In this sometimes shocking and always riveting book, Robert G. Kaiser, who has covered Congress, the White House, and national politics for The Washington Post since 1963, explains how and why, over the last four decades, Washington became a dysfunctional capital.
At the heart of his story is money - money from special interests using campaign contributions and lobbyists to influence government decisions, and money demanded by congressional candidates to pay for their increasingly expensive campaigns, which can cost a staggering sum. Politicians' need for money and the willingness, even eagerness, of special interests and lobbyists to provide it explain much of what has gone wrong in Washington. They have created a mutually beneficial, mutually reinforcing relationship between special interests and elected representatives, and they have created a new class in Washington, wealthy lobbyists whose careers often begin in public service.
Kaiser shows us how behavior by public officials that was once considered corrupt or improper became commonplace, how special interests became the principal funders of elections, and how our biggest national problems - health care, global warming, and the looming crises of Medicare and Social Security, among others - have been ignored as a result.
Kaiser illuminates this progression through the saga of Gerald S. J. Cassidy who came to Washington in 1969 as an idealistic young lawyer determined to help feed the hungry. Over the course of 30 years, he built one of the city's largest and most profitable lobbying firms and accumulated a personal fortune. Cassidy's story provides an unprecedented view of lobbying.
This is a timely and tremendously important book that finally explains how Washington really works today and why it works so badly.
©2009 Robert G. Kaiser (P)2010 Polity Audio LLC
“With bold insight and telling detail, Robert G. Kaiser raises the curtain on Washington to reveal a tragic drama in which money triumphs over principle. Here, in a single book, is the reason why our politics must be transformed.” (Robert B. Reich, former Secretary of Labor)
“An accurate and frank description of how lobbyists and money have come to run Washington.” (Leon E. Panetta, Director of the CIA)
“Bob Kaiser has written the real story of the breakdown of our political system. In the pages of this enormously important book, we can also glimpse a path toward reform." (Carl Bernstein)
So Damn Much Money answers the questions I had about where the American political system went astray.
I found this audiobook in pursuit of understanding how American politics managed to degenerate into a state in which the US government seems incapable of dealing with the big issues facing the US and the world. Kaiser tells this story from the point of view of one of the most successful Washington lobbyists of the last 30 years.
The story is told chronologically, so you feel how one thing leads to another and before you know it, the US political system has been paralyzed by money, greed and special interest manoeuvring. Kaiser makes it easy to see how it happened, and how it seems unlikely to fix itself any time soon. A sober story, but one worth the listen.
There's bound to be reviewers who claim that the author's picking on Republicans, but disregard that - it's more that Republicans bear the brunt of an accident of history. The book chronicles the change in the culture of government, and specifically as it has to do not with money per se, but with spending, with the arms race that develops from pols realizing that spending on races wins, as well as the culture of lobbyists who (even with honorable intentions at times) nurtured the culture where this was possible. I'm a little hesitant to draw the picture as broadly as the author does, where money is the sole cause and the sole sustaining reason, but it's a very, very scary picture. The book does have some flaws, though. The framing story - the narrative of one important lobbyist - isn't as interesting as the author thinks it is, and the book has a tendency to get stuck in some dry, unimportant tangent for what seems like hours. The opening and closing music is also a bit excessively melodramatic. But when it's good, it's on fire.
Excellent (non-fiction) book about how American politicians have become extremely focused on raising money for their campaigns, rather than on doing what is best for the American people. Great expose, with lots of examples of legal corruption in our current system of government. The focus is on how the system has become broken rather than blaming individuals. Only limitation of the book is that the story is somewhat unevenly told, with an occasional dull patch in the beginning or part that is out of sequence of a story that otherwise follows chronological order. Book gets better and better as you listen further into it. Second half is fantastic. Overall, would highly recommend.
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