(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

High school civics teaches how the United States government is supposed to work; Hedrick Smith provides a lesson in how it does work. He contends in his introduction that “the political transformations of the past fifteen years have rewritten the rules of the game.” THE POWER GAME dissects the growing influence of political action committees (PACs), the increasing difficulty of forming coalitions in Congress, the rise in “media politics,” and the power of staff--both in Congress and the White House--to show today’s process of governing.

Most readers will remember the events Smith uses to make his point. The Iran-Contra affair serves as an exemplar of the extraordinary power of staff and demonstrates the political tactic Smith calls the “end run.” Staff, both in Congress and the White House, often formulate the basics of policy; they have the specialized knowledge that is virtually impossible for any one congressman or president to possess. Thus, the Iran-Contra affair might almost be considered the natural outgrowth of a staff given power to fulfill broad policy goals. To pursue its goals, the National Security Council staff played the end run game, which consists of keeping information a closely guarded secret, so that the opposition never gets a chance to protest. George Schultz and Caspar Weinberger thought that the arms-to-Iran idea had been dropped.

Smith uses the budget fights of the past several years to discuss the lack of party...

(The entire section is 475 words.)