Book Club’s Current Book Featured on “Moyers & Company”

Bill Moyers portrait

Bill Moyers

The book we’re reading—Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson’s Winner-Take-All Politics—is said to be the “backbone” of the first three episodes of the new TV series “Moyers & Company.”

The show is broadcast on KLRU-HD (over-the-air channel 18-1) Fridays at 8pm, and it’s available on-line at Bill Moyers’ website, which looks like a gold mine of material on Citizens United and money in politics.

About Hamilton Richards

He retired in 2006 as a Senior Lecturer in Computer Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin. These days he volunteers technical support for Citizens' Climate Lobby (Austin chapter), Common Ground for Texans, (, Integrity Texas (, Austin Rowing Club, and several friends.
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One Response to Book Club’s Current Book Featured on “Moyers & Company”

  1. Marilyn Schramm says:

    I wish I could join in the discussion of Winner-Take-All Politics, by Hacker/Pierson, but I will be out of the country on the day it is scheduled for coffee party discussion. Therefore, I offer my following thoughts on the book for purposes of the discussion.
    I thought the book was a great follow-up and complementary read to Lawrence Lessig’s Republic, Lost, in that it added further context and historical explanation for how we’ve gotten to where we are. The book not only explains the history of how the wealthy and corporations have achieved their power and taken over our government, but it offers historical lessons for how we might address the current dilemma. It is this proposed prospect for the future that made Winner-Take-All a more enjoyable read, leaving me with greater hope for the future than did Republic, Lost.
    As pointed out near the end of the book:
    “Certainly, there is no magic bullet, no single cure. Yet the outlines of sensible reform are not hard to find. . . As in the past, the politics of renewal must have a long arc. It must be capable of action in the sphere of electoral spectacle and in the arena of organized combat. . . The aims should be threefold:
    To reduce the capacity of entrenched elites to block needed reform;
    To facilitate broader participation among those whose voices are currently drowned out; and
    To encourage the development of groups that can provide a continuing, organized capacity to mobilize middle-class voters and monitor government and politics on their behalf.”
    The authors state that, of these three pillars, the last is most important and probably most difficult to construct. The problem is not so much figuring out what needs to be done and what reforms would help, but rather, creating the forces necessary to bring about these changes. Among the words attributed to FDR when he was trying to implement the New Deal, knowing there were entrenched and powerful forces in opposition: “You’ve convinced me. Now make me do it.”
    The authors point to the history lesson of the rise of the Gilded Age and the long, sustained push of the Progressive Era that finally achieved reforms. It has been said that history repeats itself when we fail to learn its lessons. History also offers lessons that we can choose to repeat when they show the way to success. “Reform will rest on the creation of organized, sustained pressure on legislators to make American politics more responsive and open to citizen engagement.”
    What I particularly liked about the book’s conclusion is the authors’ suggestion that there’s a need for ORGANIZED COMBAT. (In view of the civility pledge of the Coffee Party, is it possible to be civilized combatants?) “The foremost obstacle to sustainable reform is the enormous imbalance in organizational resources between the chief economic beneficiaries of the status quo and those who seek to strengthen middle-class democracy. Powerful groups defending the winner-take-all economy . . . are fully cognizant of the massive stakes involved, and they are battle-ready after years of training.” Those of us who want to see change in this country and bring about reform must recognize that we need to conduct a war to take our country back – we need battle plans (strategy), generals (leaders and spokespersons), battalions (organizations dedicated to the cause) and foot soldiers (large numbers of people willing to take action). (Perhaps the importance, benefits, and purpose of civility come into play as a necessary element of getting ORGANIZED.)
    As a long-time student of political science, I’ve always been frustrated by the apparent ineffectiveness of single-issue interest group politics. There are so many single-issue organizations seeking change – sometimes even multiple organizations pursuing the same reform. Lack of coordination, collaboration, and organization results in fragmentation, less power in terms of resources, and sometimes, even inconsistent messaging and conflicting voices. Change cannot be achieved without power; and ORGANIZATION can bring about that power.
    New technologies offered by the internet give us new means for organizing resources for combat (after all, we’ve recently seen social media even used to bring down dictators!). Consider some recent examples in this country of using the power of the internet and cross-collaboration and cooperation between groups that can achieve great things – e.g., stopping the Keystone pipeline, SOPA, the Occupy movement, stopping Komen from defunding Planned Parenthood.
    Even Lessig, who recently issued a new e-book, One Way Forward, refers to a “Civil War without guns.” The real power struggle is between the “insiders” – the funders of political campaigns and the politicians who depend on them – and the “outsiders” – the rest of us in America. He points out that:
    “For the first time in a hundred years, we have the technology to empower ordinary citizens to be engaged and passionate about their government [the internet]” – BUT
    “The business model for this engagement, of the entities that build these movements of passion . . . make it extremely hard to imagine them ever working together on anything.”
    To conduct the war, to be successful, we MUST ORGANIZE. The COMMON ENEMY (the corrupting influence of money in politics) can be identified and can be the rallying call for organizing the troops. After all, until THE PEOPLE take back control of their democracy, none of the single-issue interest groups have much hope of achieving any of their goals. Once we wrest control of our government, however, we can return to the pursuit of our individual goals and progressive reforms of interest.
    As members of the Coffee Party, let’s reach out and cooperate/coordinate with other groups, continuing to push the fight against the common enemy. As members of other groups we support and in which we participate, let’s push them to identify and recognize the common enemy that stands in the way of all our interests, and push for continued cooperation and collaboration to win the war. I know we can do this – I feel hope again!
    Marilyn Schramm

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