The American Lie: Government by the People and Other Political Fables

ISBN : 9780199945955

Benjamin Ginsberg
256 Pages
153 x 228 mm
Pub date
Jul 2007
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Going all the way back to the time of George Washington, much of what we see and hear in the political world consists of lies and deceptions. Despite assurances to the contrary, politics is not about truth, justice, and principle. It is about money, power, and status. As astute political commentator Ben Ginsberg convincingly demonstrates, politicians habitually lie, pretending to fight for principles, in order to conceal their true selfish motives. Citizens who need the frequent injunctions to participate in politics and abjure political cynicism are likely to be duped into contributing their tax dollars and even their lives for dubious purposes. Most individuals gain little from political participation. Participants are the foot soldiers of political warfare, but even if their side is victorious, they receive few of the spoils of war. Thus, in this new political season, Ginsberg encourages citizens to think outside the (ballot) box, finding new ways to act on behalf of their interests and the public good. But if they do vote, their motto should be when in doubt vote them out. The elections of 2008 are a good time to begin.


1. Interests and Principles in Political Life
The Principles of Cynical Realism
Altruism and Interests
Interests and Principles
Principles as Political Weapons
Becoming Realistically Cynical
2. Public Opinion: Myths and Realities
Measuring Opinion
3. Elections and the Limits of Popular Government
Voting as a Means of Regulating
Popular Political Activity
The Limits of Voting
Political Marketing
4. Private Interests and Public Policies
Mobilization Bias
Organizational Bias
Private Capture
Pathologies of Government
5. Popular Influence and State Power
Who Governs?
Delegation of Power
Presidential Power
The Citizen and the State
6. Conclusion: Why Participate in Politics?
The Myth of Political Leadership
Public Lies and Private Purposes
State Secrets
Practicing Defensive Politics
About the Author

About the author: 

Benjamin Ginsberg is the David Bernstein Professor of Political Science and Director of the Center for the Study of American Government at Johns Hopkins University. He is the author or coauthor of a number of books including Presidential Power: Unchecked and Unbalanced, Downsizing Democracy: How America Sidelined Its Citizens and Privatized Its Public, and Politics by Other Means. Ginsberg is a frequent political commentator from his perch in Potomac, Maryland.

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