Saturday, June 16, 2007

BOOK REVIEWS
formal and informal

(and, Yes, I am following Bing Crosby’s advice to Accentuate the positive)

“Taylor’s book, rich in detail, forensically forceful, is no routine exercise in comparative politics. Where Did the Party Go? amounts to a populist reinterpretation of the 20th-century Democratic Party. The author is both an exhaustively thorough researcher and a pleasingly partisan writer . . . Taylor has devised a 12-tenet definition of the protean term ‘Jeffersonianism,’ which is really more a tendency than an ideology and savors of a decentralist, libertarian populism. The party of Jefferson today may be as empty as the party of Hamilton is full, but Taylor ends the book with a rallying cry for ‘a coalition of the populist Left and populist Right’ in opposition to ‘plutocracy and imperialism’ and ‘a domineering state and a materialistic world view.’ . . . Among Taylor’s virtues is his spirited refusal to inter persons and ideas in the coffins labeled ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative.’ He knows too much political history for that. . . . Referring to a hawkish column about Humphrey Democrat Henry Jackson written by Gore advisor Donna Brazile and titled ‘What Would Scoop Do?’ Taylor answers, ‘Probably the opposite of what Jesus would do.’ What should the Democrats do? Read Jeff Taylor. Get over the Hump. Inherit not the wind but the wisdom of William Jennings Bryan and Thomas Jefferson.” Bottom line: Highly Recommended.

-- Bill Kauffman, “Disappearing Democrats,” The American Conservative, July 31, 2006 (http://www.amconmag.com/2006/2006_07_31/review.html)

“The book should get considerable attention from the relevant academic circles and from the attentive public. . . . Taylor lays forth the thrust of his work in a well-organized and readable format. This is crucial given the complex nature of what he has taken on. He spares no effort in aiding the reader to know exactly what he is about. . . . He proceeds to argue persuasively that political historical analysis can appeal to the idea that some things are perennial . . . He does a good job demonstrating this, and of course he needs to do this in order for the work to hold together as a coherent whole. . . . Having prepared the ground, he makes his leap to Bryan and then to Humphrey, comparing these two leaders of self-proclaimed Jeffersonianism. This of itself would be a valuable contribution to our greater understanding of the meaning of the Jeffersonian tradition in American political life. But Taylor does more. . . . The overall analysis is certainly interesting and provocative and it has substantial merit. It should arouse debate and discussion, which would be a useful and welcome development given the present aridity of serious debate about political fundamentals--especially the question of Who rules?--among established academics and political pundits. . . . Taylor’s analysis of the Council on Foreign Relations is brilliant . . . Taylor, in the spirit of happy irreverence that spices his work throughout, describes political correctness as ‘mandated hyper sensitivity’ . . . There is a problem in Taylor’s effort to unite the Left and the Right around a Jeffersonian populism; but he has made a strong bid for people to delve into this matter and that is a major plus of his work. In doing so, he has done a stellar job of unearthing the seeming contradictions and has discovered new ways of thinking about politics in America.”

-- John Rensenbrink, Professor Emeritus of Government, Bowdoin College

“Read this book, and you just might join the Democratic party again, or form your own. St. Jude smiles on lost causes, and this is a book that might renew your faith in a few. I am not the same Jeff Taylor who wrote this excellent book. I wrote two others instead . . . If you have reached a point of fatalism where your angst about politics has reached a fricking nadir or zenith, I humbly direct you to this book, written by Jeff Taylor, of whom (I hereby swear) I know not one iota of biographical data. We have never communicated in any way. Just happen to have the same name, and be authors of books. If you want to find out how things went so far sideways and downhill after Carter and Clinton, if you'd like to connect some interesting dots, find your way out of the maze of what-happened, read this book. . . . Buy this book, wrap it for the holidays, and put it in the hands of your intelligent friends. Perhaps you can remake the world politically within your lifetime by learning a little more about party history and party politics. For the first time in years, I'm registering to vote in the next election, after opting to abstain for the last few charades. Reading this book made me more optimistic; things have been terrible, even worse than now, for the Democrats before. If enough of us, whatever our names, exercise our rights to elect representatives with a life-friendly viewpoint, we just might fix the Titanic and save Troy, disarm the bomb at 11:11, and maybe build a world similar to the promised land of which Martin Luther King showed us a pure glimpse. No, you're right, it's impossible . . . so just read this book for pleasure and escape.” Bottom line: Highly Recommended.

