Thursday, July 4, 2013

history rhymes

I've always liked the line, variously attributed, that history doesn't repeat itself, but sometimes it rhymes. The truth of the statement is evident in a fine new history of the U.S. Senate by the late Neil MacNeill and Richard Baker. They describe periods of gridlock and personal animosities and devious parliamentary tactics that sound a lot like what we see today. While I still believe that the "golden age" I observed first hand in the 1970s and a while thereafter was one of civility and compromise and wise public policy, I see now that hyperpartisanship and nastiness have their own precedents.

Another book I'd recommend deals with Abraham Lincoln's one term in Congress at the height of the war with Mexico. Written by someone with recent campaign and congressional staff experience, the author takes note of aspects of Lincoln's activities that resonate with Congress today. He gained office by hard work on behalf of his party and its candidates. He gained respect and a little power in Washington by more hard work, and a talent for lively conversation and joke-telling with his colleagues. He made full use of the perks of office, and was one of the half dozen largest users of the franking privilege that allowed members to mail copies of speeches and other materials free of charge. It's useful to take Lincoln off his pedestal now and then and see how he learned and practiced politics.

These reading adventures, plus grandparenting and travel, may explain why I have posted so little lately.

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