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Courage and Statesmanship in Times of Crisis

by Ira Shapiro

Pub Date: Feb. 14th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-58648-936-6
Publisher: PublicAffairs

From a Washington insider, a scrambled but edifying examination of the last four years of the Senate’s “era of greatness”—1977 to 1980.

The class of ’62 (a Democratic majority) presided over the Senate during the two ensuing decades that wrought the great civil-rights legislation, cut off funding for the Vietnam War, propounded environmental-protection laws and oversaw the Watergate hearings, among other epic national battles. Shapiro, now an international trade law lawyer in Washington, concentrates on the tail end of that brave, progressive and fluidly bipartisan run, when Robert Byrd of West Virginia (known as “the grind,” having grown out of his bigoted early conservatism) acceded as majority leader, inheriting the inspired leadership mantle of LBJ and Mike Mansfield before him. By 1977, with the election of Jimmy Carter, the Senate had regained its democratic footing since being unsettled by the “imperial presidency” of Richard Nixon, and was receptive to Carter’s urging for strengthening ethics in government. Despite Carter’s tendency to circumvent legislators’ input altogether, Byrd’s diverse, youngish, dynamic Senate passed the ethics code, met the energy crisis, deregulated airlines, raised the minimum wage, passed the Panama Canal treaties, took on labor law reform, saved New York City and Chrysler from financial collapse, protected Alaska wilderness land and agreed to the peace proposal between the rancorous parties in the Middle East. All of these Herculean efforts required the experience and cajoling of now-legendary senators like Moynihan, Javitz, Kennedy, Ribicoff, Muskie, Church and Mondale. The progressive run would come to a screeching halt with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and the decisive turn of the Senate, and populace, to the right.

A work of broad, archival and anecdotal research by a writer with a good grasp of the messy era and times.