Sunday, September 26, 2004


Michael Beschloss has always annoyed me. I liked his earlier book about the U-2 crisis, but his later books have been lame efforts lacking in any interesting revelations or analysis. And then there is his media commentary. Let's just say that he gives new meaning the word banal.

Anyway, in today's Washington Post book section, Beschloss has his suggestions for "the most revealing books about the American election process." Surprise, surprise, his books are Gore Vidal's, The Best Man, Teddy White'sThe Making of the President, 1960, Norman Mailer's, Miami and the Siege of Chicago, and Richard Ben Cramer'sWhat It Takes.

What a tired and predictable lineup. Why not include "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"? It's about as relevant to contemporary politics as these books are. What It Takes is the only one that even mentions someone alive today.

So here are some alternative, but by no means exhaustive, selections. As a political scientist, I've tried to include as many of my colleagues as possible since I think we know a bit about elections. I'd also like to hear the suggestions of others.

Anthony Downs, An Economic Theory of Democracy:

I'm not a rational choicer, but I still think Downs is the starting place for understanding the electoral process. He strips politics down to its core--individuals, both candidates and voters, seeking to maximize their utility--and shows how that explains much of what goes on in politics. By no means a sufficient account of the electoral process, but it surely is necessary.

David Mayhew, Electoral Realignments:

A confession, Mayhew was my dissertation advisor, but I'm not the only one to recognize this as a classic. In it, Mayhew demolishes the tired old model of electoral realignments (a favorite of journalists and historians) and points the way toward new ways of looking at electoral history and change. Plus, it is a model of concise and elegant writing.

Ruy Teixeira, The Disappearing American Voter:

Though it needs to be updated to include changes in the last decade, this book still stands as the best account of why turnout in American elections has fallen and its consequences for American politics.

Steven Rosenstone and Mark Hansen, Mobilization, Participation, and Democracy in America:

Another excellent treatment of the issue of voting and participation. In particular, their analysis shows how important individual contact by parties and campaigns is to whether people vote or not.

Tom Rosenstiel, Strange Bedfellows: How Television and the Presidential Candidates Changed American Politics:

Rosenstiel had behind the scenes access to ABC News during the 1992 campaign. The result is the best analysis available of the interaction between politicians and journalists.

V.O. Key, The Responsible Electorate:

Key's unfinished last book. And the more of American politics I observe, the more I keep realizing the wisdom of his statements that "voters are not fools" and "the voice of the people is but an echo. The output of an echo chamber bears an inevitable and invariable relation to the input."

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