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Grand Illusion: The Fantasy of Voter Choice in a Two-party Tyranny

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As the national campaign manager for Ralph Nader's historic runs for president in 2000 and 2004, Theresa Amato had a rare ringside role in two of the most hotly contested presidential elections this country has seen. In Grand Illusion, she gives us a witty, thoughtful critique of the American electoral system, as well as a powerful argument for opening up the contest to co As the national campaign manager for Ralph Nader's historic runs for president in 2000 and 2004, Theresa Amato had a rare ringside role in two of the most hotly contested presidential elections this country has seen. In Grand Illusion, she gives us a witty, thoughtful critique of the American electoral system, as well as a powerful argument for opening up the contest to competition. Busting the national myth that "anyone can grow up and be President of the United States," Amato shows how independent and third-party candidates face egregious structural barriers that prevent them from fully participating in the race or even getting their names on the ballot. In addition to waging effective voter campaigns, these candidates must simultaneously fend off preposterous numbers of legal challenges from the two major parties--during twelve weeks of Nader's '04 run, as many as twenty-five lawsuits were filed in an effort to squash his campaign. Amato makes a powerful case for specific federal reforms in the United States' arcane system of ballot access laws, complex regulations, and partisan control of elections. Along the way, she also offers a spirited history of how third-party and Independent candidates have kept important issues on the table in elections past and contribute to our political life as a society. Despite the dramatic run-up to the historic 2008 election and the efforts of both Obama and McCain to set themselves apart, the national political debate occurs in a very narrow range that's defined by two major parties, which are both influenced by the same corporations, special interest groups, and lobbyists. And on election day, there just aren't the kinds of genuine options that a healthy, multi-party democracy should offer. Looking beyond the Nader story to campaigns waged by challengers John Anderson, Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan, and others, Amato shows how limiting ourselves to two candidates deprives our country of a robust political life, strips would-be contenders of their First Amendment rights, and cheats voters out of meaningful political choice.


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As the national campaign manager for Ralph Nader's historic runs for president in 2000 and 2004, Theresa Amato had a rare ringside role in two of the most hotly contested presidential elections this country has seen. In Grand Illusion, she gives us a witty, thoughtful critique of the American electoral system, as well as a powerful argument for opening up the contest to co As the national campaign manager for Ralph Nader's historic runs for president in 2000 and 2004, Theresa Amato had a rare ringside role in two of the most hotly contested presidential elections this country has seen. In Grand Illusion, she gives us a witty, thoughtful critique of the American electoral system, as well as a powerful argument for opening up the contest to competition. Busting the national myth that "anyone can grow up and be President of the United States," Amato shows how independent and third-party candidates face egregious structural barriers that prevent them from fully participating in the race or even getting their names on the ballot. In addition to waging effective voter campaigns, these candidates must simultaneously fend off preposterous numbers of legal challenges from the two major parties--during twelve weeks of Nader's '04 run, as many as twenty-five lawsuits were filed in an effort to squash his campaign. Amato makes a powerful case for specific federal reforms in the United States' arcane system of ballot access laws, complex regulations, and partisan control of elections. Along the way, she also offers a spirited history of how third-party and Independent candidates have kept important issues on the table in elections past and contribute to our political life as a society. Despite the dramatic run-up to the historic 2008 election and the efforts of both Obama and McCain to set themselves apart, the national political debate occurs in a very narrow range that's defined by two major parties, which are both influenced by the same corporations, special interest groups, and lobbyists. And on election day, there just aren't the kinds of genuine options that a healthy, multi-party democracy should offer. Looking beyond the Nader story to campaigns waged by challengers John Anderson, Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan, and others, Amato shows how limiting ourselves to two candidates deprives our country of a robust political life, strips would-be contenders of their First Amendment rights, and cheats voters out of meaningful political choice.

30 review for Grand Illusion: The Fantasy of Voter Choice in a Two-party Tyranny

  1. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

    I'll admit to a certain confirmation bias here in that I have long hated the grip that the two major political parties have held on our country. However, like so many people, I had assumed that this was by design of the founding fathers and had always been this way. It turns out that the founding fathers weren't much for political parties...thought of them as cabals. Reasons why we're stuck with this horrible choice of only two candidates for most elections are: 1) corporate sponsorship of both I'll admit to a certain confirmation bias here in that I have long hated the grip that the two major political parties have held on our country. However, like so many people, I had assumed that this was by design of the founding fathers and had always been this way. It turns out that the founding fathers weren't much for political parties...thought of them as cabals. Reasons why we're stuck with this horrible choice of only two candidates for most elections are: 1) corporate sponsorship of both parties, especially when a viable third-party candidate is in the running; 2) gerrymandering; 3) the Electoral College; non-federalized voting standards, leaving each state a myriad of ways to screw up the voting process; 4) opt-in voter registration; 5) not having a holiday for the elections; 6) the inability to properly count votes even though banks manage to track every penny in our accounts just fine; and 7) the ease with which electronic voting systems can be hacked. I'm probably leaving something out here, but I now see the importance of my friend's vote for Ralph Nader's presidency in 2000.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jon

    If anyone out there still thinks American electoral procedures bear any relationship to democracy, you should read this insider account by Ralph Nader's former campaign manager, since nobody I know of has done a better job of documenting how flawed the American political process is at this moment in history. Amato is no great shakes as a writer--she's fond of "ohmigod" and similar interjections, and uses the word "literally" to mean figuratively, among other crimes against style--but I wouldn't If anyone out there still thinks American electoral procedures bear any relationship to democracy, you should read this insider account by Ralph Nader's former campaign manager, since nobody I know of has done a better job of documenting how flawed the American political process is at this moment in history. Amato is no great shakes as a writer--she's fond of "ohmigod" and similar interjections, and uses the word "literally" to mean figuratively, among other crimes against style--but I wouldn't expect great writing in a book like this. Nor did I expect, or get, the promise of a radical solution--Amato thinks that just as women, blacks, and those 18 to 20 were enfranchised over the course of the 20th century, new election reforms can help solve the problems of voter choice and ballot access. Readers may draw a different conclusion, as I did, namely that the whole stinking system is hopelessly corrupt. (And her analogy between more candidates to choose from and different brands of toothpaste did not make me change my mind.)

