Two longtime observers of our government in action offer a multidimensional study of the history, traditions and culture of the United States Senate.
Beginning with George Washington, the Senate has frustrated most presidents. Some, notably Woodrow Wilson, came to loathe the Congress’ upper house, in good times the world’s greatest deliberative body, in bad “the windiest and most tedious group of men in Christendom,” as H.L. Mencken observed. However, as former Time chief congressional correspondent MacNeil (Dirksen: Portrait of a Public Man, 1971, etc.), who died in 2008, and former official Senate historian Baker (200 Notable Days: Senate Stories, 1787–2002, 2006, etc.) demonstrate, the framers fully intended many of the Senate’s so-called infirmities even as other distinguishing features of the institution have evolved over its history. The built-in rivalry with the House of Representatives and the ongoing duel with the presidency for federal supremacy have been constants, but the chamber’s manner of election, its composition and organization, its conduct of business and varying styles of leadership all have undergone thorough transformations. While its Constitutional role remains the same, the Senate has spoken through the years with varying degrees of authority and influence depending on the tenor of the times and the quality of its membership. Those members include some of our greatest statesmen and not a few rogues and racists, many of whom receive attention here. Whether discussing money and elections, campaign reform, the origins of the filibuster, the Senate’s investigatory power or its role in ratifying treaties or debating the great issues of the day, the authors pack the narrative with wide-ranging information and anecdotes.
A useful, engaging primer for anyone wishing to understand the politics, precedent and procedures that have shaped the Senate.