Thursday, September 03, 2009

Book Review: Scandal- How "Gotcha" Politics Is Destroying America

This is a review of 'Scandal' by Lanny Davis which will be going up on my Amazon reviews page soon. I hope to be adding a few more soon. Incidentally I noticed a few weeks ago, almost overnight someone decided to rate about a dozen of my previous reviews as 'unhelpful'. Which is great because I've always wanted a nemesis who hates me!
Lanny Davis is the former Special Counsel to Bill Clinton during the impeachment process, an experience that has undoubtedly influenced his perspective in ‘Scandal’ where he denounces the culture by which reputations are destroyed simply by the appearance of wrong doing.

The history of what he terms “Gotcha” politics is traced from the vicious infighting of partisans of Hamilton and Jefferson during the early years of the republic, through the “gentleman’s agreement” that followed- whereby personal lives were mostly off limits- to the re-emergence of mutually destructive politics in the tumult of the 1960s and 70s.

Davis is a Democratic party member and whilst he probably criticises Republicans more than his own side he clearly at least strives to be fair minded and doesn’t claim that the sins of hyper partisan ship is limited to one side (he is probably the only Democrat I’ve read who acknowledges that the indictment of Casper Weinberger was flimsy and probably politically motivated and that the smear campaigns against Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas were disgraceful). In fact in one of the most effective passages he charts the rise & fall of the Special Prosecutor/ Independent Counsel- as he points out the use of legal fishing expeditions to try to create some kind of scandal didn’t begin with Kenneth Starr investigation into the Clintons (which did catch Clinton perjuring himself which was serious in itself, but was an offence that occured purely because of the investigations into Whitewater and Vince Foster's suicide which were nonsense) but was inherent in the office from the moment of it’s creation in the late 1970s to its abolition two decades later.

Usually the investigations generated a lot of innuendo but found nothing that could be used to prosecute anyone. Interestingly two victims who were prosecuted- the Reagan Labor Secretary Ray Donovan & the Clinton Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy- by Independent Counsels found the evidence against them so feeble that they didn’t even bother to present their respective juries with defences and yet were still acquitted; such was the flimsiness of the case against them.

Towards the end of the book Davis offers some solutions to the Scandal culture, this is the least interesting part of the book as he seems to equate mushy centrism with civility. There is no reason why centrists should be more restrained than more ideologically driven politicians. Although his point about mainstream politicians having an obligation to call out the extremists on their own side.

No comments: