2013 Book Report 3 – Billionaires and Ballot Bandits: How To Steal An Election In 9 Easy Steps – Greg Palast

I bought this book before the American elections of 2012, but have only just got around to reading it. I didn’t really worry about that, I’m not American, I don’t have a vote in that country, so I didn’t need to fight disenfranchisement.

Eventually getting around to reading it was a strange experience. The election had been and gone, and Obama had won, despite, if Palast’s book is to be believed a massive and complex conspiracy to steal the election.

In summary, this book takes over where ‘The Best Democracy Money Can Buy’ leaves off. Bush was successfully gifted his presidency by a concerted effort to disenfranchise those who are most likely to vote Democrat. Having engineered a machine for removing voters who are likely to vote for your competitor the Republicans had discovered a way of winning elections that didn’t rely on you persuading the majority to vote for you.

The difference since the earlier book is the change in law usually referred to as ‘Citizens United’ which allows essentially unlimited political spending by corporations. This has skewed the system enormously as detailed in this dense, but wonderfully readable book. Greg Palast has a wonderfully conversational style where you almost feel like you might be sitting in a bar with him as he expounds on his investigations.

One thing that is interesting, reading this book with the gift of hindsight is that it makes it clear why Karl Rove so famously refused to believe even Fox News when it called Ohio for Obama. It wasn’t self belief in terms of thinking Romney had the better message, it was self belief that all of his dirty tricks would deliver the election to Romney. The video of him ordering the Fox anchor to go and check with the statisticians is wonderful, if only because of the obvious butt-hurt that it is causing Rove!

A strongly positive point of this book is that Palast is quite clear firstly that this isn’t a Democrat v. Republican thing. Both parties have some history of blocking voters, but the Republicans have raised it to a whole new level. Palast clearly believes that the aim should be that all voters who are eligible and willing should be able to vote and have their vote counted. If this were to hand power to one side or the other then that would be acceptable in Palast’s view because democracy would have been served. I would guess that he sees Obama as the lesser of two evils, but also considers him to be in the same thrall of billionaire backers.

One point of order that I would make is really one of editing. Most of the chapters in the book are derived from articles in magazines like Rolling Stone and papers like the Guardian. Care has clearly been taken to make the book into a homogeneous whole, but there isn’t any real indication either at the start of the book, or throughout as to what the 9 steps are for stealing an election. At the end of the book the steps are named. I would like to have seen the steps named in some sort of introductory chapter and maybe grouping of chapters into sections that matched the steps. However, this is just because that sort of meta-structure for the book would have suited the way my mind likes to work.

To summarise, an excellent book, easy to read and digest. The tale that it told did less to stoke my ire than the Mark Thomas book Extreme Rambling as the story had, for the time being a positive outcome. Of course US citizens will need to continue to be vigilent to avoid mass disenfranchisement, but they will, for the time being, be far too worried about their right to shoot each other with impunity than with having their vote counted. I also loved the little comic book summary of the contents of the rest of the book. I skipped the cartoons on my way through the book, but then enjoyed them after finishing the text. Somehow it felt refreshing to skip through a summary of the books contents in an even easier to digest form. I think every serious book should have this kind of insert from now on.

The book I read was the paperback, but it is also available on Kindles. The Amazon link is: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1609804783

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