Cover image for No way to pick a president
No way to pick a president
Witcover, Jules.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, [1999]

Physical Description:
303 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
JK524 .W58 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Jules Witcover, who has covered every Presidential electron since 1952, here combines unparalleled anecdotal knowledge about Presidential politics with scintillating wisdom about just what's wrong with those politics. He shows us, in memorable and dramatic detail how over the years an influx of professional mercenaries -- with no party loyalties and virtually no political principles -- has corrupted American pubic life and formed a new technocracy that dominates every phase of electoral politics. Along with this, television has changed politics dramatically, even destructively, which only discourages voter participation and puts off some of our most promising candidates.

In this lively, story-filled book, Witcover examines the many ways in which politicians have condoned or encouraged these developments, and how they have responded to the new demands of a media-driven, money-conscious age. He assesses the effect of campaign funds both "soft" and "hard, " and of a press corps that practices invasive, "gotcha" journalism in its own quest for greater celebrity and financial reward. He concludes with sage and experienced recommendations on how to improve our Presidential politics -- beginning even this year -- and revive pubic interest and confidence in American democracy.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Witcover, a journalist with more than 40 years' experience covering politics and presidential campaigns, is highly critical of how Americans elect their presidents. Journalists, political consultants, and the candidates themselves are scrutinized as Witcover examines their roles in the election process. He explores the impact of television, polling, the Internet, and the loss of party loyalty on campaigning. The high cost of campaigning, a grueling primary schedule, and the brutality of press coverage have discouraged promising potential candidates, influencing the selection process before it even starts. Witcover examines the increasing influence of consultants--Dick Morris, Roger Ailes, James Carville, and others--in tailoring their candidates and managing their in-office careers with the help of polls. He offers behind-the-scenes looks at the campaigns of Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, and other presidents, as well as candidates such as George Wallace and Ross Perot. Witcover concludes with recommendations for reforming what he sees as a distressing process of electing the U.S. president. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

A syndicated columnist for the Baltimore Sun since 1981, Witcover (The Year the Dream Died, etc.) began covering presidential elections in 1952. His critique of the state of American presidential campaigns touches all the familiar maladies: soft money, the triumph of the sound bite and the visual image over sustained argument, "gotcha" journalism and, above all, the rise of a class of professional political handlers that strips presidential politics of meaningful ideological content. Happily for readers, Witcover brings to the table more knowledge of how politics works today and how it worked in the past than the average dyspeptic citizen or pundit. The story he tells is full of irony as well as mendacity: he provides an excellent explanation of how the primary system, originally intended as a reform to empower ordinary people, has in fact made the nomination process more beholden to big money. Among the many reforms Witcover advocates is abolition of the electoral college. His most radical suggestion, borrowed from John Deardorff (one of many professionals whose effects on the system Witcover laments, but whose insight he rightly values), is to ban paid TV advertising after the conventions, the rationale being that the candidates are well known by then and the only purpose ads serve is to smear an opponent. Witcover, citing public apathy in a time of prosperity, is not optimistic that meaningful reform will occur anytime soon. In an ideal world, his sophisticated analysis and creative proposals would be enough to make a dent in that apathy. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In his 11th book, Witcover considers how to drain the swampÄif not the cesspoolÄthat our presidential elections have become. Along with Jack Germond, his co-columnist at the Baltimore Sun, he has also written four fine narratives of the 1980-92 presidential campaigns, most recently Mad as Hell: Revolt at the Ballot Box. Witcover has covered every presidential election since 1952 and makes good use of his experience and historical anecdotes to demonstrate that widespread voter apathy is owing to the corrosion of the electoral process, which has become the "functional equivalent of mud wrestling." The problems identified and thoroughly described have grown progressively worse with each election, but Witcover's sensible remedies can help: a ban on unlimited soft money for "indirect" political support; a shorter primary season that runs from March to May, ending "super" primary days, where voters are forced to choose a candidate without learning much about his or her platform; selecting a vice president who must be qualified to assume the presidency; and eliminating the obsolete electoral college. Witcover does not mince words about political players or the electoral process. Recommended for public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/99.]ÄKarl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Then and Now
1 Me for President
2 The Era of the Hired Gun
3 Television Raises the States
4 Main Street to Madison Avenue
5 Sour Mother's Milk
6 Anything Goes
7 The 800-Pound Gorilla
8 Watchdogs and Laptops
9 A Process Gone Berzerk
10 Coronations, Not Conventions
11 Rolling the Dice
12 The Grand Facade
13 Moments of Truth
14 An Accident Waiting to Happen
15 Whither the Parties?
16 Time for an overhaul