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Politics Lost: How American Democracy Was Trivialized by People Who Think You're Stupid
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Politics Lost: How American Democracy Was Trivialized by People Who Think You're Stupid

3.53  ·  Rating details ·  288 ratings  ·  47 reviews
People on the right are furious. People on the left are livid. And the center isn’t holding. There is only one thing on which almost everyone agrees: there is something very wrong in Washington. The country is being run by pollsters. Few politicians are able to win the voters’ trust. Blame abounds and personal responsibility is nowhere to be found. There is a cynicism in W ...more
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published May 17th 2006 by Doubleday Books (first published 2006)
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Average rating 3.53  · 
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Sep 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
this is pure dead on, like.

not sure i'm with klein 100% politically, but that should be the last reason not to like someone's book, if it's thoughtfully and well written. and this one has none of the partisan bickering and hysterical witch-huntery about it. he's diagnosing the political disease we're all sick of having but are collectively doing very little about treating: the cynical, superficial and synthetic circles of PR- and TV-driven political life in the u.s. he gets at the media (tricky,
Feb 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, politics
Klein describes how the business of polling and campaign advising has led most Presidential candidates to package and sell themselves rather than speak from the heart.
Bob Nichols
Apr 13, 2019 rated it liked it
The author provides a candid account of the U.S. political system and its personalities (1976 – 2004). Generally, he’s not impressed. Boiled down, I think his message is that national politics has become all about winning, and less about governing, leadership and integrity. Political consultants and their candidates now say what people want to hear. Or, they employ a full-suite of dirty tricks or use focus-group, consultant-tested bromides that are yawners (“jobs, education, health care, and bla ...more
Oct 15, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2020
I didn't think that this particular 411 on American Democracy held muster to some of the classics in the field such as The Federalist Papers or Democracy in America or even America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction but it was an okay read.

It used genuine names to talk about historical events. "Caddell didn't think Carter could actually beat Wallace in places like north Jacksonville, but if he could scrape about ten points off Wallace's margin in redneck precincts, Carter could
Zoha Qureshi
Feb 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a very interesting read about how political consulting and the rise of television/mass media changed how presidential elections work. Klein gave examples of campaigns from Nixon to Kerry to show what worked and what didn’t. And even though this was written 15 years ago (right before the 2008 election kicked off), there are still so many conclusions he made that can still be applied in today’s political atmosphere. I wonder what Klein has to say about politics now (especially 2016!). Ama ...more
Oct 26, 2007 rated it really liked it
I am surprised at how much I like this book, not being a big fan of Joe Klein - I was even turned off right away at the title, feeling that the "Trivialized by People Who Think You're Stupid" part was the sensationalist political drivel of the consultant. But the book is much deeper than that and makes sense on so many levels. He profiles politicians of the last 50+ years, centering on how the growing dependence on political consultants and polls has cheapened the process. Mr. Klein has a fondne ...more
Krishna Kumar
May 04, 2015 rated it liked it
Joe Klein takes a shot at the lack of spontaneity in today's political leaders, comparing it to the moral leadership of past heroes like Robert Kennedy. The book covers several of the elections in the last few decades and bemoans how the spotlight of the media (especially television) has ended straight and honest talk by politicians. Most of the events will be common knowledge to anyone following political campaigns, but Klein brings his refreshing perspective and viewpoint as in the case of his ...more
Mar 19, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: politics
Sometimes fun, but obvious... and a tad hypocritical. Klein criticizes that favorite whipping boy, the mainstream media, for the sterilization and dumbing-down of contemporary politics. But of course, Klein is a member of the mainstream media, and he has certainly been a part of the problem he so vehemently decries.
Jul 29, 2012 rated it it was ok
Spare me the Reagan-envy Ds who sowed the seeds of 2008 w/the de-reg 90s. I'm glad I have it in hardback in case I run into Klein in person. The stupidity part of his thesis was ok; if he'd just stuck to that I'd have given 1-2 more stars. Hard to believe he wrote Primary Colors /and/ this dreck. Otoh, appreciate an insider view from the Clinton admin. ...more
Feb 28, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are some interesting insights and details in Politics Lost, which are, unfortunately, often buried with statements and restatements of the politically obvious. Still worth a look if you're a political junkie. If you want to read one book by Joe Klein, I recommend his non-fiction book on Bill Clinton, The Natural. ...more
Sep 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: summer-reads
Politics Lost by Joe Klein is a book about how political consultants have changed the art of presidential campaigning. Klein references his own time working in Washington and reflects on how the notion of the, "permanent campaign," has had a negative and long lasting effect on American politics. While this book isn't a page turner for everyone, I finished it rather quickly. For anyone that is at all interested in American politics and why things work the way they do, this would be a great book t ...more
James Holloway
Aug 28, 2017 rated it liked it
This was an interesting enough book but doesn't actually do what it claims to do in its subtitle. It provides a comprehensive history of polling and focus-grouping in American politics but stops short of analysing the cultural causes or implications of these trends. Still, an accessible enough read that didn't take too long to finish. ...more
Oct 02, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone remotely interested in politics
Shelves: books-i-own
Klein's "Politics Lost" explains just how we have gone from enigmatic, free-thinking, leaders with the courage to stand up for what they believe in to followers who need focus groups, opinion polls, and surveys to tell them how they stand on certain issues. Klein's book points out everything that has gone wrong with American politics, mainly the political consultants. This quote from pg. 24 sums up what our country's leaders have become:

"Sadly most politicians [today] are neither risk-takers nor
Dec 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
Joe is definitely one of, if not the leading long-time American political journalists. Accordingly, I read this book to take a peek into the inner workings of our political system. This book is a snapshot in time of the American political spectrum and in particular presidential politics as detailed by a man who's had his finger on the pulse for many years.

