Category Archives: Books

Book Review: Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State

Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State
By Ralph Nader

During our last great energy crisis, which President Carter combated in part by installing solar panels on the White House roof, a wood stove in the living quarters and proposing that goats crop the White House lawns, I had a ringside seat at a debate, televised live on the old Phil Donahue show in Chicago, between my boss of those years, John Swearingen, and Ralph Nader.

Swearingen, chairman of Standard Oil Co. of Indiana (later Amoco, then BP Amoco, finally BP), was one of the last of the great old-school oil company executives Continue reading


Book Review ‘What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched, and Obama Tweeted: 200 Years of Popular Culture in the White House,’ by Tevi Troy

book reviewLate in the last year of his presidency, writes Tevi Troy, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a presidential scholar who also worked in the White HouseRichard Nixon gave a speech at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn., praising country music. “‘Country music is American, [it] isn’t something that we learned from some other nation, it isn’t something we inherited . It’s as native as anything American we could find.’” Country music, Nixon said, came directly from “‘the heart of America,’” expressing “Americans’ love of country and of religion, two loves that appeared to be in short supply among the countercultural left.”

The first draft of that speech, which had been assigned to me as one of the president’s writers, came back with a note from Nixon in the margin. The speech was fine, he wrote, but we needed “some truck drivers’ language.” I supplied a few bowdlerized faux truck stop phrases, and the president fired off one of the last broadsides in what Mr. Troy calls “the culture war between Nixon and his antagonists within the cultural elite” — a war that didn’t end well, and continues today.

Most presidential musical preferences haven’t been expressions of war. Nor have they always been considered politically significant. Zachary Taylor loved to listen to military bands, and Chester Alan Arthur played the banjo. “But Ulysses S. Grant, who won two presidential elections by overwhelming margins, once admitted, ‘I only know two tunes. One of them is ‘Yankee Doodle.’ The other isn’t.’”

Harry Truman played the piano, and in a memorable moment on “The Arsenio Hall Show,” Bill Clinton, wearing shades, played a version of “Heartbreak Hotel” on the saxophone. Mr. Clinton’s interest in popular music apparently was genuine. “He and Hillary actually named their daughter after the Judy Collins song ‘Chelsea Morning.’”

John F. Kennedy’s interest in music, bolstered by Pablo Casal’s much-publicized White House recital, was apparently much less genuine. Mr. Troy quotes JFK’s arts adviser: “‘It was not that he didn’t particularly enjoy [music], but I think it was really painful . I really don’t think he liked music at all except for a few things he knew.’”

Mr. Troy sets out to explore the relationships between popular culture and our presidents, from George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, educated in the classics at a time when leaders were expected to read seriously, and did so, through Abraham Lincoln, who read and reread the Bible and any other book available so frequently that he was criticized by his father for reading too much. John Tyler was a lover of Shakespeare; Theodore Roosevelt read books “at a prodigious pace”; and Woodrow Wilson was partial to mysteries, as was Franklin D. Roosevelt, who took 50 detective novels with him to the 1943 Tehran conference, and at the time of his death was reading “The Punch and Judy Murders” by John Dickson Carr.

Although Kennedy “convinced the intellectual elite that he was reading their books and that they mattered,” writes Mr. Troy, his restlessness and brief attention span militated against serious reading. Nixon, on the other hand, loathed by that “intellectual elite,” not only read widely and deeply, but was also capable of writing first-rate literary criticism, as he did in 1952, reviewing Whittaker Chamber’s “Witness” for The Saturday Review of Literature.

And needless to say, that intellectual elite never could believe that George W. Bush was one of our most widely and deeply read presidents. But unlike many of his predecessors, he never attempted to milk it for intellectual favor or political gain.

Other presidential preferences: President Eisenhower liked Western novels, one of the few genuinely American genres, shunned by our own intellectuals but much admired in Europe. Jimmy Carter preferred film. “‘Do you know I can get any movie I want?’ he asked an adviser, and proceeded to do so, watching some 480 movies during his tenure, the first of them being “the film that probably did more than any other to make him president: ‘All the President’s Men.’”

