Why a power game? This book is about how power is gained and maintained through coalitions along party lines. It makes the real power centers in Washington open and visible to all. Smith, who has been reporting in Washington across terms of six presidents, argues that there have been various shifts in power in a period not less than 10 years, with the year 1974 being the year of change between old generation of politicians and the new breed (Smith).
What is contained in the over five hundred page volume is the reality of operations of the government. The power games are not only in Washington but also at state and local government levels. The book is an eye opener that informs the reader of how much power has been held and by who and why; hence it is a book everybody who has an interest in politics or governance should read. The recent debt crisis in 2011 has made Smith’s insight on the tough tag of wars for power and unique significance in Washington appreciated. This book is so all en compassing and portrays the Federal Government in a very remarkable manner (Smith).
Unlike other books which describe American governmental process, this book goes a bit deeper in illustrating American politics and government operates. The book commences with a mysterious description of the security measures expected in a presidential, and this is what captures the attention of his audience. He further describes how power had been abused by Watergate and Nixon, and the structural changes of power sharing between congress and the president. He clearly expresses his latter point as he explains that the executive never handed power to congress but that Congress insured itself that any decisions they make which challenge the former had to be permanent. Moreover, the numerous sub committees of the House of Representatives for each sector nationally (Smith). There are several forces behind the changes in the way politics are played. These include the fact that political parties were weakened and the opportunities the TV provided for politics whereby political strategists, media advisors and mail operatives.
Who exactly is to blame for the power changes? Is it the media, the voter or the congressmen? According to my opinion, the voter bears the blame for failing to take time to carry out enough investigation in order to vote the right people. Nevertheless, the media and those who seek election do not cover the real issues of the country very well and especially on the fitness of those vying for elective positions.
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In this book Smith tries to explain what power and the nature of power are: power is defined as the extent one can get into the core of power or the people with power. As to who had power in Washington, which may also be true today, Smith describes how interest parties and mass media greatly influence national decisions.
Washington has experienced changes in information technology which has made so much information accessible to all people. Similarly, power is no longer confined in a senate that has been so powerful, or in leaders of various committee of parliament. Neither is there power anymore in presidents who can be accessed by people nor in news men and women with influence. In the middle of 1970s Washington experienced ground breaking power blasts that overhauled the entire political system creating new political styles and terms (Smith).
So where is power now? It is congress staffers who have more power than even their bosses; and people who work behind scenes but have power to mobilize financial resources. These new centers of power are scattered throughout the nation and have influence at grass roots.
Smith spends over half of his book to give a picture of institutions which he considers to have power namely state governments, party organizations, professionals in various fields, religious groups, higher learning institutions, and local communities.
Focus is drawn to new styles of power where some figures like Jesse Helms operate by creating obstructions, making access chances slim, and others especially those whose influence is fading, trying to expand their circles. According to Smith and this could be true today, American governance system can work effectively on if talents and techniques introduced and adopted are unique.
The book illustrates how the players in the Washington power games have grown over time and he gives details like 1522 and 5,250 journalists who had been accredited to Congressional press galleries in 1961 and 1987 respectively out of 12,612 journalists who were in DC at that time period. Another enormous change had been the expansion of the political community and support system such that 1,708 individuals had usual contact in White House affairs (Smith).
The political community had grown so fast and so wide to include lobbyist, journalists, lawyers, policy experts more so in defense and health, and support services like hotel facilities, accountants and offices to the extent that by the year 1979, federal government employees in Washington were far less than the nongovernmental sector. These are some of the captivating details which arrest the attention of readers.
Who should be blamed when the very reasons for which representatives were elected are ignored in key government decisions? Having read this book one comes to understand why many campaign promises of promises die no sooner than the elected politician assumes office.
There are so many players in politics who determine the extent to which one can implement policies to bring unto effects the changes dreamt of the electorate. After a politician has been elected to office there is so much that one has to do in order to maintain the power. Elected politicians play a minor role in American politics. There are so many people working behind scenes and who influence every decision made in national issues.
In the American politics, a major problem that makes political decision making difficult is fragmentations in power such that there are hundreds, actually thousands established centers of power compared to a few in years before 1970. This makes formation of functional coalitions very hard hence difficulties in getting lasting solutions to address America’s most challenging problems. Instead of the few problems which existed in the early federal system, the fragmented power centers come with a multiplication of governance problems. This fragmentation can be demonstrated in the establishment of committees which have adopted modern organization mechanisms in order to secure mobilization of grass root support. In issues that have controversy or where the majority’s opinion is on the contrary to government interests, getting this support is very difficult (Smith).
The book, knowledgeable and informative, continues to show who is behind all current happenings in Washington, how irritating people like Denny Smith arise from areas where Pentagon has little or no business at all. It is also clear that five mainstay assets of power include money as number one, increased awareness locally, a clear understanding of family and local community affairs, use of computers for communication through electronic mails, and providing regular updates of events including full content online. It might be necessary, according to Smith ensure that all congress conditions coincide, political decisions should always be reasonable, and that political parties are able to make a voice that can be heard.
