Dwight D. Eisenhower

If Obama wins in November, we will have the first run of three consecutive presidents who've won re-election since the early 1800s.

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The fateful marriage between TV advertising and presidential politics that was consecrated 60 years ago with a crudely drawn black-and-white cartoon endorsing Dwight D. Eisenhower—the amateurish off-screen musical narration: “You like Ike. I like Ike. Everyone likes Ike for president”—will culminate this year in an estimated $1-billion-plus orgy spent trying to define the Obama-Romney race.

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Eisenhower in War and Peace By Jean Edward Smith (Random House, 950 pp., $40) The histories we write say as much about our own times as about those we study. The current polarization in Washington has prompted a nostalgia for parties that were less ideologically uniform and more prone to compromise. Fashionable “pragmatism” has similarly infected thinking about foreign policy, as the fallout from the Iraq war lingers in the air a decade on.

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Against Common Sense

Conservatives would have us believe that they hold a monopoly on common sense. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, and many other right-wing rabble-rousers regularly portray themselves as defenders of the good, old-fashioned common sense of average Americans against an out-of-touch liberal elite.

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On the advice of my physician, I do not watch or listen to Glenn Beck, preferring to follow his exploits via the serial bouts of hysteria he inspires in his fans. So it was news to me to learn that he spends a lot of time hawking the works of the late W.

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Gonzo Sociology

The Politics of Truth: Selected Writings of C. Wright Mills Edited by John Summers (Oxford University Press, 320 pp., $21.95) C.Wright Mills published his sociological trilogy during the 1950s: White Collar in 1951, The Power Elite in 1956, The Sociological Imagination in 1959. Those were years of Republican ascendancy, and while the president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, was a moderate, the vice president, Richard Nixon, and a number of key senators, including Joe McCarthy, belonged to the conservative wing of the party.

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The Gardener

Dean Acheson: A Life in the Cold War By Robert L. Beisner (Oxford University Press, 768 pp., $35) I. "It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world." The speaker could have been Thomas Jefferson, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S Truman, John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, or Bill Clinton. In fact, it was George W. Bush, in his second inaugural address; and what he said is what historians will probably remember as the Bush Doctrine.

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The Ungreat Washed

The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad By Fareed Zakaria (W.W. Norton, 286 pp., $24.95) I. Midway through Fareed Zakaria’s attack on democracy, one realizes that his animus toward popular government is not only theoretical but also personal, and in some ways it is even quite understandable.

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Sounds of Silence

Like a Giant Valium descending on Dulles International Airport, the Bush transition has come to Washington. Despite a good-faith effort to get exercised over John "Bob Jones Loves Me" Ashcroft, most of us seem already sedated by the sheer grown-upness of it all. Compared with the Clintonistas, yapping into cell phones at the Dupont Circle Starbucks at all hours of the day and night, the Bushies seem preternaturally calm. Where we once had a permanent campaign, we now have intermittent naps.

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