President Obama’s reading habits are hard to pin down, but he’s very conscious of the interest, writes Mr. Troy, “and he matches his reading to the political exigencies of the moment.” There’s no doubt, however, that he’s deep into popular culture, describing in “Dreams From My Father” how intensely he watched TV as a boy and listened to the top tunes on the radio. He continues to watch TV at night, his preferences running to “dark and edgy” shows such as “The Wire,” or, as one of his family’s favorites, the dreadful “Modern Family,” which because of the Obama family’s stated interest is difficult to avoid on cable.

This well-researched and highly readable book is rich in such material, and Mr. Troy is one of those rare creatures seldom sighted in the wilds of the academic-cultural-literary complex — an accomplished scholar who is also a first-rate writer.

John R. Coyne Jr., a former White House speechwriter, is co-author of “Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement” (Wiley). The review was first published in the Washington Times and used here with permission of the author, who is my father. 


Book review: ‘Big, Hot, Cheap, and Right: What America Can Learn from the Strange Genius of Texas’

In the capital of the world’s mightiest nation, until the recent cloudburst of scandal, the preoccupations were the rights of men who want to be women and women who want to be men; the rights of illegal immigrants (no longer allowed to be referred to as such) to stay here and vote for Democrats; and the right of government to abridge the Second Amendment and confiscate our money to feed an expanding army of bureaucrats managing unworkable programs that no one understands—including the legislators who vote for them.

Meanwhile, in the capital of what was once the Republic of Texas, people tend to view the preoccupations of the Northeast, dwelt on by the national media to the near exclusion of anything of concern west of the Mississippi, as largely frivolous and irrelevant.

Erica Grieder, a senior editor at Texas Monthly and formerly the southwest correspondent for the Economist, has written a splendid book about the rich history and the social, political, and economic strengths and weaknesses of the Lone Star State, where the essentials of the American Dream are still taken seriously. “Americans tend to believe in economic mobility, in the idea that people can get ahead through talent and hard work….Texans are, if anything, even more committed to this belief than other Americans.” She quotes Julian Castro, the Democratic mayor of San Antonio, giving the keynote speech at his party’s 2012 national convention: “Now, in Texas, we believe in the rugged individual. Texas may be the one place where people actually still have bootstraps, and we expect folks to pull themselves up by them.”

Although the state contains the largest part of our border with Mexico, its immigration policy is “relatively relaxed,” and the Republican Party gets a much higher percentage of the Latino vote in Texas than in the country as a whole. The fact that Texas Republicans and Latino immigrants, as well as long-established Latino citizens, share many of the same economic and social beliefs and values casts doubt on the ultimate chances for success of national Democrats who hope to turn Texas from red to blue. Nor are those issues resonating among the left necessarily meaningful to Texas Democrats. “Compared to their national counterparts, they’re in favor of business and skeptical of taxes,” Grieder writes. “If transplanted to California, a typical Texas Democrat would be reclassified as a moderate Republican.”

The Texas Model, or the Texas Miracle, as Governor Rick Perry liked to call it during his disastrous presidential primary run, was based on a four-part “recipe” of low taxes, low regulation, tort reform, and “don’t spend all the money.” If it worked in Texas, Perry asked, why not in the rest of the country?

“The idea,” writes Grieder, “is almost as simple as he described.” Texas is one of only seven states without an individual income tax, and one of four without a corporate income tax. (Businesses pay a small tax on sales instead.) Combined with its coolness toward regulation, its suspicion of government stretching back to Reconstruction, and its respect for private enterprise, Texas provides a model for any part of the country willing to set aside the conventional collectivist economic pieties.

As Grieder points out, from June 2009-2011, the Texas model created over 40 percent of the nation’s net new jobs. And to top it off, she writes that, according to an analysis published in theEconomist in 2011, “Texas was among the 20 states that paid more in federal taxes than they received in federal funds.”

