A legendary journalist offers a plea for national civility and unity rooted in the ethos of the New Deal.
Peters (Lyndon B. Johnson, 2010, etc.) wields his longtime experience as founder and former editor-in-chief of the Washington Monthly to offer a thoughtful, well-reasoned argument for American citizens to pull back from political brinksmanship and embrace the values of the Roosevelt era. His first admission and caveat is as honest as it gets: “Now that I am eight-nine, I am painfully aware that there are many younger people who will doubt that I have anything useful to say.” They should listen, as Peters offers a heartfelt remembrance of a time when “the spirit of generosity was accompanied by a sense of neighborliness,” and “those who had little helped those who had even less.” Far from being a nostalgic pipe dream, Peters also examines the baby boomers’ drift toward materialism, the advent of political lobbying and its effect on how government works, and the divisive cultural issues that have triggered a fundamental schism in this nation. The book is also extraordinarily fair in its treatment of this philosophical chasm. While one chapter is devoted to the rise of the right, from Ronald Reagan to Roger Ailes, another examines the left’s cultural elitism and how “The Snob Factor” left much of the country behind. And it’s always worth listening to a guy who managed John F. Kennedy’s 1960 campaign in West Virginia and was introduced to marijuana by Allen Ginsberg; this man has stories. Most importantly, Peters is asking hard questions that neither side seems to want to answer. “People on the other side can have views we regard as deplorable without being deplorable themselves,” he writes. “If we don’t understand their side, how are we going to persuade them to see our side?”
A cogent and meaningful call for citizens to share the benefits and burdens of a unified society—hopefully an argument that isn’t already past its sell-by date.