Today is Election Day 2014 when we all try to put our faith in democracy and cast our votes on the candidates and issues in the way that we think will best benefit America. Unfortunately the process of American elections is rarely, if ever, a straightforward and understandable one. Here are some books that will help you think about, chuckle ruefully at, and perhaps understand a bit better the history, challenges, and opportunities of the modern American democratic process.
Primary Colors by Anonymous
Primary Colors presents a look behind-the-scenes of a political campaign for President of the United States. We are introduced to this world of political machinations through the eyes of former congressional aide Henry Burton who is working on the presidential campaign of Governor Jack Stanton. Jack Stanton and his wife Susan are thinly veiled representations of Bill and Hillary Clinton and the book portrays their relationship during the campaign as well as the politics of it. As Henry works on the campaign he bears witness to the many different strategies that Stanton uses in his bid for the presidency. Strategies that while they often horrify and amaze Henry, also maintain a surprising heart of sincerity and charisma that form the basis of the love affair between this candidate and his country.
Electoral Dysfunction by Victoria Bassetti
Bassetti takes a look at some of the myriad of issues that plague the inner workings of our electoral process today and their origins. These issues include the fact that the right to vote was not included in the Constitution and the way that the legal system has responded to this, the beginnings and current failures of the Electoral College process, the battle over voter IDs and voter fraud, and Election Day foul-ups such as contested recounts. In Electoral Dysfunction, Bassetti calls attention to these and others of the many ills plaguing the American democratic process and examines what we might be able to do to fix them.
Game Change by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin
Game Change was written by two political journalists with access to the inner workings of both sides of the 2008 presidential campaigns and based on hundreds of hours of interviews with all the primary players. Heilemann and Halperin delve into the race from the beginning looking closely at the human side of the political machinations. They examine the way that concerns over Bill Clinton’s behavior may have nudged Hillary out of getting the Democratic nomination, how Obama became convinced he could win in spite of his narrow experience, and why John McCain chose Sarah Palin has his running mate, among many other issues.
A Magnificent Catastrophe by Edward J. Larson
The Presidential election of 1800 was in many ways the first true election of the newly established American democracy. Pitting former friends and founding fathers John Adams and Thomas Jefferson against each other, this contest laid the foundation for our two-party system of deeply divided politics as it exists today. With the choices portrayed as elitist Federalist John Adams threatening to trample on liberty and establish a monarchy and revolutionary Republican Thomas Jefferson threatening to throw the country into turmoil and devalue religion with his liberal democratizing, this election drew in other founding fathers and savvy political thinkers on both sides to fight for the future of the nation. A Magnificent Catastrophe tells the story of this tumultuous election, which Thomas Jefferson would later call “America’s second revolution.”
Seeing by Jose Saramago
It is election day in the well-organized and unremarkable city and hardly anyone has showed up to vote due to the rain. When it finally stops in the afternoon, the voters descend en masse to the polls, but by the end of the day when the votes are counted, 82% of the ballots are blank. While the ordinary citizens go about their daily lives, the government begins to panic at this inexplicable act of protest. When they try to determine what happened, it could be related to the plague of blindness that swept the city several years earlier, suspicion falls on the one young woman that did not lose her sight during that plague. As time passes the responses of the government to the oddities of the election become more and more histrionic.