All of which is anathema to the current administration in Washington and to statists, like the hysteric Paul Krugman, who believe our economic problems can’t be solved without substantial tax increases. And when Governor Perry swaggered onstage during last year’s dreadful Republican primaries, asserting that the Texas way provided an alternative model for the nation, the hysteria was palpable. Krugman charged in the New York Times that the Texas miracle was a myth, an assertion vituperatively seconded by all the usual leftist suspects who control the Washington-New York media corridor.

As Grieder writes, Perry’s entrance into the race brought on near-panic, and “the national left’s reaction to Rick Perry’s narrative of jobs and growth in Texas looked like Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief….Before the Democrats could reach the depression stage, though, they got a real miracle. Perry’s presidential campaign totally collapsed.”

In retrospect, what Grieder calls the “‘oops’ debate”—the uncomfortable moment of live television when Perry could not remember which cabinet departments he proposed to eliminate—unhorsed the governor, who entered the race with a certain cockiness that can so irritate non-Texans. (Remember the swagger of George W. Bush.) But like many Texans before him, Perry underestimated the opposition, rode into battle badly underprepared, and took a spectacular spill. As a result, writes Grieder, “Democrats lost interest in the supposed Texas miracle. As long as Perry wasn’t going to be the nominee, there was no longer any reason to worry about it.”

But as General Santa Anna discovered at San Jacinto, Texans learn from their mistakes, and Perry is back in the saddle, recruiting businesses from other states, selling the industrial policy which, as Grieder points out, has effectively saved Texas from becoming a one-horse, petroleum-dependent economy. “The Texas model isn’t an accident, in other words,” writes Grieder, who while not being a Perry partisan (she is rigorously non-political), believes that the economic policies he preaches and puts into practice might well provide a national alternative economic model.

On a recent recruiting trip to Chicago, where he spoke at the 2013 BIO International Convention, Perry delivered his recruiting pitch in a widely aired and much discussed ad:

This is Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and I have a word of advice for employers frustrated by Illinois’ short-sighted approach to business: you need to get out while there’s still time. The escape route leads straight to Texas, where limited government, low taxes and a pro-business environment are creating more jobs than any other state. I’ll be in Chicago next week to talk about opportunities in Texas, where we’re always open for business….it may be time for your company to hit the emergency exit.

The invitation prompted angry responses from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, slipping in the polls and struggling to come to grips with a record rainfall complicated by the inability of the city’s massive and massively expensive Deep Tunnel project, seemingly under construction since the days of Deep Throat, to drain off the flood waters. Governor Pat Quinn, no doubt with rainfall on the brain, responded quirkily, as is his wont: “His state, frankly, is water-challenged, and any company thinking of going to Texas better check their water.”

There are some conservative critics of Rick Perry’s successful campaign to land businesses from states like California and Illinois. Teresa Mull, blogging on TAS’ website, questioned the ultimate results of those efforts: “You can take the liberal out of the blue state, but can you take the blue state out of the liberal?” But many blue-state businessmen, offered the prospect of freedom from onerous regulations and taxes extorted by governments fighting to stave off bankruptcy, have easily shed those blue cloaks and emulated Davy Crockett, quoted approvingly by Mull: “You may go to hell. I’m going to Texas.”

This review was first published in the American Spectator and used here with permission of the author, John R. Coyne Jr., who is my father. 


Nixon and Eisenhower’s strange relationship

Below is an excerpt, with a link to The American Spectator where you can read the rest, from a brilliant book review written by my brilliant father. The book, Ike and Dick: Portrait of a Strange Political Marriage by Jeffrey Frank, chronicles Richard Nixon and Dwight Eisenhower’s strange relationship. My father is a former Nixon speechwriter so he knows a little about which he writes. I’ve been told, mostly by him, that I’m a chip off the old block. I might someday believe it if I can ever write anything as close to as good as this review:

“Damn,” was the initial reaction. Although 40 years have passed, here comes another one: another book by another of those East Coast liberal scribblers—Pat Buchanan calls them “the offspring of the old jackal pack”—out to kick Richard Nixon around one more time, and in the process embellish the Nixon caricature that has replaced the man in so much of today’s popular historicizing.

