Review of American Pharaoh: Mayor Richard J Daley

American Pharaoh: Mayor Richard J. Daley - His Battle for Chicago and the NationAmerican Pharaoh: Mayor Richard J. Daley – His Battle for Chicago and the Nation by Adam Cohen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A masterpiece that not only serves as a biography of Richard Daley, but shows us how the City of Chicago came to be what it is today. There have been some serious power brokers that have served as Mayors in America, but Richard Daley, in terms of acquiring and holding power, must rank at the top of that group. The book is detailed, but for those looking to see how municipal government works this might not be the book for you. In Chicago if Daley wanted it done it was done. Not a lot of grass roots organizing involved in getting decisions made and executed. The book properly focuses on how Daley’s perch as Chair of the Cook County Democratic machine was just as valuable to him, in many respects, as the Mayors job, allowing him to exert control not only in Chicago, but across the entire State of Illinois. The Democratic Convention of 1968 is covered very well, and is a history that many of us are familiar with. What I learned beyond my prior understanding was how official and conscious government acts by Daley contributed to the segregated housing landscape that existed in Chicago at that time. He molded the City, and his vision did not include integration of housing. Daley, due to these policies, had to try to face down Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who came to Chicago to bring the civil rights movement to the urban north. Daley did not choose to overtly resist, but chose tactics that obfuscated his goals, promised progress, but delivered little.

A fascinating book that should be read by all those interested in the acquiring and holding of power. Daley, from that perspective and on a smaller scale, rivaled LBJ as a power politician. The book honestly depicts some of the awful things he did, but does its best to give Daley some credit where it might have been due. Having just read the Tom Menino book I think it could be fairly said that Daley predated Menino in putting forward malapropisms. A couple of great ones: “Gentlemen, get this thing straight once and for all. The policeman isn’t there to create disorder. The policeman is there to preserve disorder.”
“Today the real problem is the future.”

This book is highly recommended.

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Review: China 1945: Mao’s Revolution and America’s Fateful Choice

China 1945: Mao's Revolution and America's Fateful ChoiceChina 1945: Mao’s Revolution and America’s Fateful Choice by Richard Bernstein

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A scholarly look at the U.S. policies in China prior to the ultimate takeover by the Chinese Communist Party. The old political battle about “who lost China” brought much chaos and fear into U.S. policy making in the years after the success of Mao. Bernstein covers the foibles of U.S. policy in China, but does so without attempting to push forward a political agenda on the “Who lost China” question. He actually writes a book that manages to look at facts objectively, a rarity in today’s world of ideological polemics. This approach has Bernstein frankly pointing to the ridiculous policies brought by FDR Ambassador Patrick Hurley, who became known for arriving on a scene and emitting a loud Choctaw war whoop, including once when he arrived to meet Mao. Hurley can be considered to be the father of the position that “disloyal” State Department China hands caused Chiang Kai-shek to lose the Chinese civil war. Hurley being over his head, and his inherent limitations, are pointed out forcefully. But Bernstein does not give a free ride to those very same China hands, pointing out that while there may have been a bit more substance to their positions (vis a vis Hurley) ultimately they were, to a large degree, taken in by Mao. “In subsequent years, many of the China analysts admitted that the view they had of this matter during the war was tinged with more than a bit of wishful thinking. “I obviously underestimated the commitment of the Chinese Communist ruling party at that time to ideology and the dexterity with which Mao and company manipulated it,” Davies was to write. “As I see it now, in the clear light of hindsight,” David Barrett confessed in 1969, when Mao’s China was engulfed in the vast purge known as the Cultural Revolution, shouting venomous epithets at the United States, “the mistake I made in 1944 was in not considering the Chinese Communists as enemies of the United States.”
The complexity of decisions, with the U.S. looking first to defeat the Japanese and not at the postwar ramifications for China, are laid out in clear and understandable terms. Bernstein lays out what I consider to be larger truths that extend beyond U.S. policy making in China during this period. We will see some of the same mistakes in later years, in Indo-China and elsewhere.
“Drumright’s stance was typical of much policy thinking in the American government then and later. The power realities of a situation, even when understood, tended to be subordinated to what “ought to be done,” what should be done because of precedents, commitments, moral compulsions, sentiment, and that great catchall, “national security.” The factor of cost of a policy was thus often slighted.”
Yes he most certainly is very perceptive in that observation. Bernstein also gives us a fair and balanced view of Chiang Kai-shek, pointing to his personal weaknesses, but also correctly highlighting the systemic limitations that Chiang operated under. For Chiang had to make decisions that, in the longer term, doomed his ultimate chances of survival, but in the shorter term were unavoidable. Bernstein is hard-headed and realistic in his evaluation of Chairman Mao, always offering a glimpse at the alternatives available, but ultimately judging him to be both a hard core revolutionary and committed acolyte of Josef Stalin. He looks at the Yalta Agreement, and points out how Stalin used the U.S. desire to have him enter the war against Japan to secure Manchuria, and tilt the ultimate balance of forces in favor of Mao, and against Chiang.
A book that is worth a read for those folks looking for a factually based evaluation of U.S. policy that actually looks at both sides of an argument, a rarity in this day and age. Bernstein has done an outstanding job.

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Review of Tom Menino’s Mayor for a New America

Mayor for a New AmericaMayor for a New America by Thomas Menino

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A good book that is surprisingly candid in many areas. Tom Menino was a true Mayor, and has left us a book with interesting stories, and some sound advice for those looking to become a Mayor, or for those who are already serving. I enjoyed very much his candor, including his thoughts on the real way he exercised political control, his answer to those who said he was a micro-manager, and the standards he expected from those that worked for him. His explanation of how he would (and did) have no qualms about cashiering a BRA Director who actually believed that the position was “independent” of the Mayor was priceless. His thoughts on incrementalism, and that change cannot get too far out in front of your constituency, were valuable as well. The Mayor was not afraid to put some wood on those that he felt deserved it, including John Kerry, who he shredded.

