No Place for Amateurs: How Political Consultants Are Reshaping American Democracy

By Dennis W. Johnson | Go to book overview

Preface

Several years ago, E. J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post syndicated political columnist, gave the commencement address at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management. After his speech, Dionne was presented with a gift from the student body, a T-shirt with the words “Graduate School of Political Management” on the front and “Because politics is not for amateurs” on the back. Dionne graciously accepted the gift, but then said that he hoped the T-shirt’s slogan was mistaken. Dionne, author of the highly regarded book Why Americans Hate Politics, cautioned his audience: professionals have their place, but we should always have room for the amateur in American elections and politics.

Dionne was admonishing freshly credentialed graduates who had learned to design polls, conduct opposition research, make media buys, craft speeches, develop campaign messages, and apply the whole range of techniques and skills that are indispensable to modern professionalized campaigning. They were about to become part of a new generation of professionals trained to work in the increasingly sophisticated, albeit controversial, field of campaign management. Dionne’s concerns are legitimate: increasingly elections in America are high-stakes, expensive contests that are controlled by professional political consultants; no one wants to see elections become mere spectator sports, with voters just sitting on the sidelines, content with participating only at the ballot box or, worse, not getting involved at all.

This book critically examines the role played by political consultants who apply their skills and technologies to elect their candidates and clients. It shows how campaign weaponry is used by professionals, and how consultants have become indispensable to modern campaigns. This book also looks at the changing role of the campaign volunteer and argues that there is much that the citizen-volunteer can do to reclaim a voice in the conduct of campaigns.

The business of political consulting has received its share of criticism in recent years. In many quarters, consultants are reviled as opportunistic spin

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