Saturday, February 27, 2010
AUTHOR: Mario M Cuomo
When reading books about political figures, written by politicians, you always run the risk of being duped by partisan rhetoric. Such was the case as I read this book. Mario Cuomo, a gifted politician that I have admired for his work in New York, wrote this book as John Kerry was running again George Bush for President. Using the guise of Lincoln, he goes after Republican programs and George Bush repeatedly.
Cuomo does present some interesting observations about how politicians today use Lincoln as the bell weather of doing the right thing. It makes no difference whether they are Republican or Democrat, the "spirit of Lincoln" is conjured up to meet the latest bill or idea a politician may have. As soon as I read that chapter, I was watching Meet the Press and hear came a quote from Lincoln! It was uncanny.
Ironically, when Cuomo talks about Bush's lack of fiscal responsibility, I couldn't help but think that if we took the name "Bush" and replaced it with "Obama" that the words would ring just as true. Lincoln was the first "tax and spender". He instituted the first federal tax during the Civil War but actually spent relatively prudently.
In the best part of the book, Cuomo examines Lincoln's use of executive privilege in suppressing civil liberties during the Civil War and compares it to the Patriot Act of today. The debate was well thought out and even though the ultimate conclusion was predictable, Lincoln was right, Bush was wrong) it was still an interesting and thought provoking.
This was my first Presidential book that looked at a President outside of the traditional convention of Presidential books. This book focused on the philosophy of a President as opposed to a snapshot of a President's life. The premise was great but the application was extremely disappointing. This book could have been written by Ann Coulter or Al Franken and it would have taken the same bent of manipulating a great American figure for the partisan rancor that most Americans abhor.
SOURCE: Half Price Book Store, Dallas, TX courtesy of Trula Skaggs
UP NEXT: IMPEACHED: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln's Legacy by David O Stewart
Saturday, February 20, 2010
AUTHOR: Peggy Noonan
As a matter of full disclosure, I need to tell everyone that I voted for Ronald Reagan, twice. The first time as a high school senior at Herculaneum High School. I contacted Eleanor Rehm's office, the county clerk, and told her that was going to be 18 the week before the election and asked if I could register early even though I was only 17. She assured me that I could and so I proudly cast my vote for Ronald Reagan, much to the chagrin of my staunchly Democratic father.
The second time was in 1984, as an Airmen First Class in Ft Worth, Texas. Admittedly not as excited to vote this time mainly because Fritz Mondale was such a sorry candidate, good person, but was a sacrifical lamb in the election. Plus, President Reagan was building up the military at that time.
This prject is so much easier when I have the opportunity to read a book from an author that knows the President and has great affection for him. Noonan's emotions clearly come out in the text and it just makes it a more enjoyable read or maybe the Carter book was so full of vitrol that it left a bad taste in my mouth.
Now this book is far from non-partisan. Noonan speaks glowingly of Rush Limbaugh and devotes an entire chapter to the newly elected George W Bush but that is understandable to some degree.
Ronald Reagan was born poor to an alcoholic father and religious mother. He could hardly see until age 12, when by sheer happenstance he found out he needed glasses. He went to Eureka College because his girlfriend went there and he loved the campus. Reagan was not born into priviledge, his family was not a pillar of the comunity. The Reagan family struggled. Since he was an Ovy Leaguer, I am sure that was part of the anti-Reagan rancor fromthe Washington establishment.
Reagan's rise to politics was unorthodox to say the least. He started in radio in the Midwest and moved to California where he landed in the motion picture industry. What makes this part of the story so interesting is that he became President of the Screen Actors Guild, (the Actors Union) at a time when the studios where still ran by the Samuel Goldyns and Louis Mayers still ran the show. Their negotiating style influenced Reagan throughout his life in politics. Give a little, never back anyone in a corner, and stay true to your convictions.
It was also during this time that Hollywood was indeed infiltrated with a Socialist Movement. Althought the House on Un-American Activity Committee went totally overboard, this was a true threat in the industry. Reagan stood up against that and become a conservative voice in a liberal area.
As Reagan's motion picture career waned, he host a television program sponsored by General Electric. Part of the deal was that he had to tour GE plants throughout the country. It was there that he honed his political message and the crowds were very receptive.
Reagan ran for governor in Californina and was elected for two terms. He stayed true to his economic message and converative themes. This lead to a launching of his failed bid for President in 1976 against Gerald Ford, the incumbent.
The latter part of the book focuses on Reagan's Presidency and his relationship with Nancy Reagan his second wife. He had children but they were not part of his life in an intimate way. He cared for them, loved them, but his relationship with his wife was paramount.
