly engage in fundraising despite the contrary evidence provided by the Senate. This sort of sloppy argumentation reflects King's assumption of the superiority of limited democracy and, equally, his assumption that government failures in the US are due primarily to officials' electoral vulnerability. This book does raise important questions about the tradeoffs, if any, between electoral vulnerability and political accountability, but noverall, this work is not up to the author's usual standards.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1997


Page Count: 256

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1996

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