Grand Illusion

Grand Illusion

The Myth of Voter Choice in A Two-party Tyranny

Book - 2009
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Baker & Taylor
A narrative critique of how two-party campaigns are compromising democracy identifies key flaws in the electoral process, ballot access laws, partisan administration, and other systems, in a report that argues for federal standards that lift barriers against third-party and independent candidates.

Perseus Publishing
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.

Book News
While "bipartisan" is often treated as an inherent good by Washington politicians and the corporate media, Amato (the national presidential campaign manager and in-house counsel for Ralph Nader in the 2000 and 2004 elections) notes that, to third parties and independents, it "is a term akin to all white if you are black and trying to buy housing in a neighborhood or facing a jury…or all male if you are a female trying to get a job, into a club, or on a sports team." In this work, she describes the institutional hurdles that currently exist for third party and independent candidates that have been legislated into existence by Republicans and Democrats in order to maintain their dominance within the system. She also examines the impediments facing third parties and independents in the regulatory process, the media, the presidential debates (from which Ralph Nader was memorably excluded), and the partisan administration of the elections. Ralph Nader provides the foreword. Annotation ©2009 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

Publisher: New York : New Press : Distributed by Perseus Distribution, 2009
ISBN: 9781595583949
Branch Call Number: 324.273 Am155g 2009
Characteristics: xx, 379 p. ; 24 cm


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I'm with you, StarGladiator, GRAND ILLUSION, provides "a perfect dose of reality." I'm halfway through it, but I can wholeheartedly recommended it to anyone who wants to understand why U.S. democracy is the least democratic of any nation formally classified as such. Amato's experience running two Nader campaigns, Nader-LaDuke 2000 and Nader-Camejo 2004, make her an expert, both legal and operational, in ballot access laws. The book is exhaustively researched and footnoted but is written in an accessible conversational style. The long and the short of it is that the hurdles to third party and independent candidates are so steep in the United States we might as well be living in Egypt. The Democrats and Republicans control the formal process, and both organizations answer to big money. This is our duopoly that we call a democracy.

Apr 14, 2015

Now this book is the perfect dose of reality and foil to Greenfield's book, The Myth of Choice - - our pathetic nonchoice for the candidates we are able to vote for the presidency is severely and most artificially limited by the plutocracy - - or Wall Street - - or the Elites, however one wishes to describe them. Ms. Amato gives us a most impressive body of thought on the matter. [A complementary book to read along side it: You Can't Be President, by John R. MacArthur.]


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