OUT OF ORDER by Thomas E. Patterson


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 An arresting and perceptive critique of the media-centric process by which America selects its Presidents. Drawing on anecdotal as well as statistical evidence from races past, Patterson (Political Science/Syracuse University; coauthor, The Unseeing Eye, 1976) asserts that during the early 1970's the press gained, essentially by default, a dominant role in US presidential campaigns when the Democratic Party adopted rules designed to give voter preferences greater weight in nominations. Among other unintended consequences, Patterson notes, these changes led to the free-for-all marathons called primaries and all but eliminated the control of party professionals who'd previously chosen arguably qualified candidates. But for all its populist appeal, the revamped electoral system, Patterson charges, has proven dysfunctional on several crucial counts. To begin with, the author says, the fourth estate is ill-equipped to fill the void created by well-intentioned reformers; indeed, it has failed to serve as an interpretive broker, in large part because journalists tend to be skeptical, to focus on novelty (or gaffes), and to have a weakness for personality. Nor, Patterson observes, are news- gathering organizations accountable in the same way as officeholders or erstwhile kingmakers, meaning that the media version of events (delivered under deadline pressure) seldom meshes with the concerns of voters. While Patterson doesn't accuse today's reporters of partisan bias, he suggests that believing is seeing for many of them, citing their persistently negative coverage of an economy that was in fact recovering in 1992. To remedy the situation, he advocates restoring the institutional authority of the major parties (so that they can again serve as effective intermediaries) and shortening campaigns (to reduce the risk of accidental candidates practiced in ``the little arts of popularity''). Provocative prescriptions that draw useful distinctions between good politics and good government. (Charts and tabular material--not seen)

Pub Date: Oct. 14th, 1993
ISBN: 0-679-41929-2
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1993


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