But as it turns out, that’s not it at all. True, Jeffrey Frank has all of what normally would pass for anti-Nixon credentials: stints as an editor at the Washington Post and New Yorker and author of four well-received novels, including the “Washington Trilogy.” But despite those bona fides, Frank appears, if not admiring of, then not hostile and perhaps even sympathetic to Nixon as a striving politician struggling to win the approval of Dwight D. Eisenhower, one of the truly great figures of the last century. Frank even seems sensitive to the relationship that would necessarily develop between these two unique and highly intelligent men, culminating in the union of their families with the marriage of Julie Nixon and David Eisenhower.

“Nixon’s early relationship with Eisenhower,” Frank writes, “who was old enough to be his father, had a filial aspect, though one without much filial affection.” Eisenhower, Nixon believed, expected “rapid, absolute obedience,” and while serving as Ike’s vice president, he often felt “like a junior officer coming in to see the commanding general”—as indeed he was. And that is no doubt the way Eisenhower looked at Nixon: as a junior and later senior staff officer, with a specific place on the organizational chart. Later, writes Frank, Eisenhower would come to value Nixon’s “logical mind” and his loyalty. He also appreciated the standing Nixon gave him with the anti-Communist right.

Problems first arose between the two in 1952, shortly after Senator Nixon had been chosen as Eisenhower’s running mate, when news stories charged Nixon with benefiting from a secret fund supplied by wealthy donors. Eisenhower was annoyed that his still unproven vice presidential candidate was tainting his campaign with a whiff of scandal, no matter how faint. He gave Nixon a choice, although it was never quite expressed directly, and Eisenhower preferred to send indirect suggestions through emissaries like Murray Chotiner and Gov. Thomas E. Dewey, a political friend of Nixon and an Eisenhower favorite. Nixon was to clear his name or drop off the ticket. He, in effect, was told he was on his own.

In a speech delivered live on television from the El Capitan Theater in L.A., Nixon did just that. In what became known as the “Checkers speech,” called by the author and journalist Sam Leith “a rhetorical classic,” Nixon accounted for every cent that had been donated to his campaign. And when that was settled, in a move he called “unprecedented in the history of politics,” he told his audience he would give “a complete financial history: everything I’ve earned, everything I’ve spent, everything I own.” He referenced Pat Nixon’s “respectable Republican cloth coat” (they couldn’t afford a mink). He added that there was one gift from a supporter his family intended to keep: a cocker spaniel puppy named Checkers. In response, Republican Party headquarters was flooded with some 4 million communiqués.

General Eisenhower, watching from Cleveland where he was to speak, would later tell his audience: “I have seen many brave men in tough situations. I have never seen any come through in such fashion as Senator Nixon did tonight.” Yet, writes Frank, “Eisenhower was not entirely pleased by Nixon’s performance.” It took the decision of whether to keep Nixon on the ticket out of his hands, and when Nixon suggested all candidates reveal their finances, that included Eisenhower. But for the moment, the speech had demonstrated that his determined young staff officer had something extra, and when the Nixons flew to meet him in West Virginia, Eisenhower “came bounding up the stairs” of the plane, put his arm around Nixon, and told him, “You’re my boy.”

According to Frank, that would remain somewhat in question. But perhaps, as he points out, although the ongoing uncertainty about Nixon’s relationship with Eisenhower would make life harder, “there was no way to pretend that important decisions about Nixon’s future belonged to Eisenhower alone.” Or perhaps, put another way, Nixon would have to take his future in his own hands and not depend on General Eisenhower for prompting or direction. Eisenhower liked officers able to take the initiative.

Read the rest here.