SOLD TO THE HIGHEST BIDDER by Daniel M. Friedenberg


The Presidency from Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush
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Formulaic chest-beating, mixed with a bit of useful data, on the injustices attendant in a political machine wedded to wealth.

America has no true liberal and conservative parties, former journalist Friedenberg argues, but “rather a froth of candidates put up by private interests,” candidates who “circle close to that center set by those defending their economic power.” Among them, in his estimation, were the likes of Dwight Eisenhower, whose cabinet comprised millionaires almost exclusively; the “war monger” Lyndon Johnson, who earned a considerable fortune through a string of questionable deals while serving on the Senate Commerce Committee; Jimmy Carter, beholden to Wall Street and, according to AFL-CIO head George Meany, “the most conservative president he’d seen in his lifetime”; and the sitting president, whose personal fortune amounts to more than $20 million and whose administration “will probably be a banal period little remembered in future years, unless of course there is a severe depression.” (Strangely, Gerald Ford comes in for kinder treatment than most of his fellow presidents, if only, perhaps, because he earned his millions after leaving the White House.) Such men and their ilk have crafted a political system that is not really democratic, Friedenberg insists, but instead resembles the Venetian Republic, a superpower ruled by a hereditary aristocracy. He scores a few points here and there, in particular when he contrasts the number of congressmen’s sons who died in the American Revolution (9) with those who died in Vietnam (0) and when he dissects Ronald Reagan’s antifederal tirades in light of the millions he received from the government. Still, Friedenberg’s arguments are too broad to sway readers with any knowledge of US political history, and it hardly helps that he too often falls back on by-the-numbers rhetoric: he insists, for example, that Americans “are puzzled when crooks in high places can go free through payoffs while a young student who smokes a marijuana cigarette may sit in jail for years.”

Old arguments loudly expressed.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 1-57392-923-9
Page count: 315pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2001