Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Best Modern History Primer

I have an old, well-worn modern history book that rests in the center console of my Honda van.  Half of the cover is now missing and every page is dog-eared.  The poor condition of the book is not because I have so little respect for it, but because the book is opened and read often.  When I'm stuck somewhere in a waiting line, or waiting for someone to arrive at the airport, I open this book to any random page and find something interesting to learn.

Written by Pulitzer Prize winner, and liberal Democrat, Theodore H. White, the book is entitled America In Search of Itself -The Making of The Presidency, 1956-1980.  I picked this copy from the shelf at a used book store.  I had previously read all of Teddy White's "The Making Of A President" series and found him to be easy to read and a true marvel at distilling the essential issues of a particular era.

This White book is far more valuable in explaining the history of the last half century than its title would indicate.  While White does dissect the national issues that brought down Jimmy Carter after one term, and why America was more than ready for the ascension of a Ronald Reagan, the real "nuggets" are found in White's reportage of how Lyndon Johnson's Great Society Programs impacted literally all three of our governing branches; the rise of an overactive and dictatorial liberal court system,  an Executive branch gone awry by Chief Executives bearing some serious personality disorders, and the flowering of a Congress that never met a new law they didn't like.

And keep in mind, Theodore H. White was a Kennedy Democrat, a historian that embraced the big government of a Franklin D. Roosevelt!  And yet, White offers objective and honest reporting about how Johnson's Great Society programs would greatly increase a federal government bureaucracy that would begin crippling Washington's ability to govern, how the ballooning budget expenditures would eventually force Richard Nixon to take America off the gold standard, and pinpoints the exact moment when America's role as the world's only economic superpower began to diminish.

America In Search of Itself was written in 1982.  As we look today at how crippling and inefficient the federal government has become, the reader of this book can appreciate just how perceptive Mr. White was in identifying the root causes of the current bureaucratic mess.

The real value of White's book is this:  for nearly half a century I've been actively involved in following national issues.  I've read a daily newspaper, a weekly newsmagazine, read histories of my era, and have actively followed the political issues necessary for making informed voting decisions.  But it is all too easy to allow the daily and weekly and yearly evolution of national political issues to meld together so readily that they become undecipherable.  We forget how we got into our current mess.

White provides a compendium of all the forces that worked together to bring us where we are today.  It is an outstanding "go to" guide for understanding our budget messes (go to page 160 and read about how the first spark of real inflation began to take us down), the evolution of judicial activism that is present in all facets of our lives today,  and how Presidential decisions made 50 years ago are impacting the lives of Americans today.

An honest effort by a noted liberal historian; this is a book that will never be read by a Harry Reid or a Nancy Pelosi, or our current Chief Executive.  It would keep them up at night.

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