Kathryn McGarr's new biography of Robert Strauss -- Democratic macher, superlawyer, and certified D.C. Wise Man -- could not be more timely. Since the tea-stained Republican takeover of the House and return of government gridlock, Washington pundits have been dreaming of an old-style bipartisan deal-maker who can bring political adversaries to the table and hash out difficult compromises in private. The Whole Damn Deal: Robert Strauss and the Art of Politics is an admiring portrayal of Strauss's career that reminds us how Washington used to work, but it illustrates, albeit inadvertently, the limitations of the idealized deal-maker as white knight and why the nostalgia for that Beltway type is misconceived today.
If the name Joseph L. Rauh Jr. doesn't ring any bells for you, don't feel too guilty. In the nearly six decades he toiled as a liberal political activist and lawyer in Washington, D.C., Rauh (rhymes with "brow") never wrote a book or carved out much of a public persona. But the longevity and ubiquity of his presence and the sheer breadth of his accomplishments make him a nearly singular figure in modern American political history. Encompassing New Deal regulatory battles, crusades on behalf of civil rights and civil liberties, an encyclopedic array of advocacy organizations, and ceaseless struggles in union halls, congressional chambers, and party convention floors over the years, Joe Rauh's biography is the story of 20th-century liberalism. Thankfully, Michael E.
Roosevelt's Purge: How FDR Fought To Change the Democratic Party, By Susan Dunn, Harvard University Press, 361 pages, $27.95
For Democrats during the past two years, control of both the presidency and Congress has presented at once the ultimate partisan prize and the ultimate source of aggravation. In theory, Barack Obama should have been able to carry out his policies. In practice, he has been hobbled not only by the GOP's use of the Senate filibuster but also by the Blue Dogs in his own party. In search of congressional seats in 2006 and 2008, Democrats fielded candidates that fit the politics of more conservative areas, and bigger tents always make for more fractious coalitions.
GROVER NORQUIST'S EERIE PRESCIENCE. Today in The Washington Post, Grover Norquistargues not only that "Karl Rove changed history," but that his vision "of the modern Republican Party as the dominant governing power" will "come sooner for his life and work." (Norquist implies that the Democrats' current hubristic overreach during their brief moment in the majority will itself help to usher in "a conservative Republican majority in Congress to last a generation," just a bit later than Rove had anticipated.)
REMEMBER THE DISASTROUS FOREIGN POLICY DOCTRINE AND ALL THE DEAD PEOPLE. The much-hyped Matt Scullytakedown of his old colleague, former Bush speech-writer-turned WaPo columnist and Council on Foreign Relations fellow Michael Gerson (not, alas, available in full to non-subscribers), offers a hilarious, gossipy portrait of an apparently shameless (and heretofore effective) credit-hog and self-promoter, though I think its relevance to a substantive take on Gerson (or Scully) one way or the other is basically nil.