What I’m Reading

Just finished “Republic Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress and a Plan to Stop It” by Lawrence Lessig. If you plan to be, are currently, or ever were a political science major, you’ll lap it up. Lessig is whip smart. I was drawn to the book after hearing Double L interviewed on NPR. An expert on internet law, he said something to the effect of “Scholars should switch topics every ten years.” The higher ed world would be a far more healthy, invigorating, interesting place if profs universally applied that notion.

If you don’t keep a copy of the U.S. Constitution on your nightstand, you may find it slow going. The writing dragged at times. It would have been an even better book if L2’s editors had required him to reduce it by 25%.

Lessig explains why it’s understandable that 89% of the public doesn’t trust Congress. In short, every member of Congress spends 30-70% of their time fundraising because their primary objective is to get re-elected. Also, many see their Congressional work as a means towards an end of becoming high paid lobbyists. Important issues get short shrift and members’ compromise their ideals all in the name of campaign fund raising. The details depress.

Props to LL for eschewing academic norms and offering solutions to the problem. One major contradiction in his otherwise insightful treatise was this—he acknowledges that the public’s passive resignation is a rational response to the dysfunction while at the same time  he argues citizen involvement is the key to his proposed solutions. I appreciated the specificity and boldness of his fixes, but didn’t find them realistic enough.

Unintended effect no doubt, I’m less interested in politics as result of reading the book.

Needing a break from academic social science writing, I just started The Orphan Master’s Son—A Novel by Adam Johnson. Read some great reviews and saw Johnson interviewed on the NewsHour. I keep getting drawn back inside the Hermit Kingdom.

On deck, my first ever cooking/food book—An Everlasting Meal: Cooking With Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler. Awhile back I posited that people don’t change. I hereby amend that, people don’t “Change”, but they can “change”, by which I mean personal attributes don’t change much over time, but interests can. I’ve always been an “eat to live” kind of guy, but in the last year or two, I’ve started to enjoy cooking, eating well, and spending time in the kitchen. Maybe it’s the long-term effects of the fem-vortex. Anyways, look for me to starting cooking with even more economy and grace real soon.

In the hole (baseball term for the sports challenged), the Happiness Hypothesis—Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt. I’ve downloaded the first chapter, just casually dating at this point, so I’m not committing to marrying Haidt (although that may soon be legal in Washington State, but I digress).

In related news, I sent Nineteen this link to Jonathan Franzen’s screed against e-books. She loved it because she’s also hopelessly nostalgic about the printed page. Maybe someday in the distant future Franzen and she will realize you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.

What the Hell is the Presidency For?

The on-line magazine The Root recently asked, “Should Obama endorse gay marriage?” And then suggested, “Doing so before the election has some risks, but it could re-energize segments of his base.” Notice their question doesn’t have anything to do with whether it’s the right thing to do or not.

I’m so accustomed to “what will get me re-elected” political thinking, I had to read these two paragraphs about Lyndon Baines Johnson from my first book of 2012, Republic Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress–and a Plan to Stop It by Lawrence Lessig several times. Based on the assumption you may also be in need of inspiration, I share them with you as an abbreviated refresher on bold political leadership:

In his first speech to Congress, he (Johnson) placed civil rights at the core of his new administration, and hence at the core of the values of the Democratic Party. The decision was profoundly controversial. In a six-hour meeting before the speech, Johnson was advised strongly against making civil rights so central to his administration. As described by Randall Woods, Johnson was told, “Passage [of the Civil Rights Act]… looked pretty hopeless; the issue was as divisive as any… ; it would be suicide to wage and lose such a battle.” The safe bet was against the fight. Johnson replied, “Well, what the hell is the presidency for?” These were not the words of a triangulator from the U.S. Senate, but of a man who had grown tired of that game, and wanted to try something new.

When he decided to make civil rights central to his party’s platform, Johnson knew that he was forever changing the political dominance of the Democrats. His decision to pass the most important civil rights legislation in history was a guarantee that the Republicans would again become competitive. Yet his loyalty was more to truth, or justice, or his legacy—you pick—than to party politics. To that end, whichever it was, he was willing to sacrifice a Democratic majority of tomorrow in order to use the Democratic majority of today.

Indeed, what the hell is the presidency for?