  3. 4 out of 5

    Cole Stratton

    Written by an experienced third party campaign manager, this book lays out in lawyer fashion the systematic control of public office by the two major parities and the excessive barriers to entry faced by third party challengers. It demolishes the idea that the US is the greatest democracy on the planet, instead painting a picture of an ossified, wholly dominated bureaucracy with extremely limited political choices that will continue to disenfranchise the polity until we as interested citizens de Written by an experienced third party campaign manager, this book lays out in lawyer fashion the systematic control of public office by the two major parities and the excessive barriers to entry faced by third party challengers. It demolishes the idea that the US is the greatest democracy on the planet, instead painting a picture of an ossified, wholly dominated bureaucracy with extremely limited political choices that will continue to disenfranchise the polity until we as interested citizens demand and receive electoral reforms. It is a dense, sometimes boring read, but the result is a very important understanding of the enormous political, legal and financial effort involved in a presidential candidacy. It will certainly challenge your notion of American "freedom".

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ellen

    If you're interested in politics and have ever wished we had more parties than two to choose from, or if you've wondered exactly why third parties just don't seem to have much of a chance in U.S. politics, this is the book for you. Not only does Amato's insider view of the Nader campaign make for fascinating reading,but by the end of the book I was absolutely fuming about the anti-democratic moves both Dems and the GOP have made to limit any other political party's participation in our political If you're interested in politics and have ever wished we had more parties than two to choose from, or if you've wondered exactly why third parties just don't seem to have much of a chance in U.S. politics, this is the book for you. Not only does Amato's insider view of the Nader campaign make for fascinating reading,but by the end of the book I was absolutely fuming about the anti-democratic moves both Dems and the GOP have made to limit any other political party's participation in our political system...truly eye-opening.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Gina Robbins

    Interesting and articulate account on the unreasonable hurdles third parties must clear to get on the ballot. The two-party machine is too powerful to allow for fair play or philosophical diversity. By the Oak Parker who was Nader's 3-time campaign manager. Interesting and articulate account on the unreasonable hurdles third parties must clear to get on the ballot. The two-party machine is too powerful to allow for fair play or philosophical diversity. By the Oak Parker who was Nader's 3-time campaign manager.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Aaron Hamlin

    This is and Duopoly are the best books on US ballot access. Theresa was the attorney for the Nader campaign in 2000. She had her work cut out for her as major parties—particularly the Democratic party—did everything they could to keep Nader off the ballot. Her stories will make you angry—as they should.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Neil Crossan

    Dec 7, 2011- Donald Trump recently suggested that he would consider running for President as an independent if none of the GOPers impressed him enough. Although I would welcome it because it could increase the spotlight on the barriers to running as an independent, I think Trump doesn't understand what it means (and costs) to run an effective independent presidential campaign. When Michael Bloomberg was mulling an independent run for president his supposed budget was around a half a billion. Is Dec 7, 2011- Donald Trump recently suggested that he would consider running for President as an independent if none of the GOPers impressed him enough. Although I would welcome it because it could increase the spotlight on the barriers to running as an independent, I think Trump doesn't understand what it means (and costs) to run an effective independent presidential campaign. When Michael Bloomberg was mulling an independent run for president his supposed budget was around a half a billion. Is Trump ready to drop that sort of cash? Probably not and if he wants to learn all the other barriers he's going to face in trying to just get on the ballet he should probably read The Grand Illusion. The book highlights two injustices, (1) the actual rules such as amount of signatures you need to qualify for state ballots and (2) The intentional abuse of these rules by those in power to keep undesirables off the ballot. Form a historical perspective the Nader campaigns of '00 and '04 are interesting in their own right, but add in the component of how these barriers keep other from running should be more concerning and you have an entertaining read. The current field of GOPers painfully shows that the talented gifted people we need to run for office don't want to. One of the ways we can change that is by changing how are elections are run.

  8. 5 out of 5

    [Name Redacted]

    Sounds fascinating, but i hope it isn't one of those books full of "shocked" declarations that we don't live in a true democracy. Of course we don't! We live in a democratic Republic! Always have, and likely always will. Sounds fascinating, but i hope it isn't one of those books full of "shocked" declarations that we don't live in a true democracy. Of course we don't! We live in a democratic Republic! Always have, and likely always will.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ida

  10. 4 out of 5

    SM

  11. 5 out of 5

    Derek Postlewaite

  12. 4 out of 5

    Cathy

  13. 5 out of 5

    Connor Flood

  14. 4 out of 5

    Gene Morris

  15. 4 out of 5

    Joe

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kristen M

  17. 5 out of 5

    Darryl Perry

  18. 5 out of 5

    Matt Willem

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Downs

  20. 5 out of 5

    Elena Alexie

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jared Della Rocca

  22. 4 out of 5

    Alan Zundel

  23. 5 out of 5

    Morgan Wren

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sean Keery

  25. 5 out of 5

    Brynn

  26. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Alan

  27. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Marcum

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kyle Warner

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mark Larson

  30. 5 out of 5

    Luke

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