Here's three really good reads -- a book, a magazine, and a blog post. Hey, it's August -- bring 'em to the beach (well, maybe not the blog post)!
1) Read this book -- I haven't yet but I hope to. It's called "The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism," by Andrew Bacevich. The author is an interesting character: A West Point graduate and Vietnam vet who is currently a professor of international relations at Boston University, the self-described "Catholic conservative" has become a leading critic of Bush foreign policy -- and that was before his own son, an Army lieutenant, was killed by a suicide bomber in Samarra in iraq in May 2007.
His newest book sounds spot-on, based on this excerpted quote that I read over the weekend:
If one were to choose a single word to characterize [what it means to be a 21st-century American], it would have to be more. For the majority of contemporary Americans, the essence of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness centers on a relentless personal quest to acquire, to consume, to indulge, and to shed whatever constraints might interfere with those endeavors.
You know, that quote could conceivably be used in a book about Ronald Reagan.
2) James Fallows is one of the best writers around, and has been for about 30 years. His recent work has been heavily focused on China, but now he's back in the Atlantic to tackle the presidential debates of 2008, past and present, with that modern rarity, an intelligent piece on American politics. Here's an excerpt:
Raise your hand if you’ve owned a gun. Raise your hand if you “believe there is such a thing as a global war on terror.” Raise your hand if you support Representative Dennis Kucinich’s plan to impeach Dick Cheney. On the merits, these were not really ideal yes/no questions—especially the most important of them, about the war on terror, in which the only things that matter are the reasoning and plans that would come after the yes or the no. But the amazing part of this process was the sheer indignity of it. All eight of these people had been public officials. Odds were that one among them would be the next president of the United States. Yet they compliantly held up their hands like grade-schoolers or contestants on Fear Factor. While candidates are subjected to almost everything during a long primary season and are used to skepticism and outright hostility from the press, serving as game-show props represented something new.
There's a lot of good stuff here, including a surprisingly clear-eyed look at the work of the late Tim Russert.
3) This is actually a blog post promoting a book, so there you go. But Robert Kuttner also has the best advice for Obama -- and God knows he needs some -- that I've seen so far:
The new president will need to inspire the American people to demand enactment of bolder measures than either the Congress or Obama himself currently think necessary or possible. As historian Doris Kearns Goodwin observes, all of the great presidents used their leadership first to transform the public understanding of national challenges and then to break through impasses made up of Congressional blockage, interest-group power, and conventional wisdom. In different ways, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson found allies, respectively, in the abolitionist movement, the labor movement, the civil rights movement, as well as the press and the general public. Each president grew immensely in office. Each changed the national mood, then the direction of national policy.
They did not do so by being "post-partisan," or centrist, but by taking huge political risks on behalf of principles that the people came to deeply respect. Often they enlisted some members of the opposition party in their cause, thereby splitting the opposition--but not by splitting the difference. Yet they also functioned as great unifiers.
Can a President Obama be bold? Doesn't look that way but, like the New York lottery says, hey, ya never know.