Joe’s Book Blog reviewed Attention Deficit Democracy earlier this week. I much appreciate the reviewer’s thoughtful analysis and kind words.
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The only common ground found in a political discussion is that politicians lie and power corrupts. No one expects a candidate to follow through on anything he or she says during election season, but every two to four years we all sit through endless attack ads and air-filled debates on TV and radio for six months until eventually about a third of us will sit in line one particular Tuesday and put a check mark next to the name of the person we dislike the least. “Politics as usual” is often the term used to describe this mundanity, but back in 2005 author James Bovard created an alternate title for this phenomenon: Attention Deficit Democracy. Sure, it’s a bit of an outdated reference these days, but how else would you describe a nation whose representatives have a 20% approval rating but an 85% re-election rate without getting into messy hypotheticals about the value of a vote? The premise of Bovard’s book is simple: Politicians lie because voters don’t care when they do, and this inaction encourages dangerous and unregulated expansion of the government’s authority over the people. Bovard keeps his arguments short and sharp, and manages to fill his laundry list of dirty politics with examples from both sides of the aisle. Attention Deficit Democracy may have been published almost a full decade ago, but in a terrifying way it feels like it was written yesterday.
James Bovard summarizes his entire book in the very first sentence: “Delusions about democracy are subverting peace and freedom.” He continues, “The American system of government is collapsing thanks to ignorant citizens, lying politicians, and a government leashed neither by law nor Constitution.” It is not an exaggeration to say that this is the entire book, and his succinctness here allows Bovard to dedicate the following three hundred pages to supporting these claims. In a seemingly endless catalog of government overreach, Bovard addresses ideas like the oxymoronic use of military to spread democracy, how voters no longer seem to have a choice or influence over those elected to lead them (a situation he has affectionately named “reverse slave auctions”), and he even pokes holes in the delusional belief that democracies do not war with other democracies. And throughout all of this Bovard refers to the current political system as “Leviathan,” drawing on the rather dismal works of Thomas Hobbes and implying that continued lethargy from the voting side of politics could easily result in something best described as being nasty, brutish and short.
Putting aside the doom and gloom of Bovard’s thesis, Attention Deficit Democracy is very refreshing in the fact that it is almost completely without a liberal or conservative bias. Although he obviously leans conservatively in favor of a small government, his record of iniquities draws from both sides of the aisle, attacking presidents Bush, Reagan, and Nixon for their policies as often as he attacks Wilson, FDR, and Clinton. Attention Deficit Democracy is not some cheap sectarian bullshit regurgitated by the likes of Sean Hannity or other pundits meant to shovel all of the blame on the opposite side of the political spectrum. Instead it is a comprehensive look at the government as a whole and the effects of its increasingly long reach over the country and Americans as a whole.
The only real shortcoming of Bovard’s argument is that he fails to provide at the end of the book a token solution to the problem he spends so much time describing. Although how exactly do you treat something like the apathy of an Attention Deficit Democracy? Based on Bovard’s suggestions, the only metaphorical Ritalin I can come up with is to rent or buy a copy of this book, flip through some of the pages, get mad at what you’re reading, pass the book along to a friend, and then actually give a shit this November. And that is probably why the conclusion of this book feels so lacking, because the solution to these problems lies with the people. Everyone has some grievance against their government, and James Bovard went ahead and put the effort into researching exactly what complaints we all have but cannot quite put into words. Attention Deficit Democracy is addressed specifically to Americans, but I believe his message is universal enough to speak to all voters, regardless of nationality.
Bovard, James. Attention Deficit Democracy. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006