Washington Post columnist Johnson, freed from deadlines, set out to turn this study of the Carter Administration into a...

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IN THE ABSENCE OF POWER

Washington Post columnist Johnson, freed from deadlines, set out to turn this study of the Carter Administration into a larger investigation of the transformation of American politics; but, like many journalists, Johnson is better at spotting than at weighing. Lacing his reportage with descriptions of Washington's proliferating bureaucracy and ballooning wealth, Johnson records his growing disenchantment with the ""outsider"" President and his advisors. He starts with Hubert Humphrey's complaint that he was badly treated by Carter on his visit to Plains (the dying Humphrey was kept in a damp pond house and offered ""Coca-Cola and a damned old sandwich with stringy roast beef wrapped in cellophane""), notes the newcomers' disregard for the political advice of Speaker O'Neill, and then runs through the series of blunders that marked the first three years of Carter's Presidency and alienated Congress from the White House. But Johnson can't seem to make up his mind if the cause of these disasters was Carter's political incompetence or the inherent uncontrollability of the Washington behemoth. Basically, he shows us the bungling and tells us it's the behemoth. Meanwhile, he drops in on some ""folks"" around the country to gauge their disaffection with the government; but if he had waited for the Iran crisis, he would have gotten a different sounding--evidence, once more, that the approach in unreliable. The tales of graft and corruption in the federal bureaucracy are suitably disgusting; and the self-critical attitude toward press chumminess with government is creditable, if ritualized. But it doesn't add up to a coherent analysis of ungovernability ""in the absence of power."" It looks more, in fact, like too much power. Tied to the Carter regime, Johnson's narrow focus precludes the wider vision he aims for.

Pub Date: April 3, 1980

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1980