Political Books

President Clinton on President Grant

Bill Clinton reviews Grant by Ron Chernow for the New York Times:

Chernow shows a fine balance in exposing Grant’s flaws and missteps as president, and the ill-fated turn that Reconstruction took after a promising start, while making it clear that Grant’s contributions after Appomattox were as consequential to the survival of our democracy as any that came before. As Americans continue the struggle to defend justice and equality in our tumultuous and divisive era, we need to know what Grant did when our country’s very existence hung in the balance. If we still believe in forming a more perfect union, his steady and courageous example is more valuable than ever.

Are Those My Words Coming Out of Bannon’s Mouth?

Thomas Frank: “There’s was a moment in Steve Bannon’s recent 60 Minutes interview when the former presidential advisor was asked what he’s done to drain ‘the swamp,’ the Trumpists’ favorite metaphor for everything they hate about Washington DC. Here was Bannon’s reply: ‘The swamp is 50 years in the making. Let’s talk about the swamp. The swamp is a business model. It’s a successful business model. It’s a donor, consultant, K Street lobbyist, politician … 7 of the 9 wealthiest counties in America ring Washington, DC.'”

“With a shock of recognition I knew immediately what Bannon meant, because what he was talking about was the subject matter of my 2008 book, The Wrecking Crew – the interconnected eco-system of corruption that makes Washington, DC so rich.”

“My critique of Washington was distinctly from the left, and it astonished me to hear something very close to my argument coming from the mouth of one of the nation’s most prominent conservatives. But in fact, Bannon has a long history of reaching out to the left – you might say, of swiping its populist language and hijacking its causes.”

‘What Happened’ for Conservatives

The Washington Post says How the Right Lost Its Mind by Charlie Sykes “is a sort of What Happened for conservatives.”

“The culprits are not James Comey, Vladi­mir Putin or a reality television  opponent, but the return of ‘crackpotism’ on the right; the fecklessness of conservative media, political and religious figures; and the rise of a distorted worldview in which Trump’s overwhelming character flaws mattered little to a base that behaved as though civilization was in play in his election.”

“It is a sanitized image of conservatism, no doubt, but Sykes seems heartfelt in his lament. The insanity he purports to chronicle — on the book cover, the title is stitched across a red baseball cap — did not begin in 2016 or 2015, or even during this young millennium. Sykes reminisces about the mid-20th century, when his hero, William F. Buckley Jr., was casting out Birchers and Ayn Rand devotees from the conservative movement… But today’s conservatives have failed to do the same.”


Out today: Overload: Finding the Truth in Today’s Deluge of News by Bob Schieffer.

Schieffer explained the book’s premise on Face the Nation:

“We’ve never been through anything like this probably since the invention of the printing press. You know we talk about the invention of the printing press — how it improved literacy, it caused the reformation, the counter-reformation — but there was also 30 years of religious wars that followed the printing press and it took about three decades for the world to reach equilibrium. We’re at the very beginning of what’s going on now in this digital age that’s taken the place of print. It’s affected nothing more than the way we get the news.”

That Was the Authentic Hillary Clinton

Jeff Greenfield: “All through her public life, Clinton has been hobbled by the label ‘inauthentic.’ Her changing hairstyles, her choice of baseball teams, her circle-the-wagons approach to the press—they’ve all felt, to the public, like symptoms of the lack of a core…”

“Her book suggests, though, that the person we’ve seen over the past quarter-century, and the person we watched seek the presidency twice, is the authentic Hillary. In fact, to judge by her book, she may have been the most authentic person in the race. The lengthy analysis of why voters behaved as they did, the detailed accounts of the programs she intended to pursue as president, the ways in which racism and misogyny played out in blatant and subtle forms, all paint the picture of a very smart, deeply engaged self-described ‘policy wonk,’ who is consumed by the need to conquer problems with an army of data-driven policies, and whose instinctive resistance to visionary politics proved to be one of her biggest handicaps in her (presumably) last run.”

“And if she seemed out of touch and unable to connect to voters in a changed America—unable to understand why a significant majority of voters saw her as untrustworthy—well, in a sense, What Happened suggests that that was ‘authentic’ too, the flaw of a person who still retains blind spots in trying to understand the limits of her appeal.”

Shkreli Jailed As Threat to Clinton

“Martin Shkreli, the former pharmaceutical executive who is awaiting sentencing for a fraud conviction, was sent to jail on Wednesday after a federal judge found that he presented a threat to the community because he had offered money for a strand of Hillary Clinton’s hair,” the New York Times reports.

“Mr. Shkreli, who was free on $5 million bail while he awaited sentencing, offered $5,000 on Facebook to anyone who could ‘grab a hair’ from Mrs. Clinton during her book tour.”

New York Times Reporters Get Deal for Trump Book

Vanity Fair: “The announcement that New York Times White House correspondents Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush have agreed to do a Trump book for Random House… was both bombshell journalism news and something of a foregone conclusion. Haberman and Thrush, two veterans of the New York tabloid world who both worked at Politico before joining the Times, have been the foremost chroniclers of the West Wing reality show. Haberman, in particular, is enviably sourced, and has a bond with the president himself that’s frayed at times but not broken. Thrush, wearer of a signature fedora, was parodied on Saturday Night Live by Bobby Moynihan. They are two of the essential stars of the Trump administration.”

“Random House only acquired the book… within the past two weeks, a person with direct knowledge of the matter told me. During the process, Haberman and Thrush have quietly looped in a small circle of Times and White House insiders, sources said, and are still ironing out the details, such as if and when they’ll take book leave and whether their potential leaves would coincide. Word about the advance is being closely held—but political books by similarly placed reporters have earned advances into the millions.”

Quote of the Day

“Before I know what’s happening, his hands are on my shoulders and his lips are on my cheek. My eyes widen. My body freezes. My heart stops. Fuck. I hope the cameras didn’t see that. My bosses are never going to take me seriously.”

— Katy Tur, writing in Unbelievable: My Front Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History, recounting when Donald Trump tried to kiss her on the set of “Morning Joe.”

Out of Touch

Thomas Frank reviews Hillary Clinton’s What Happened:

That Clinton might have done well to temper her technocratic style with some populist outrage of her own only dawns on her towards the end of the book, by which point it is too late.

Not to mention impossible. Hillary Clinton simply cannot escape her satisfied white-collar worldview – compulsively listing people’s academic credentials, hobnobbing with officers from Facebook and Google, and telling readers how she went to Davos in 1998 to announce her philosophy.

And then, in her concluding chapter, returning to her beloved alma mater Wellesley College and informing graduates of that prestigious institution that, with their “capacity for critical thinking” (among other things) they were “precisely what we needed in America in 2017.”

I wish it were so. I wish that another crop of elite college grads were what we needed. I wish Hillary’s experts and her enlightened capitalist friends could step in and fix this shabby America we inhabit today, where racists march in the streets and the Midwest falls apart and cops shoot motorists for no reason and a blustering groper inhabits the White House.

I wish it were all a matter of having a checklist of think-tank approved policy solutions. But I know for sure it isn’t. And voters knew that, too.

Trump Slams Authors Who Write About Him

President Trump lashed out at authors who write about him, posting on Twitter that their books and articles amount to “fake news” because “they know nothing about me,” Politico reports.

“Trump did not make clear which authors, books or articles he was referring to, although he has been a regular critic of the news media, which he has often complained covers him unfairly. The president’s tweet coincided with the release of two prominent books related to the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton’s campaign memoir, entitled What Happened, and NBC political reporter Katy Tur’s Unbelievable: My Front Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History.”