Democracy in 1 Book or Less……

Democracy in 1 Book or Less……

by Janet Donovan & Liz Sizer
Photo credit: Misc.

Former Obama speechwriter David Litt held a book party at Comet Ping Pong to launch the publication of his latest book: Democracy In One Book Or Less: How It Works, Why It Doesn’t and Why Fixing It Is Easier Than You Think. While the party was virtual for all guests, the author was at the restaurant in person, broadcasting from the normally packed Ping Pong dining room, while host James Alefantis (Chef & Owner) joined the call from outside the storefront where he was overseeing a bustling takeout dinner service.

Book synopsis: 

“Bill Bryson meets Thomas Frank in this deeply insightful, unexpectedly hilarious story of how politicians hijacked American democracy and how we can take it back. The democracy you live in today is different—completely different—from the democracy you were born into. You probably don’t realize just how radically your republic has been altered during your lifetime. Yet more than any policy issue, political trend, or even Donald Trump himself, our redesigned system of government is responsible for the peril America faces today. What explains the gap between what We, the People want and what our elected leaders do? How can we fix our politics before it’s too late? And how can we truly understand the state of our democracy without wanting to crawl under a rock? That’s what former Obama speechwriter David Litt set out to answer.Poking into forgotten corners of history, translating political science into plain English, and traveling the country to meet experts and activists, Litt explains how the world’s greatest experiment in democracy went awry. (He also tries to crash a party at Mitch McConnell’s former frat house. It goes poorly.) The result of Litt’s journey is something you might not have thought possible: a page-turner about the political process. You’ll meet the Supreme Court justice charged with murder, learn how James Madison’s college roommate broke the Senate, encounter a citrus thief who embodies what’s wrong with our elections, and join Belle the bill as she tries to become a law (a quest far more harrowing than the one in Schoolhouse Rock!). Yet despite his clear-eyed assessment of the dangers we face, Litt remains audaciously optimistic. He offers a to-do list of bold yet achievable changes—a blueprint for restoring the balance of power in America before it’s too late.” HarperCollins Publishers

As nearly 100 guests dialed in to the Zoom call, Litt and Alefantis bantered about current events and how much things had changed since their last book party together for Litt’s 2017 memoir: Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years.

Photo credit: Creative Commons

Following a demonstration on how to make the content-relevant cocktail – “The Brother Mitch” – by Comet bartender Oriana Quezada, actor Matt Walsh, of Veep and Upright Citizens Brigade fame, joined in from LA to lead a funny yet thought-provoking discussion about the book and how it came about. The conversation centered mostly around the state of American Democracy, the forecast-ed death of the Senate filibuster and how we might ever do away with that pesky Electoral College. More than once the prospect of DC Statehood came up in conversation and, more often than not, Mitch McConnell was the antagonist at the center of the narrative. He was, after all, the author’s muse in writing the book.

“For years and years, I had this sense that Mitch McConnell understood something, the rest of us did not,” Litt told Walsh. “In the same way that I was honored to name a drink after him this evening, uh, I felt like if you were obsessed with the Beatles, you would go to Abbey Road and you would take that picture for me. I needed to go to Louisville (Kentucky). So I started off both my research and the book going to Louisville and trying to crash a frat party at Mitch McConnell’s old frat house in Louisville. It turns out that trying to do this as a man in your thirties is way less appropriate than it would have been earlier in my life. So it did not work, nor did it feel terribly comfortable. But the crazy thing that I learned is that in Louisville, at the University of Louisville, there is a campus-wide rumor that Mitch McConnell owns the land underneath the house. And so even on campus, I don’t know how true this rumor is, but everybody believes it. And even on campus, there is this sense that if you’re part of Mitch McConnell’s team, you played by one set of rules and if you’re everybody else, which is most of us, you played by another set of rules. And so in a strange way, while that was not a terribly successful frat party infiltration experience – I don’t know how many of them are – I learned a lot about the system that we’re living in and especially what’s going to happen unless we do something about it.” 

David Litt   Photo credit: Courtesy of Today

“One of the things I tried to think about was how do you write a enjoyable book at a moment in American history that is mostly not terribly enjoyable, right? Like all of us, I spent most of my time in some state of  stress or panic, depending on the day about the news. And then I was trying to write a book that is optimistic and also fun,” Litt added. “And one of the things for me was that history turned out to be much more fun  than the present. So Aaron Burr, right after killing Alexander Hamilton, sort of fled for a while. Then he came back to the Capitol and he was still the Vice President of the United States, which I had totally forgotten about. So he showed up and was like, ‘Oh, I just killed Hamilton and also I’m still the Vice President.’  This was literally a guy who killed Hamilton, created the filibuster and then like a year later committed treason.” Breathe that in!

Litt explained how he structured the book: “So the way that I structured the book was really into three sections. So number one, who gets to vote; number two, how much does each person’s vote count relative to someone else’s like, for example, I’m here in DC and I voted last Tuesday. I’ll vote in November, but my vote doesn’t count at all. Someone living in Wyoming, their vote count matters a lot. It’s very powerful. And then number three, how does a bill become [law]?  How do we make it so that if we want something and it doesn’t violate people’s basic rights, we can get it. And since we’re stuck with that system, we have to elect the right people to those offices. I think it’s really important that all of us who care so much about all of these different policy areas also care about the machinery of our country. And they care about the foundations of our democracy. If we don’t pass these bills, like universal voter registration, if we don’t do something about these voter purges, if we don’t do something about campaign finance and on and on and on, then any change we make is going to be temporary because the next Mitch McConnell is going to be able to come in and undo everything we did more easily than we could do it in the first place. So that to me, it’s about making things fair enough that we can lay the groundwork for change the really last.

“So there’s actually one kind of cool thing that has come out of the pandemic is this new thing called which I am sending to everybody now. is a way to buy books online where a big chunk of the money goes to local bookstores and independent bookstores rather than to Amazon. And that was particularly important because like during the pandemic, Amazon stopped prioritizing books after cornering the entire book market. So this has actually been one really positive thing to find.”

Litt went on to describe the upcoming election  which is too long to add here, so get the book!

The call was also joined by co-host and CEO of Andrea Hailey who talked to the virtual crowd about the critical work her organization is doing ahead of the 2020 election and ways they might get involved. Participants included Michelle Kosinski, Robert Costa, Marty Paone, Nathan Daschle, Francesca Craig, Kimball Stroud, Erik Smith, Suzannah Shakow, Bruce Kieloch, Holly Kinnamon, Cynthia McFadden, Mike Memoli, Jay Newton-Small and Jacqueline Kappler.