Books by Richard E. Cohen

Released: Oct. 8, 1999

This latest offering from veteran journalist Cohen, the congressional correspondent for the National Journal and author of various political works (Washington at Work: Clinton and the New Congress, not reviewed, etc.), is a biography of the fallen Illinois congressman as well as an analysis of the struggles of the Democratic Party and an examination of the changing political atmosphere in the 1990s. Because of his financial improprieties and intransigent adherence to old-fashioned pocket-lining, pork-barrel, Chicago- machine-style politics, Dan Rostenkowski tumbled from his lofty position as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and landed in a cell in a federal penitentiary in Oxford, Wis. With patent sympathy (and sometimes even affection), Cohen chronicles Rostenkowski's rise and fall, punctuating his narrative with comments from a wide assortment of Rostenkowski's friends, allies, and foes. Even more revealing are observations from the subject himself while in prison (Cohen was the only visitor he saw during his eight months of incarceration). Cohen argues persuasively that this case illustrates a significant change in the American political terrain—Rostenkowski was an anachronism, unaware of his own imminent demise. A superb reporter, careful and comprehensive, Cohen reveals with disturbing clarity the actual workings of Congress—a system that resembles only superficially the placid and polite process found in school textbooks. He describes, as well, a newly rapacious media, hungry for important political prey. Rostensowski, however, is stylistically clumsy, a repository for just about every effete and inadequate image in political discourse. People play hardball, step up to the plate, perform juggling acts, flex political muscle, and throw in the towel. On this otherwise bright book, the cumulative effect of these lazy locutions—and there are many—is corrosive. A significant analysis of a politician and of a political style by a savvy and sensible reporter. (8 pages photos, not seen) Read full book review >