From Publishers Weekly
The history of the U.S. Senate in the 20th century is one of evolution from a genteel debating society into a collection of bitterly partisan politicians, half of them seeming to eye runs for the White House as they joust for media coverage. As Gould, a historian at the University of Texas (Grand Old Party) relates this disheartening history, a number of themes recur, including periodic battles over the filibuster (especially its use by Southern Democrats defending Jim Crow from the 1930s to the 1960s) and too many senators' chronic alcoholism, sexism and egomania. Inevitably, the book focuses on shifting institutional mores (such as the emergence of year-round fund-raising and campaigning after the advent of television) rather than the substance of policy debates. Gould's assessment of the Senate's historical performance is relatively bleak, noting that, for "protracted periods," it functioned "as a force to genuinely impede the nation's vitality and evolution." And he offers jaundiced assessments of the legacies of some men routinely described as giants of the Senate, such as Robert La Follette, Robert Taft and especially Richard Russell, the much admired six-term senator from Georgia, whose political gifts were deployed in the service of virulent racism. 20 b&w photos.
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A prolific chronicler of American political history (1968: The Election That Changed America, 1993), Gould inspects the twentieth-century record of the U.S. Senate. Generally disenchanted with the body and its obstructionist propensities, Gould briskly enunciates his criticisms of Senate procedures and concentrates on the senators themselves. In the self--important surroundings of Capitol Hill, personalities and animosities have had significant political ramifications, which connect with the electoral rhythms to shape Gould's narrative. One large theme is the mirage of fame, Gould arguing that the most famous senators, such as the progressive Robert La Follette, the isolationist William Borah, or the egomaniacal Lyndon Johnson, are marginal to institutional history. Gould rates as more important obscure figures such as John Worth Kern (for engineering Woodrow Wilson's legislative program) and James Allen (for perfecting the filibuster in the 1970s). Much in the news, the filibuster's history will be Gould's current-events selling point, and his gallery of the Senate's cads, sots, and segregationists, plus its members principled or corrupt, will lead readers into the world of senatorial social and parliamentary customs. Gilbert Taylor
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