John's Reviews > The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation

The Political Brain by Drew Westen
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's review
Dec 08, 2008

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The book started off in superb fashion-tossing out psychological gems like candy to the reader, but the grotesque bias that clouds an otherwise intelligent person makes this a difficult read and an awful philosophy.

Westen starts off by mentioning a study in which participants showed how people rationalize blatant contradictions by their favorite political candidates. When the participants found a way to keep their candidates in good standing, the "happy circuits" in their brains lit up like a Christmas tree. This study showed that people--once they've picked a political party or candidate--very little evidence will change their mind about them.

Instead of dwelling on this dramatic finding and elaborating on why today's us-against-them mentality in politics is killing our democracy and bigger goals (like truth), Westen spends the majority of the book showing how Republicans use emotion to manipulate the populace and how Democrats should use emotion also--not to manipulate constituents' minds--but to reveal the valid points Democrats are trying to get across.

This book fails because it's contradictory itself: The religious right is evil when they use religion to make a political move, but Westin uses religion throughout his book (not just his native Judaism) to make his points; Westen shows that popularity of issues are an indication of their validity, but then contradicts that by saying the Civil Rights movement was correct despite its unpopularity; and of course, Republicans who use emotion are diabolical, but Democrats are the white knights using emotion to spread truth. Westen also uses polls throughout the book, but at one point explicitly says that polls can basically say anything you want them to--each poll can be used for either side.

Despite the author's initial plea to people on both sides of the aisle, his bias is deliberate and obvious and it's another major drawback to the book--Nixon wasn't the President who got us out of Viet Nam, he was the President who dismantled the War on Poverty. Johnson wasn't the President who presided over the largest troop deployment in US history (to Viet Nam) he was a champion of civil rights. Clinton wasn't lucky to get elected (minority votes) and lucky to preside over a boom--he was an emotional and economic genius. Well, I hate to break it to you Drew, you aren't the objective voter who shares the views of every American, you are a snide, biased, commentator.

Die hard Democrats will love this book, but people with an honestly open mind will struggle to get past the first few pages--unfortunately, there's little new in this book--it just perpetuates the us-against-them mentality that makes politics today so unbearable. For a better book about politics, try Justice and Equality: A Dialogue on the Philosophies of Conservatism and Liberalism and for a better book about psychology, try Stumbling on Happiness.
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