The reader is offered an insiders view on how political messages are crafted, tested and delivered to the public. In addition, you will find y
Monte Lamb
May 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: us-politics
Joe Klein is a savvy political writer who tells the story of how politics has been dumbed down since the late 1960's and how the system now works at the presidential campaign level. This book was published in 2006 and the final chapter is amazingly predictive(without trying to be so) of what happened at the end of the Bush years. The perpetual presidential campaign is not good for leading our country, but is how it works at this time. This book is very good and balanced on both major parties. I ...more
i like the basic thesis, anyway -- that politicians should be more willing to take the positions on issues that they believe in, regardless public opinion. i see some people here are saying that it's a fairly banal point to make, which i sort of agree with, but at the same time, i think most mainstream political commentators tend to frame deviations from public opinion as mistakes, so i do think it's actually pretty refreshing to see somebody like klein, a reporter from as innocuous a publicatio ...more
Apr 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
The interesting thing about this book is that near the end, I discovered that it was likely the publisher that added the subtitle "How American Democracy was trivialized...". It must have been, because that bit of info is not to be found. If anything, it should have been " people who think [The Candidate] is stupid. That seems to be much more the gist of the book, how candidates have given too much power to their consultants rather than relying on their own hunches. Another example that the ...more
Feb 14, 2011 rated it liked it
This book was interesting as it retraced every presidential campaign from the last 40 years but it made me even more frustrated with our political system and the way it's run. Also, I can't believe George W. Bush got elected twice. That's the best the Republican party could do AND it was better than the democrats could do? Apparently it was. I kind of wish the book had more ideas on how to make things better or at least give me hope that it will. I did learn a lot about how campaigns are run and ...more
Sarah Walton
Sep 28, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: love leaders
I will be honest and say I was moved to tears a few times reading this book. I know, I know, I'm a sucker. But some of the Kennedy speeches, those that were given without preparation, without profiling the audience etc. It just made me so sad that we have lost this spirit in our presidential and local races. It's an inspiring book, and it will also leave you longing for what we've lost. ...more
Sep 30, 2008 rated it liked it
It was an interesting backside view of all the presidential campaigns since George Bush Sr. I enjoyed hearing about how campaigns are run and helped me understand some of the decisions that were made that seemed stupid up front. The title isn't very accurate because the author spent very little time on that subject. ...more
Brandon McNulty
Aug 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Insightful and easy-to-digest look into how political consultants have shaped modern-day politics. I'm by no means a political junkie, but I got a lot out of this audiobook. For me the most interesting parts dealt with the Gore and Kerry campaigns in the early 2000s and how the consultants essentially neutered the candidates by forcing them to play everything safe. ...more
Mar 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: R
This is my kinda book. The history of the post war spin doctors in the presidential political races. Very interesting on how they got these guys elected.

If you like politics and the inner workings of a political campaign, then this is an excellent book.
Kat Stromquist
I don't think Klein's thesis is quite clear here. But it is an interesting insider's look at campaign consultancy, and very readable. He'll always have a place in my heart...somewhere behind Paul Krugman. ...more
This is much more intelligent and informative and worthwhile than the silly title would suggest. It's an insider history of the American political process in the television age. Not especially ideological or partisan, and not a rant, except maybe in the short final chapter. This is a good book. ...more
Jun 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
One of my all-time favorite books, this chronicles the rise of the campaign industry, chronicling how money became so important in politics. To understand the roots of "Citizens United," one must only read this book. ...more
Jun 17, 2007 is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone in Public Service, or Those Who Have Given Up on Politics
Things CAN be better, but it's going to take a hell of a lot of work to get there. This book is a good first step - it acknowledges the problem. Now all we need is to figure out the next 11 steps! ...more
Aug 24, 2007 rated it liked it
an interesting analysis of the evolution of the modern campaign, despite klein's tendency to stray into arrogant and gossipy rants ...more
Oct 14, 2007 rated it liked it
I don't particularly like Joe Klein, but I can't disagree with him about how the politcal process has been hijacked and sanitized. It's bullshit, it's maddening and it's so, so true. ...more
Thomas Ptacek
Nov 18, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics
Strong prose. Hangs together well. Left-centrist perspective; you don't get the impression that he has a blind spot where the GOP is concerned.

Dec 14, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Disheartened politicos
Politics Lost is an excellent chronicling of how American Presidential candidacy has come to require such inane posturing and leaves us devoid of anything or anybody with substance.
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Joe Klein is a longtime Washington, D.C. and New York journalist and columnist, known for his novel Primary Colors, an anonymously written roman à clef portraying Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign. Klein is currently a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and is a former Guggenheim Fellow. Since 2003 he has been a contributor at the current affairs Time news group. In April 2006, he ...more

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