THE GOOD RULER: From Herbert Hoover to Richard Nixon by Bruce Kuklick

THE GOOD RULER: From Herbert Hoover to Richard Nixon

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A strange little essay in ""philosophical history"" by Kuklick (Humanities/Univ. of Pennsylvania), author of The Rise of American Philosophy (1977) and Churchmen and Philosophers (1985), among others. In his peroration, Kuklick states that from 1929 to 1974 politics ""was a form of mumbo-jumbo; but the mumbo-jumbo was profound."" Rather less can be said for his book. As close as one can describe its thesis, it is that. . .whatever happened, happened. Kuklick starts out with a fable in which: Nixon defeats Kennedy in 1960, becomes overwhelmingly popular, and is killed in his second term; which leads to a Lodge presidency, a Lodge assassination, Speaker Ford's assumption of leadership, and his defeat by JFK, who is then forced to resign by the ""Chappaquiddick scandals,"" all of which ultimately leads to a Ford-Carter election in 1976. This is somehow to symbolize that historians cannot overanalyze what could have happened under other circumstances or why it happened in the first place. In the end, we are left with a vague paean to the intuition of the populace. Policies do not count with the public; what does is only some thinly veiled feeling about their leaders' characters. Thus, a technocrat like Hoover can be despised while one like JFK can be emulated; Americans can be staunchly isolationist, yet idolize FDR, who gently led them into war; etc. But the argument strains, overlooking factors such as the manipulation of public sentiment by the media or the changing ethos from era to era (the nation was suited to a technocrat in 1961, but hardly in 1929). Much ado about nothing much.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1988
Publisher: Rutgers Univ. Press