A former Republican congressman recalls a lifetime of public service.
Debut author Stearns served as the U.S. representative for Florida’s 6th Congressional District for 24 years, his longevity alone a notable accomplishment. He wrote this memoir episodically over the course of eight years, while still in office, and it’s less a linear history than a series of reflective essays on his experiences and the inner machinations of American legislation, as well as the general nature of freedom, democracy, and religion. Much of the book serves as an instructive primer on American governance, an insider’s civic tutorial. Stearns not only explains the basic structure of the nation’s legislative branch—with emphasis on the function of the House—but also the mechanics of fund-raising and campaigning, the extraordinary significance of committee membership, and the often mercenary character of intraparty competition. The author unabashedly shares his opinion, even when it’s forcefully critical of a colleague; he excoriates Dennis Hastert’s reign as speaker of the House, especially for his misguided contributions to the economic catastrophe that visited the country at the conclusion of George W. Bush’s presidency. Stearns also denounces the Bush administration’s bailout of the banking industry, a strategy, the author contends, that undermines the Republican Party’s commitment to free market principles. (Stearns takes a hard stand against both socialism and Keynesian economics, which share the aggrandizement of government at the expense of individual liberty.) Some of the remembrances are directed analytically at special policy proposals (ObamaCare turns out to be incorrigibly bad) or major events in recent political history (President Bill Clinton’s impeachment and the Iraq War provide fodder for memorable discussions). But some of the best of Stearns’ ruminations are surprisingly erudite—he often cites intellectual luminaries like Aristotle, Kant, Seneca, and Herodotus, to name a few—and philosophical. He deeply ponders the nature of freedom and divine law, and the relation both have to the fallible dictates of majority rule. It’s not fully clear where Stearns finally lands in that theoretical thicket—he champions limited government, but also favors a robust place for religion in the public square. Even for those who count themselves the author’s ideological adversaries, this work delivers a thoughtful appraisal of American democracy and an edifying peek into the corridors of political power.
An assemblage of admirably forthcoming first-person essays about the practice of American legislation.