Smith, the New York Times’ Chief Washington correspondent describes the terrible, the unattractive and on rare occasions the fine about the central operations of Congress, the White house and the Pentagon. This book however, gives a clear picture of the internal operation of President Reagan’s governance. He gives emphasis how he skillfully succeeded in his first years, and the devastation he encountered in his later years. The way he concludes this volume leaves one without question that Smith accurately comprehends what he was writing about.
The book accounts extend beyond Reagan’s administration period and the motive why he does this as he affirms is theoretically to lay openly the various rules used in the power game – how power is gained or lost. However, he does not succeed well in achieving this objective since some of the laid down rules of politics are mere maxims but there are several secrets which are never revealed by people in power especially secret relationships among politicians.
There are many other instances whereby he presents procedures which worked at some point in history of American politics. This might not work in another time period. It could be good to accept that Mr. Smith is not as good in political science as he is in journalism. The redundancy that has been demonstrated in this lively book can be attributed to the Mr. Smith the journalist.
It can also be said the Mr. Smith, in evaluating American politics, as can be seen in this book, intrudes in personal oriented political activities. This narrowed approach hinders the author from coming to terms with the rules of the political games, their purposes to the community, the electorate; and the actual workings in the games.
He communicates to everyone in his audience in a manner that is so clear to grasp his message. It also appears that everybody was free to talk with him. This should be made part of reading requirement for students beginning their first degree programs since it sounds a good material for a class room setting. It is also good as an American government book.
In the contemporary political atmosphere, the problems identified are not new at all. These are the issues that have been top on the agenda items of several analyses whether scientific, political, or journalistic. On his commentaries it is clear that Smith is a rare man, who stands out as totally serene morally despite the abuses hurled at him from critical reviewers who for one reason or another do not like his book or the content, partially or wholly, as contained in the book.
On politics, the book is helpful to voters. The choices that people are making in their lives, their inactions or coexistence of opposing opinions are what politicians ride on and give people what they indicate to be in need of. It is the people who are responsible for the president they elect or the general leadership they get.
The same phrase used by the former speaker of the house, Tip O’Neill and which also appears in the concluding remarks of Smith; give insight of what it takes to maintain the political status quo in Washington. It is only by not telling the truth that one survives politically. This is the key secret of politicians even those admired in American History as Smith reveals.
May be this is his style of writing: forcing you to read to read the entire when the main message in a few pages that conclude the book. Being a journalist he writes in a simple language for all to understand. It is also unfortunate with the many short stories that he uses for they make the book appear that was written in various episodes depicting a particular political period. However, these stories make the book much more entertaining and make the book easy to be understood even by infants in politics. Although some people may be familiar with the events describes by Smith, one cannot miss to learn something new from reading the whole or part of the book.
Reading from the first pages, it appears very interesting. However, this sweetness is lost with the many examples of stories contained in the middle pages. And the fact that he quotes many other sources make the book appear like it is a collection of hearsays rather than a long serving Washington journalist. In a generation with so much to read, if the book could be reorganized according to related topics, it might increases chances for being selected as a choice for reading.
Another weakness of this book is that it uses many character involved in the power game but no conclusion is given at each section in order for the reader to know the intention of the writer. Well, it could be that the author was just giving a collection of stories he was well versed with, and letting the readers make their own conclusions. Moreover, the use of many characters demands that the reader be well knowledgeable in the history of Washington politics.
The main story Smith is telling does not flow jointly in a manner that all the rules players. Smith does generalizations on these rules but the details he uses are in conflicts with these rules. An example well distorted is when Smith tries to reduce or raise Reagan’s unique administration to make it appear like it is a continuation with other presidents. During Reagan’s administration, it was not rules but more than often things happens by accident, a totally different picture than what Smith gives. The way Smith analyses President Reagan’s administration is so upsetting especially when he says Reagan’s team acted in a manner similar to that of other former leaders in America’s political history. If it is true that what Smith describes are facts, then so many questions are bound to arise in the reader’s mind in regard to ethics in Washington political activities even presently. Smith’s book has many good things but as he tries to shape these good things, they keep on collapsing. As brilliant as Smith seems to be, he is not good at using metaphors since he always mixes them making their use inappropriate and the message he wants to communicate elusive.
Although the book a large volume in terms of the pages, it is still readable. It’s a good book to help one understand the activities of elected representatives as well as how tax that is collected from or paid by individuals and corporate organization is utilized. Smith is sincere and thorough. That could be why he filled the books with impartial and extremely enlightening tales. Nevertheless, it drags at some points and it has flaws, based on the time it was written, 80s it has omissions in typing and formatting. It will need the reader to drag for themselves the chapters that are outstanding.
This can be useful for non American interested in US politics, and this material can be useful in giving insight to understanding power and political operations of Washington especially how deals are made, what happens when deals are broken, and what makes deals to work. Although, many characters are mentioned in the book, more emphasis is on the means and interactions of mechanisms existing or created in politics, which, though they are compound, it forms a continuous political scheme. It can also be useful for general use in other countries since Smith provides a thorough analysis of politics and power.
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