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STAND UP FIGHT BACK

REPUBLICAN TOUGHS, DEMOCRATIC WIMPS, AND THE POLITICS OF REVENGE

Balm for those who long to see a revivified—and not-quite-so-spiteful—opposition and a return to Kennedy-era liberalism.

Does public life recapitulate grade school? To judge by the pitched and petulant fights on the playground of politics, you’d think so.

Syndicated columnist Dionne (They Only Look Dead, 1996, etc.) allows that there are good reasons for the tense tenor in this election year: for liberals and moderates, he says, “the sense of alienation, estrangement, and anger inspired by this president is unlike anything they have experienced in their political lifetimes,” enough to make them nostalgic for Nixon. On the opposite side of the fence stand disgruntled white guys who can’t get over the fact that Bill Clinton raised taxes on the rich (whereupon “all Americans—including the wealthy—then prospered”) and threw Reaganism out the window; neither can they get over the fact that the American electorate failed to line up behind them to impeach Slick Willie. The Democrats as a whole, Dionne notes, were traumatized by 9/11 and rushed to the side of Bush, only to be rebuffed by the man who swore he would be a “uniter, not a divider”—and who then almost immediately lowered taxes on the wealthy while pretending he was giving tax relief to the poor and middle class, precisely because “voters didn’t like the idea.” What to do? Why, throw the bum out, of course. And unceremoniously, as Dionne argues that, if anything, the Democrats haven’t played hard-enough hardball against the Bushies; after 9/11, he writes, “Democrats were bewildered. Forget left and right: they even missed chances to fight Bush hard on issues that could have united moderates and liberals.” In the anybody-but-Bush exigency, Dionne urges, that unity of left and center against hard right is essential. (“The first task of politics now,” he writes, “is to prevent a sharp turn to the right.”) If it happens, he prophesies, and if the Dems adopt a “Bogart liberalism” that’s both tough and smart, then it’s out the door with the GOP.

Balm for those who long to see a revivified—and not-quite-so-spiteful—opposition and a return to Kennedy-era liberalism.

Pub Date: June 2, 2004

ISBN: 0-7432-5858-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2004

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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