Mayor Menino served for so long because of his fundamental understanding of what it is that the citizens of Boston are looking for from local government. His critics claimed he had a “lack of vision”, but I submit that he knew what kind of change was truly possible, and what the people of Boston really thought was important. Unlike those broad brush “visionaries” who could not manage a three car parade Tom Menino kept Boston financially sound, and grew it to be a world class City. Like all of us he was not perfect, but on balance I think history will show him to have been a remarkable leader, and a Mayor for a New America.

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Nixonland- Master of Division.

Nixonland: America's Second Civil War and the Divisive Legacy of Richard Nixon 1965-72Nixonland: America’s Second Civil War and the Divisive Legacy of Richard Nixon 1965-72 by Rick Perlstein

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Perlstein brings us back to Nixonland, and it is not a pretty picture. I had read the earlier book “Before the Storm” by Perlstein, and “Nixonland” brings us from Goldwater to Nixon, positing that Nixon planted the seeds that grew into the current huge divide in American political life. Perlstein had shown us the the rise of the right wing dominance of GOP politics in “Before the Storm”and the comfort that the American left took in the drubbing of Barry Goldwater by LBJ in 1964. Despite Perlstein coming from the left he shows how that “comfort” on the left after the LBJ landslide masked the deep divide that was about to become evident in American political life. And Perlstein is not afraid to show how the left so badly misunderstood some of the currents running through the country that brought us the Presidency of Richard Nixon.

This book is not a biography of Richard Nixon but rather a snapshot of a crazy time in American life and politics. It is very detailed, and covers lots of ground. We see how Richard Nixon began his comeback from the political abyss, doing the nitty gritty of hard work in the 1966 mid-terms, traveling the country for the GOP, and being in a position to take some credit (and gather some chits) for a gain of 47 Republican seats in the House, and 3 in the US Senate. Perlstein shows how the Republicans (and Nixon in particular) came to exploit the deep divide over Vietnam as well as the fears and prejudices of race in America. Race divisions are a large part of this book, and I think Perlstein is on mark there. I have read some reviews of the book that claim Perlstein has overstated the impact of this era and Nixon on our current divisions. On race I would have to disagree with that assessment. With the Democratic Party embracing Civil Rights, and Democratic majorities (driven by LBJ and the Movement itself) in Congress enacting major legislation and leaving behind its segregationist (racist) wing Nixon and the GOP saw opportunity and votes in the South, which brought us the Nixon “Southern Strategy”, frankly embracing the racist element and trying to dress it up as a “states right” movement. That determination by Nixon and the GOP drove African-Americans to the Democratic Party, and has led to a GOP dominance with white voters, especially white males. I would have to say that Perlstein has that part of Nixon’s legacy exactly right.

Perlstein does have plenty of criticism of the left as well. We see how the outrages of 1968, where Hubert Humphrey won the Democratic nomination without winning a primary, led to the reforms of 1972, which badly split the Democratic Party. Perlstein shows Nixon (“the Master”) not only ruthlessly exploiting these divisions but through a myriad of dirty tricks helping to create them. (Yes we get another look at Donald Segretti and Dwight Chapin). We get another look at the Democratic Convention of 1968 in Chicago, and how the Yippies and assorted other youth groups created street chaos, and how that chaos was exploited by Nixon. That street violence and the divide between police and demonstrators brought the type of divisions we are seeing today, with Nixon appealing to the “Silent Majority” against “scrubby and dirty” demonstrators.”And let me also say, ladies and gentlemen, I can assure them that they are a very loud minority in this country, but they are a minority, and it’s time for the majority to stand up and be counted.” Nixon, responding to demonstrators at a campaign stop. Seems to have some applicability today.

Watergate of course leads us to the end of Nixon’s Presidency, but for me the biggest indictment Perlstein makes is relative to Nixon’s conduct (as a candidate) in undercutting the LBJ opportunity to make gains in peace talks with North Vietnam, and the utter mess that became Nixon’s Vietnam policy (as President), colored by cynical political calculation and a willingness to be absolutely brutal in his conduct of the war.

I must concur with the evaluation of Richard Nixon, love him or hate him, as one of the most influential Presidents of the 20th Century. This book does not paint RMN in a very positive light, but I think it hits the mark much of the time. On “the more things change the more they stay the same” front Perlstein highlights a Nixon ad attacking the George McGovern proposal for a guaranteed income for every American: “According to an analysis by the Senate Finance Committee, the McGovern bill would make forty-seven percent of the people in the United States eligible for welfare.’ Slowly, angrily:’Forty-seven percent. Almost every other person in the country would be on welfare. The camera moves on the bustling, blaring street below- the 53 percent.” Maybe Mitt Romney read the book. The GOP playbook still has many pages written by “The Master”, Richard M. Nixon.

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First Aid Kit- Music from Krugman????

Much to the chagrin of my more conservative friends I not only read Paul Krugman’s New York Times column but his blog as well. Krugman, on his blog, highlights some musical selections that he enjoys on Friday nights. I must say that one of those musical selections, from a group called “First Aid Kit”, piqued my interest. When listening to some radio over the holiday I heard them again, and I am hooked. A Swedish folk duo consisting of two sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg, the music is entrancing. So will I now be accused of having socialistic musical tastes? Enjoy the music!

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