In The Battle For America 2008 (Viking, $29.95) two veteran journalists, Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson, combine the wisdom of many years’ reporting the political beat for The Washington Post with the great copy of a campaign unmatched in history for its rich brew of class, race, and gender, and, most of all, an unpredictable outcome, for a page-turning account of the 2008 presidential election, from the Iowa caucuses to the final scrambles on the eve of Election Day. Balz and Johnson had unprecedented access to both candidates, a position that let them observe and report incidents such as the behind-the-scenes battle between Obama and Clinton to secure Senator Kennedy’s endorsement
Sam Tanenhaus’s The Death Of Conservatism (Random House, $17) is a wake-up call in 120 pages for serious conservatives and liberals. Movement conservatives today are anti-institutional, embrace fundamentalist orthodoxies, and reject government. They refuse to adapt to changing societal conditions. Principled conservatives (think William Buckley) have been replaced by the likes of Limbaugh, O’Reilly, and William Kristol. This irresponsible conservatism(Robespierre-like) damages liberalism as well, leading to fighting political issues in ways that demonize opponents and reject finding common ground. Tanenhaus’s penetrating prose and his erudition remind readers why political ideas do matter.
A stimulating argument that citizens need to act as watchdogs over the honesty and competence of our federal government, The Limits Of Power (Metropolitan, $24), by Andrew Bacevich, offers a thoughtful, sobering, and fresh re-assessment of the past 60 years of American politics and economics. As citizens, Bacevich believes, we have ducked such basic responsibilities as defending our country; we have too few soldiers for too many wars. We have redefined freedom as “just another word for nothing left to buy.” Bacevich invokes the 20th-century liberal theologian and activist, Reinhold Niebuhr, to buttress his call for a return to responsible citizenship. Citing Niebuhr’s warning that our dreams of omniscience, born out of arrogance and delusion, posed a potential deadly threat to America, Bacevich adds, “Today we ignore that warning at our peril.”