Objectivity redefined

The Irony of American Democracy
November 26, 1999

This is the updated "millennial edition" of a textbook that first appeared 30 years ago. The authors aim to stimulate undergraduate debate on American politics by arguing that elites govern America and that the masses do not get a look in. They say their approach is objective in that they favour neither left nor right.

Far from being objective, the book is an example of populist conservatism. Its authors warn students that their professors may be former 1960s activists. They claim that reformers such as Franklin D. Roosevelt were interested only in self-preservation. Hollywood is stuffed with liberals, and television news suffers from "liberal bias". The authors' treatment of Hillary Clinton reeks of bile: she has committed the sins of attending "private, prestigious Wellesley College" and of listening to a "leftist Jewish thinker". They slam the rich, noting that the "median" business executive earns 209 times more than the "average factory worker".

Elites "are drawn disproportionately from the upper socio-economic strata of society", while "an unseemly number of powerful men appear to have engaged in illicit sexual affairs".

Happily, teachers of American politics will not have to use this book, as there are plenty of better ones. Two textbooks that exemplify the great tradition of British writing on American politics are David McKay's American Politics and Society (third edition, 1993) and Nigel Bowles's Government and Politics of the United States (second edition, 1998).

Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones is professor of American history, University of Edinburgh.

The Irony of American Democracy: An Uncommon Introduction to American Politics. Eleventh Edition

Author - Thomas R. Dye and Harmon Zeigler
ISBN - 0 15 505800 2
Publisher - Harcourt Brace
Price - £29.95
Pages - 505

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