GRAND ILLUSION by Theresa Amato


The Myth of Voter Choice in a Two-Party Tyranny
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An examination of the obstacles that independent and third-party candidates face while running for office.

“I have concluded that the laws, regulations, and barriers we have in place against political competition in the United States are only one short step removed from countries where the state itself predetermines the slate [of candidates],” writes Amato, the manager for Ralph Nader’s 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns. After two tumultuous electoral cycles during which the Nader campaign withstood numerous lawsuits, the wrath of the Democratic Party and an alternately indifferent and hostile media, Amato came to the realization that the current political system has institutionalized discrimination against candidates who do not belong to either the Republican or Democratic parties. According to the author—and Nader, who wrote the book’s foreword—such discrimination stifles alternative voices and limits voter choice on Election Day. Despite a rich national history of upstart parties and non-mainstream candidates, the two-party system has become so entrenched in the U.S. political arena that it seems natural to citizens. Amato argues that in order to maintain their political dominance, the two parties have erected barriers that disallow independent and third-party candidates from competing on a level playing field. In detail-saturated prose, the author expounds on the ballot access laws, opaque electoral regulations and “bipartisan” commissions that thwart alternative candidates and preserve the status quo. The tone is forceful and spirited, but too often Amato provides excessive information without tethering her argument to the overarching narrative. While she makes clear that the book is not a “political memoir or a campaign tell-all,” the most engaging sections mix analysis with colorful personal anecdotes. Amato is less effective in her conclusion, where she offers a laundry list of state and federal reforms that becomes more mind-numbing than informative.

Passionately argued but technical and tedious.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-59558-394-9
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: New Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2009