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A History of the Modern United States Senate

by Lewis Gould

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-465-02778-4
Publisher: Basic

Gould (Grand Old Party, 2003, etc.) provides a judgmental history of the 21st-century U.S. Senate.

Gould tries to demystify the personalities and procedures of the modern Senate. Where many writers have lauded the vision and classical debate of the Senate chamber, Gould depicts hubris and archaic procedures. He reduces many senators' motivations to ambition, sometimes impugning motives without detailed proof. Gould argues that mass media and rising campaign costs changed the Senate from an elitist bastion of private deliberation to a publicly televised partisan spectacle. Yet for a history of a famously deliberative body, there are few excerpts from actual debates or hearings. (Senator Robert Byrd's books on the Senate are better primary sources.) Gould is more neutral and lively when he turns to the ramifications of historic clashes between senators and presidents. He recounts how Senator Robert La Follette's fiery antiwar speeches led Theodore Roosevelt to dub him “the most sinister enemy of the democracy in the United States.” The bitter relationship between President Wilson and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Henry Cabot Lodge doomed the League of Nations. And the Senate's indignation with FDR's high-handed treatment paved the way for the firm opposition and eventual defeat of his gambit to pack the Supreme Court. Gould also finds fault with several Senate eras. At the turn of the century, widespread alcoholism hindered the institution; before World Wars I and II, the Senate was myopically isolationist; at mid-century, it callously ignored civil rights and women's equality; after Watergate, senators obsessed over publicity and fundraising. Gould is particularly disappointed that today's Senate is “driven primarily by partisanship and pork.”

Straightforward and unsentimental; no one can accuse Gould of falling in love with his subject.