Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Biden's book vs. Bradley's book

I haven't read a political book in a long while, but I decided to get back into the genre this summer as two of the men I respect most in recent American politics both released new books. They couldn't have been more different.

Bill Bradley's "The New American Story" is, to put it nicely, an unreadable pile of cr*p. It's a collection of incredibly bland analysis of the current state of American politics -- everybody's too partisan, Republicans are better organized than Democrats, our world is more interconnected than ever -- followed by unoriginal center-left policy ideas on issues like the environment, health care, education, etc. I actually agree with alot of what he has to say, but reading this book, I'm not surprised he got his ass whupped in the 2000 Democratic primary -- his style is so boring he makes Al Gore (circa-2000) look like Huey Long.

The worst are the anecdotes. Bradley's book is full of bile-inducing stories that are supposed to inspire people but would make any right thinking person want to vomit. Here are a couple of my "favorites"

[After taking some foreign visitors to the Jefferson Memorial, he runs into Supreme Court Justice Byron White showing the Memorial to some visitors of his own] The fact of a U.S. senator and a Supreme Court justice meeting on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial, both proud of our national heritage and anxious to share it, gave me a good feeling about our country. In the presence of the great words spoken by our great leaders, we are reminded that America remains an unfinished and unrealized idea.

And here's Bill Bradley's story to inspire us as to why government needs to help the underprivileged:

A friend of mine told me about a mother and her nine-year old son who went to Washington, DC. They came out of a subway and there sat a homeless man begging for money. The little boy saw the man, reached into his pocket, and pulled out the money he had been saving over the last year to spend during the trip. He looked up at his mother, and she said that what he did was up to him. He gave the man half of what he'd saved. They walked around trhe corner and there sat three more homeless men begging. The boy looked sadly at his mother and said, "I don't have any more money." She said, "Take this as a lesson. There are some things in life that you can't do alone." This is what government is for -- to help us do together what we can't do by ourselves.

By the by, this story is obviously not true. No nine year-old saves money for a year to spend on a trip to Washington, DC and no mother speaks to a little kid that way. The fact that he printed it makes me worry that Bill Bradley is either a) a liar or b) incredibly gullible.

The other book, which I just finished, is Joe Biden's "Promises to Keep." Don't get me wrong -- this isn't Pulitzer Prize material. But it's refreshingly honest and completely readable. I feel like I learned a lot about Biden, a fair amount about the major issues he has been involved in, and even got a few good anecdotes about his life in politics.

While he does lay on the schmaltz about the lessons he learned from his father and grandfather a bit thick, Biden gives some fascinating insights into a number of issues, like the controversies over school busing in the '70s, the Bork Supreme Court hearings, the the U.S. interventions in the former Yugoslavia.

He also admits a lot of his own mistakes, like believing Jimmy Carter would be a great president and voting for the Iraq war (that chapter is titled, succinctly, "my mistake"). His story about running for president in 1988 is particularly compelling. Biden admits that he jumped into the race due to a combination of political consultants pressuring him and his own ego, and that it was a mistake from the start. The chapter about his decision to run is titled, ironically, "this can't hurt us" -- obviously not a good enough reason to run, and obviously not true after his campaign sunk under the weight of largely scurrilous accusations of plagiarism (accusations first made, I wasn't surprised to learn, by Maureen Dowd. Was this the first major triumph of her destructive style=substance form of analysis?).

Biden also weaves in details from his personal life rather well, from the well known death of his first wife and daughter soon after he was elected in '72 to his near-life-ending aneurysm just after he dropped out of the '88 race to the work it takes to raise a family while being a senator.

One other thing that occurred to me as I read it: Joe Biden has had two separate brain surgeries, so people should probably give him a break about the hair plugs. I doubt he would look better bald.

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