Henry "Scoop" Jackson may be one of the most underappreciated American politicians of the second half of the 20th century. He was certainly one of the Democrats' greatest cold warriors, and a man who might have saved his party from the doomed politics of McGovernism if he had only won the presidency, an office he sought twice. (He was, in fact, John F. Kennedy's first choice for a running mate in 1960, until Kennedy became convinced he needed a Southerner on the ticket.) The distinguished gentleman from the state of Washington began his congressional career during the Roosevelt administration, and it ended with his death in 1983 during the Reagan years--a tenure spanning nine presidents. Robert G. Kaufman's comprehensive biography sheds some well-deserved light on its neglected subject. Jackson fought against Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s, for civil rights in the 1960s, and against détente with the Communists in the 1970s. He's best known for this last crusade: "Jackson contributed enormously to ensuring that the United States fought and prevailed in this epochal struggle against Soviet totalitarianism."
His views prefigured those of the Reagan administration, which was filled with Jackson's neoconservative admirers. Jackson was, in a sense, the very first Reagan Democrat. Kaufman cites Howard Baker, the onetime senator and Reagan's chief of staff: "Jackson made sure we did not lose the Cold War during the 1970s so that Ronald Reagan could win it in the 1980s." If Henry M. Jackson: A Life in Politics is an admiring work, it's because there's so much to admire. Our TV-driven culture tends to lavish its attention on the executive branch and showboating legislators, rather than uncharismatic men of principle like Jackson. That's why serious biographies like this one are so essential--so that history will recognize the role-players who shaped what we have become. --John J. Miller
From Publishers Weekly
Political scientist Kaufman informs readers early in his biography of the late senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson (D- Wash., whose 31 years in the Senate ended with his death in 1983) that Jackson did not drink or smoke, and that there was no whiff of scandal about him. His life was politics, and "Jackson's career refutes the cynical but prevalent view that good character and politics are mutually exclusive." Believing that being conservative on foreign policy (his distrust of the Soviets made him skeptical of d?tente and, coupled with his support of President Johnson's Vietnam policy, ultimately marginalized his influence in the Democratic Party) and a New Deal liberal on the domestic front were not mutually exclusive, but, rather, compatible political positions, Jackson was admired by many (Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Jeane Kirkpatrick) for his political courage (read: independent views). Even among his critics there were those, like Henry Kissinger, who praised him. Disappointingly, Kaufman fails to provide much psychological insight into why Jackson, badly miscalculating, chose to run in the 1972 and 1976 Democratic presidential primaries, despite the ascendancy of the party's left wing. Nevertheless, the span of Jackson's career was formidable and full of historical events and personages; true to his claim, Kaufman cogently argues that Jackson played a pivotal role during the 1970s, laying the basis for America's successful foreign and defense policies in the 1980s, but at times he overwhelms the reader with the details of policy and political machinations. No doubt denizens of both Washingtons, as well as those interested in the history of American foreign policy, will gravitate to this book. (Nov.)
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