Time magazine columnist Carlson provides kitchen-table wisdom from inside the Beltway.
This partly new compilation intersperses reprints of her Washington columns with fresh biographical, analytical, and ethical material. The personal stuff help readers get a sense of Carlson’s moral perspective, as she describes an upbringing that instilled a sense of kindness, responsibility, and standing up for the underdog. These values she brings wholesale to her critiques of political behavior, as well as subtopics like victim chic, sex (“One’s sexual behavior as a component of character used to count for nothing . . . which was wrong; now it counts for far too much”), and Martha Stewart (“Martha’s dominance derives from the fact that she’s bossy and knows what’s good for us”). Her writing voice has an easy grace and a surety of conviction that keeps the deadline-driven prose consistent if at times overly familiar: Clinton’s fecklessness, the corrupt and shallow nature of the political process, the Oprah-like qualities of the presidential race. Carlson claims a sensible, well-groomed, middle-high ground, a freethinking fairness that can find her extolling George W. Bush’s “moral clarity” in one breath, then in the next questioning if he is “destined to follow in the footsteps of his father, who failed to grasp the problems of the little people because he was so blinded by the big ones.” Though she is known as an astute political observer, some of the most piquant material in these pages comes from such wayward topics as the role nuns might have played in curtailing pederasty in the clergy, the oblique value of guilt, the sketchy domain in which women play out male fantasies, à la Thelma and Louise. Also valuable are her columns on women in Washington: the dangerous ground they tread in a male-dominated bastion, the balance of work and family, their death-from-a-thousand-cuts courtesy of the media, their colleagues—the whole blighted environment. Carlson’s ethical focus is on common decency and proportion; she sizes up matters and politicians as to their effect on the common weal.
Genuine and nonpartisan.