An engrossing look at the 104th Congress, in which Republicans, their ranks bolstered by first-time legislators, took control of the House of Representatives.
Killian’s book is successful largely thanks to her focus on a handful of the freshmen and the key issues that made the 104th Congress important. Rep. Van Hilleary of Tennessee is among the lawmakers Killian portrays. She dubs him the “Everyman” of the freshman class, and his thoughts and feelings in the period following his election, during crises such as the two government shutdowns that marred the Congress, and throughout his reelection campaign, are given strong emphasis. Florida’s Mark Foley is similarly illustrative for Killian, except that he’s not a "True Believer" (as the young anti-establishment conservatives of the 104th Congress dubbed themselves) but a moderate on social issues. Although it is clear that Killian takes issue with the opinions of many of her subjects, she’s also ready to blame President Clinton for failures during that period. She argues, for instance, that the government stalemate in early 1996 was used by Clinton to advance political goals, despite the detrimental effects on both parties and on a large segment of the American people. The other, less likely, villain in Killian’s study is Newt Gingrich, who increasingly comes to view the freshmen as an unruly group of men and women who frequently vote their conscience and not as he, the party leader, dictates. The end result of the 104th Congress—that the electorate chose in 1996 to keep the executive and legislative branches of government divided—is indicative of the times in that, as Killian writes, “it seemed to suit the voters’ desire for marginalism rather than dramatic change in either direction.”
Moving pre-mortem material on Sonny Bono adds a light touch, as well, to Killian’s fair, thoughtful, and eminently readable account.