A humane, optimistic view of national politics from a longtime Washington insider. Richardson (The Creative Balance, 1976), attorney general in Nixon's last days and a former key official in the departments of state and defense, asks us to remember all that is right in American politics: ``Every transfer of power from one administration to the next has proceeded without incident. No American politician has ever gone to the chopping block . . . There has never been even a hint of conspiracy to take over the White House and oust the President. And only one president has been forced out of office.'' American government works, he suggests, because Americans demand accountability and openness and shun ideology in favor of practical idealism; yet, for all that, there is a growing sentiment across the land, fueled by the media, that things have gone badly wrong inside the Beltway. Richardson, a moderate Republican, allows that ``politics as usual'' may require some fine-tuning: For one thing, he believes that Vice President Gore's National Performance Review Report hasn't gone quite far enough in setting standards for the way federal departments carry out their mandates. But he remarks, borrowing a metaphor from his surgeon father, that ``democracy in America is at a complaining stage. We don't have a prescribed course of treatment because we don't have clear diagnoses.'' And that. he adds, is due to the fact that no one wants to look at the root causes of our troubles, which are milder than we imagine them to be. The disenchantment with which voters view a system that, in Richardson's vision, is right in most respects ``invites political quackery.'' And no quack takes more hits than Ross Perot, for whom the mild-mannered and cordial Richardson seems to have a genuine disdain. ``The cynics are always wrong,'' Richardson comments. His hopeful book is a welcome relief from the gloom-and-doom polemics that now overfill the current-events stacks.