Kirkus Reviews QR Code


Politicians, Power, and the Pursuit of Office

by Alan Ehrenhalt

Pub Date: May 10th, 1991
ISBN: 0-8129-1894-0
Publisher: Random House

 A sound survey of politics in America since WW II, contrasting the decline of the bosses and party control with the rise of the ``independent voter'' and the self-nomination of the ambitious candidate. Ehrenhalt, executive editor of Governing magazine, describes a typical ``professional'' career politician as an incumbent who never loses an election because he has mastered the art of vote- getting by using the many accouterments of office that Congress (i.e., the taxpayer) offers--free promotional mailings, free trips home and abroad, and large staffs of aides. The ``professional'' is ambitious, wellknown, hard-working, and an expert in fundraising. Ehrenhalt tells of the passing of the part-time politicians of tiny, close-knit power cliques that controlled voting blocs and ran communities before the Supreme Court made malapportionment unconstitutional in 1962. Although he notes the end of deference to authority figures, he sees some dangers in self-nominations of ambitious candidates not having deep political roots, who when elected are unable to govern well (e.g., Jimmy Carter). Gone is the party screening and peer review that once guaranteed that qualities besides ambition, stamina, glibness, and charm would be counted in selecting candidates. Ehrenhalt reasons that few nonprofessionals would sacrifice the time and effort that modern politics demands, and writes that ambition is what matters most today. He also decries the present lack of leadership and discipline and laments the uncompromising rigidity that leads to political stalemates. (He does not, however, address the corrupting influence of PACs.) A persuasive cautionary analysis, reflecting well Ehrenhalt's governmental savvy garnered during his past tenure as political editor of Congressional Quarterly.