Monday, October 31, 2005

Losing America, Senator Robert Byrd

Losing America
Senator Robert Byrd

I heard about this book on some program on NPR a while back. I live in California, so Senator Byrd isn't exactly a local personality, but if you follow politics at all you may know that he is a very senior Democrat, and he sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee. He is also considered something of a constitutional scholar, and he has a reputation and a past that can be problematic. (He's from the deep south and over 80 years old now, so the race issue is "interesting" when dealing with him.) Regardless, when I hear him speaking about the constitution and the history of the country, he does seem to have a pretty firm grip on those issues. And with a subtitle of "Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency" I thought I ought to read it. So I bought it used.

My summary is that he's a better speaker than a writer. That may not make much sense at first, but it's true.

The book consists of (basically) 8 chapters followed by the text of 8 speeches he made on the floor of the Senate.

The chapters meander about, containing ideas and points that he never gets back to, or that seem out of place in the context he is trying to discuss. The speeches, however, are the opposite. They are concise, eloquent, and drive home a specific point clearly and cleanly.

While I did learn some things from the main text that I hadn't previously known, and that I will try to follow up on in my "copious free time" (tm), most of the important things are said much more cleanly in the text of the speeches.

I'm not going to launch into a political discussion here - I hope to write that up and put it on my personal web relatively soon. (I'm feeling the urge to make a statement somewhere that others might find, if they dig far enough.) What I will say is that obviously Bryd is no friend of President Bush, and he makes no bones about that here.

The things Senator Byrd has to say about how Washington is working during Bush's presidency should disturb anyone - regardless of their political affiliation. That said, I worry a tiny bit about how slanted this presentation is, and I'd have preferred some footnotes and/or and bibliography to document some of the things he says. This is a polemic of sorts, and whether it is deserved and accurate or not, I'd have preferred a bit more backing for the concepts presented. (If the Bush administration's way of handling X is bad, how did Clinton handle it, or Bush Senior, or other presidents?) I'd also have preferred a bit more openness from Byrd himself. In some cases he says how he voted on certain things, but in others he does not. The entire book could have been clearer and deeper without too much more effort. Perhaps it was rushed to press.

Regardless, Byrd's speeches are good reading, and they make sharp, concise points that I think should be heard. In theory, though, you can find them online somewhere in the *.gov hierarchy, if you dig.

So was this book worth reading or not? Yes, but it could have been a lot better.