Reagan was a visionary that hired good people to carry out that vision. FDR was very similiar in that respect. It seems that great Presidents come in with a vision and allow others to carry out that vision. Mistakes are made but sucesses are realized as well.
Reagan never lost his touch with the average American and this revealed time and again in the book. His love of his ranch, his relationship with the Almighty, and how events affected him personally are all demonstrated throughout.
My favorite parts of the book were about the assassination attempt and how Peggy Noonan frames it. It was really fascinating. I still remember where I was when it happen. I came home from school and my Mom met me at the door and told me that President had been shot. We sat together and watched and waited, hoping that the first President I ever voted for was still alive. The first President my Mother had voted for, had been shot as well, but John Kennedy did not make it.
His relationship with the fall of the Soviet Union made for great reading. One interesting footnote is that Reagan dealt with four different Soviet premier's while in office. People younger than me have no idea what the threat of nuclear war with the East was and how if effected everything we did, we learned, we read. Under Reagan's watch it is now just a footnote in history.
RECOMMENDATION: I think this may have been my favorite book so far. I could have written twice as much as I did, the anecdotes were that good and the man so interesting. I would not call him an intellect but I would call him a great visionary. Whether you are a Republican or Democrat, it is a quick and enjoyable read.
SOURCE: Half Price Book Store, Dallas, TX courtesy of Trula Skaggs
UP NEXT: Why Lincoln Matters by Mario M. Cuomo
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Author: Joe Klein
NOTE: I had planned on reading When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan as my next book but left it at work over the weekend. As a result I read this book by Bill Clinton. The Reagan book will be next
This is the first book I have read in my US Presidents series where I can remember many of the details of the presidency in a first person account. Bill Clinton WAS the 1990’s and his influence and scandal are part of my memories of that period. To his credit, Klein does not dwell on the tawdry scandals of the Clinton presidency, but does reveal how the White House staff reacted to the challenges of the period.
In a matter of full disclosure I did vote for Bill Clinton and admire his skills as a politician. Klein does an excellent job of revealing the good and bad of Clinton and his staff. The old adage of “peeking behind the curtain” certainly resonates in this book.
Clinton came into office with one of the most disorganized staffs and vision of any modern day presidents. By bringing in the Arkansas cronies, he did show he did not want to be part of the beltway establishment but it hindered him in developing the relationships and nuances needed to get things done in Washington. Klein reveals that many times the White looked like a frat house full of old pizza boxes from the all night sessions of the young staff.
He did not rectify this in any way until he brought in David Gergen to gain some kind of order but that was met with territorial hostility from the First Lady and George Stephanopoulos. Like many administrations, there were many territorial people.
Clinton’s Presidency was strong domestically but extremely weak in foreign policy. The mantra of James Carville, “It’s the economy stupid”, carried over in the oval office. Warren Christopher was characterized as being in over his head on foreign policy and Clinton’s focus was not on what was going on abroad until he was made to react, i.e. Bosnia, USS Cole.
Clinton is referred to as a “Third Way” President. He is not a traditional liberal Democrat and not a conservative Republican; he was taking a completely different path from the regular party line, which allowed him success on many different issues. Welfare Reform was on example of that. Not a Democratic issue but one he was behind. You can Barack Obama attempting that same path today.
Klein has great insight in the rise and fall of Newt Gingrich. Gingrich looked at a moderate as an enemy regardless of party. This attitude continues today and working across the aisle was and still is considered a sign of weakness. Gingrich was brash and extremely intelligent but looked at government through ideological glasses and not practical ones. It can be argued that Clinton’s successful programs came as about as a result of having to work with a GOP congress and that is a valid assessment. Gingrich was certainly instrumental in the Clinton administration.
Finally, the Lewinsky affair was detailed. The White House staff was angry with Clinton for doing something so silly that caused such great damage to his legacy. Up until that point Kenneth Starr had turned up nothing of magnitude on Clinton and this incident gave him a gift-wrapped package.
The books end with a great line that I will quote: “He (Clinton) may be remembe4red as the President who served before history resumed its contentious dance, before life got serious again.”
This was a fast quick read and extremely enjoyable. Klein gives you just enough so that you can understand yet does not bog us down in excruciating detail that many Presidential historians tend to do. This book makes me want to read more about Bill Clinton and that is precisely the point.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
AUTHOR: Thomas M. Defrank
After reading the Carter book this was certainly a welcomed change of pace. There is no doubt that DeFrank really like Gerald Ford as a person and it was refreshing to see that a member of the press and an ex-President could have a professional amicable relationship. As a result I flew through this book and found some extremely interesting items about our 38th Presidents.
