What I’ve Been Reading

A politics kick:

1. The People’s Machine: Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Rise of Blockbuster Democracy by Joe Mathews

A stupendously researched account of the first years of Schwarzenegger’s governorship of California. It is sufficiently detailed as to only probably interest those who follow California politics, but then again, isn’t everyone intrigued by The Governator? After reading you feel sympathetic to Arnold’s attempt to reform California and newly cynical about the prospect of anyone being able to effect meaningful change. The title of the book refers to Arnold’s strategy of governing via ballot initiatives and circumventing the legislature. His success in office has depended on whether the people vote up or down his many ballot initiatives. Voters are influenced by the interest groups which run California. When the teachers’ unions came out against his slate of initiatives a few years ago — spending millions of dollars to flood the state with ads bashing Arnold and his proposed reforms, which included such insane ideas like lengthening the time it would take for teachers to gain tenure from 3 to 5 years — his initiatives went down, along with his governorship.

2. Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt by David McCullough

A good look at TR‘s childhood and early influences. McCullough is masterful, as ever. Here’s Edith Wharton on TR:

…he was so alive at all points, and so gifted with the rare faculty of living intensely and entirely in every moment as it passed…

Living intensely and entirely in every moment as it passes: not a bad goal.

3, 4. Dead Right (1992) and Comeback (2008) by David Frum. Frum is one of the wisest conservative commentators. I support his new project, Newmajority, which (unofficially) stands to rebuke the Sarah Palin wing of the Republican party — and her talk radio side-kicks — and instead promote a smarter renewal of a conservative movement. Dead Right is more serious and comprehensive and I recommend it to anyone interested in an insider’s take on the conservative scene in the 80’s and 90’s. Comeback is positioned as a playbook for the Republican Party in the coming years but it struck me as rushed and not terribly persuasive. I am intrigued at Frum’s evolving view on the role social issues should play in the Republican Platform. His shift is evident when you read his two books back to back. Myself, I am not at home in the Republican Party because of the social views they espouse and so I am always interested in how GOP commentators position their party on this front for the future, given changing demographics and related views on gay marriage and the like.

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