Monday, April 11, 2005

Book review--The Corruption of American Politics

Elizabeth Drew has made a cottage industry of her insider insights of the White House political scene over the last 20+ years or so. She has been mostly supportive of the Democrats and the Clintons throughout the period, but apparently she had had enough by the time The Corruption of American Politics came out. Between Clinton's messy affair with Monica Lewinsky and his apparently unseemly control of the PR machinations of the press room, Drew seems to have resigned herself to writing Corruption in a fit of pique. Not that she should be blamed for this, I think; Clinton screwed up both his presidency and the Democrats' chances to retake Congress for awhile yet, most likely.
The book itself chronicles the failed attempts by Fred Dalton Thompson in the mid-1990s to pass some real bipartisan campaign finance reform bill from his Senate seat and also the failed impeachment of Clinton. Drew's thesis is that the levels of intransigence and partisanship rose exponentially in Congress during these two battles, and that both sides can be blamed, since both sides had much to lose if a true reform act was ever actually passed. The use of the term "corruption" in the book's title, therefore, is functionally intentional; this term has historically been used specifically to describe the effects of money on the political process, and this is her story. Thompson is at center stage, and he comes across as honorable and sensible--the last of a dying Republican or Democratic breed, according to Drew.
As good as "Corruption" is, however, it suffers from what any journalistic endeavor must--Drew's comments are bound in the time when it was published. 1999 was perhaps the last possible date one could have written a book like this one, which is fairly balanced in its criticisms against the Republicans or the Democrats. If one were to try to write a similar history post-2000, one would be pilloried by the Radical Right for suggesting that any blame for any ill winds be laid at their feet, and Drew would certainly never be allowed to step foot in a Republican White House again. Indeed, her latest work, a booklet that covers the Radical movement to raise the partisanship bar yet again through Smirky's (and Rove's, and Rumsfeld's, etc. etc. ad nauseum) disdain for compromise or intelligent dissent, points in a less forgiving manner to the Right's motives and hypocrisies. One suspects that if Drew had waited only a single year to analyze the "corruption" she witnessed while writing this book, the villains in it (who include some of the current crowd: DeLay foremost among them) would look a whole lot more Republican . . .


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