- Ford was adopted. His mother left his father in Omaha, Nebraska and married his step father, Gerald Ford, in Michigan. The senior Ford adopted Leslie Lynch King Jr and he became Gerald R Ford Jr.
- I knid of knew this but Ford but was an outstanding athlete at the University of Michigan and played football there. He was an avid swimmer, loved to play golf and tennis, and an adroit skier. The Chevy Chase skits on Saturday Night Live were funny but not accurate.
- Ford dated a Comso cover girl while he was at Yale for three years. She would not marry him because he was determined to go back to Grand Rapids, MI after college.
- Betty Ford was married before she married Geral R Ford.
- Ford was the first president to monetarily gain from his stature on the corporate speaking circuit. He redefined how Presidents conducted business after their time in office.
- Alan Greenspan, Dick Chaney, and Donald Rumsfield all served under Ford.
- Ford grew to like Jimmy Carter.
- Ford did not like Ronald Reagan but showed great compassion to Nancy Reagan when he found out about his alzheimers.
- Liked Bill Clinton but noticed his "wandering eye" very early on.
- He was a big fan of George H. W. Bush.
- Ford has a building named after him at the University of Michigan and he loved the college so much he had the Michigan fight song played at his funeral.
By this account, Ford was a loyal Republican, but more importantly a loyal friend. People genuinely liked Ford and appreciated how he maintained his composure during the post-Watergate years. Although villified at the time for pardoning Nixon, history later validates his decision. It was political suicide though. After barely staving off Ronald Reagan for the GOP nomination in 1976 he lost a close election to Jimmy Carter. Most people agree that is was due to this ill fated decision.
Ford loved to travel and as vice president travelled extensively with his press corp and developed a great relationship with many of them that lasted a lifetime. One of those early members was DeFrank.
This was a great book to choose after the slash and burn read of Victor Lasky on Jimmy Carter. I remember Ford and many things about his time as President but only through a young adolescents eyes. His relationship with people is but a distant memory in our media soaked world of today.
RECOMMENDATION: Write It While I am Gone is an excellent read with great personal stories from the author. I truly enjoyed the book and gained a great appreciation for a man who look at politics as a true calling that could be civil even when we disagree. We could learn that lesson in today's political arena.
SOURCE: Borrowed the book from Bob Keeling, English Professor (soon to emeritus) Hancock Place High School, St Louis, Missouri.
NEXT UP: When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan by Peggy Noonan
Saturday, February 6, 2010
Author: Victor Lasky
Sometimes when I read a book, I finish and just feel a little dirty. This is one of those books. While never a Jimmy Carter fan, I at least want to be objective as I read a book. Lasky has no such feeling.
The first line of the book says it all "He is, undoubtably, the most amazing man ever to become President of the United States. And he is, undoubtably, one of the more inept." For the next 400 pages, Lasky proceeds to recite nary a good thing about "Jimmah". At least he was consistent.
The book reads like a gilted lover's blog. Carter lied about this, talked out of both sides of his mouth about that, used politics to feed his ambition. Really now! A politician that placated the populous and used another party's poor luck and self inflicted wound (Watergate) for his own personal gain.
He then proceeds to talk about how the press villified Nixon but gave Carter a free pass even though his exploits were equally criminal. Jimmy used the press to step on everyone from George Wallace to Tip O'Neil. That excuse seems even more lame and tired after hearing it in a 24 hour news cycle.
The most compelling reading had little to do with Carter at all but more to do with the backlash of Jim Crow reform had on the South in the late sixties and early seventies. Cater took full advantage of that as one of the "New Southern Politicians". This part of the book is fascinating in how it depicts the fence-straddling Southerners of national ambition had to walk in order to stay loyal to the visons of the old South. Yet they had to conform to the laws passed down by a legislative body that did not have to live quite so close to the decisions it just made. The 1970's may have been an even tougher time for the South than the 1960's in many respects.
In retrospect, I would have been better off choosing a book about Carter's Presidency itself. I would like to have know more about the Energy Crisis, the Iran Hostage Situation, how his administration delt with inflation, etc. Since I do remember some of that, I would have liked a book with more meat.
RECOMMENDATION: The Man and the Myth does bring some interesting facets of Jimmy Carter too light. Only it does so like a Sean Hannity diatribe on a cable news network.
SOURCE: Half Price Book Store, Dallas, Texas (Courtesy of Trula Skaggs)
NEXT UP: Write It When I'm Gone: Remarkable Off-The-Record Conversations with Gerald R Ford.