Book reviews

Couple book reviews of what I read today.

Barone has an interesting life story: super-elite educated (Harvard, Yale Law), he was once a Democratic political consultant and still publishes the bible of all political junkies, the Almanac of American Politics. He's become one of the nation's leading public intellectual, and has slowly drifted from liberal to conservative. He writes for USNews, where he has BaroneBlog. [FYI to Barone -- in this recent post, you should've referred to Ben Barnes as Lieutenant Governor, I think. A mistake uncharacteristic of you, sir.]

The thesis of Hard America, Soft America is that educated elites have been turned off by the hardness of becoming elite and successful, and thus became fans of softness which attempts to cool the ardor of a dynamic society. He posits that this led to the malaise of the 60s and 70s, only to be changed by the re-hardening of America in the 80s and 90s. While this in some ways autobiographically reflects his own political shift, it's a relatively unique critique of recent American political history.

Barone is probably the pundit I most respect in Washington, so it's no surprise that I largely agree with him, though I wonder how his book has been received by those who haven't shared his right-shifting politics. But it's a serious study, and should be read by liberals who want an educated, dispassionate view of how much of the right views politics today.

Conversely, The Good Fight is a book the right should read to inform themselves of how the left views national security and the use of American influence, particularly as ultimately expressed in military force.

But Beinart's target audience is ultimately his fellow liberals. His thesis is that liberals have a cohesive national security position, and he attempts to explicate by weaving a story throughout the last half of the century (much like Barone, except that he focuses on foreign affairs and not domestic). He starts by telling how there was once a serious split in the left on fighting communism, but that ultimately Americans for Democratic Action (who knew the ADA was once a serious political organization, and not just people who want to Bork any Republican judicial nominee?) won the battle and fought communism. After his interpretation of 50 years of foreign policy, he brings us into his view of Iraq, but also how American hegemony ought be constrained today in multilateral organizations.

It's a valuable book, and appears largely to have been dismissed by the left's grassroots (at least as expressed in the blogosphere), which astounds me. I disagreed frequently, and thought he rather blithely dismissed some inconvenient history, but it's a well-expressed view that's provoking to those who disagree. It's also part of what a smart Democratic presidential candidate would adopt as a national security platform.

A classic in encouraging creativity, and deservedly so.

Posted by Evan @ 08/31/06 12:38 AM


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