NO WAY TO PICK A PRESIDENT by Jules Witcover

NO WAY TO PICK A PRESIDENT

KIRKUS REVIEW

A pleasantly informative look at a depressingly familiar topic. Veteran political reporter Witcover (The Year the Dream Died, 1997, etc.) offers a treasure trove of stories, background, and commentary on an electoral system that is broken. He traces the evolution of presidential campaigns and press coverage, identifying the obvious authors—professional advisors, money, and television—of our current problems. Scorn is heaped on political mercenaries with no issues, no ideological or personal loyalties, who advise candidates to buy large amounts of television time and then pocket a percentage of the expenditures. Candidates tapping personal fortunes to bypass the usual winnowing process fare no better, for their free-spending use of television forces the other candidates to respond in kind if they can: “Forbes demonstrated how a person who wants to try to buy the presidency can effectively distort the process, state by state.” Two-track presidential campaigns in which direct access to the candidate is strictly limited and his or her message is conveyed only through paid commercials leave the press in a paradoxical situation: “The reporters who spend the most time with the candidates often see the least of the campaign as it is being seen by most voters.” Meanwhile, voters are distracted by seeing candidates constantly on the tube even though they actually know little if anything about them. The puzzling aspect of this issue is why Americans continue to put up with this nonsense, and Witcover points to half of the answer in noting that incumbents are nervous about and resist reform because “the system, for all its faults, has worked for them.” Unfortunately, he is unable to explain why electoral reform is such a low priority for the public beyond speculating that no one expects any better of politicians anyway. A nice contribution, but Witcover is chronicling an apathy-generating system his efforts are unlikely to overcome.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-374-22303-3
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1999




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