-- Jeff Taylor, Amazon.com, November 21, 2006 (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0826216617/qid=1146889706/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/103-1249810-2310253?s=books&v=glance&n=283155)

“Jeff Taylor's book is a must read for anyone who is interested in answering the question why the Democratic Party has struggled so much in national elections since 1950. His analysis of the terms Liberal and Conservative and how little they truly mean these days helps to clear away the misconceptions that are perpetuated by most pundits. Taylor is able to cut through the glossy veneer of platitudes used by both parties and substantiate that the Democratic Party of today has become disconnected from its populist origins. This is an outstanding work of scholarship. As a history professor, I highly recommend this book.” Bottom line: Highly Recommended.

--Chad Israelson, Amazon.com, October 10, 2006

“Jeff Taylor's book is an excellent history of the Democratic party . . . I love his analysis of why Democrats have lost their way in terms of their hiding behind the activist Warren courts of the ‘50s and ‘60s to get their legislative dirty work accomplished. Taylor points out that it represents a dangerous approach . . . I urge anyone who wonders why just because someone is pro-life that means they must be pro-Iraq war, or just because someone is pro-2nd Amendment that means they must be for tax cuts for the rich, or why someone who supports immigration reduction should be anti-union, to read this book. Taylor gives a great overview of a compelling, pro-middle America, pro-common people, pro-conservative values, pro-direct democracy heritage in the Democratic party . . .” Bottom line: Highly Recommended.

--Robert Barta, Amazon.com, September 10, 2006

“This excellent book outlines the various phases that the Democratic Party has transitioned through the ages since its founding by Thomas Jefferson. This is a study in Jeffersonism and includes many pages of notes and references. It takes us through the periods of William Jennings Bryan and Hubert Humphrey, as well as some interesting facts about Thomas Jefferson. As a Jefferson Family historian, I was immediately taken with the clarity and thoroughness of the author's extensive research on the topics of slavery, religion, and the DNA study.” Bottom line: Highly Recommended.

-- Herbert Barger, Amazon.com, August 1, 2006

“Traces a weakening of the Jeffersonian legacy in the Democratic Party by contrasting Bryan’s Jeffersonian populism with what is termed Humphrey’s Hamiltonian elitism.”

-- The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 28, 2006 (one of six political science books featured in the “New Scholarly Books” section)

“In this accessibly written text, political science professor Jeff Taylor considers the role of Jeffersonian liberal ideology and philosophy in the development of the Democratic Party.”

-- Reference and Research Book News, November 2006

“Taylor’s book is exhaustively researched, with extensive endnotes and an impressive bibliography—a combined total of seventy-eight pages. Notes and bibliography alone make this book a useful resource for college libraries, regardless of one’s ultimate assessment of its other merits or lack thereof.” Bottom line: Recommended with reservations.

-- Fides et Historia: Journal of the Conference on Faith and History, Winter/Spring 2007 (http://www.huntington.edu/cfh/39-1%20book%20reviews.pdf)

“Taylor offers a wide-ranging critique of the Democratic Party and modern liberalism . . . Taylor deserves substantial credit for tackling big and important ideas and for placing contemporary political issues in a long-term historical context. . . . Taylor tries to do at a national level what Thomas Frank did on a smaller scale in What’s the Matter with Kansas? . . . Serious political junkies will find plenty of novel and intriguing material to ponder here.” Bottom line: Recommended.

-- Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, June 2007

“Focusing on William Jennings Bryan and Hubert Horatio Humphrey, this richly detailed, informative book offers a provocative and striking interpretation of the twentieth-century plight of Thomas Jefferson's Democratic Party.”

-- The Historian, Fall 2008

“Jeff Taylor offers up a thoughtful analysis of the Jeffersonian roots of the Democratic Party . . . Taylor is clear and logical in his reasoning. He read widely among secondary sources and quotes them in support of his arguments. . . . Where Did the Party Go? is a well reasoned book that belongs on the shelves of all academic libraries.”

-- Kansas History, Summer 2007

“As a double biography of Bryan and Humphrey, Where Did the Party Go? carries off with aplomb a very difficult writing and analytical task. Taylor's analysis of both figures, not normally put together by political historians, treats them as exemplars of the changing nature of liberalism and the Democratic Party itself. Taylor is detailed and insightful about the political backgrounds, contexts, philosophies, and legacies of both Bryan and Humphrey.”

-- Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, Autumn 2006

“For author Jeff Taylor, Thomas Jefferson's ideological beliefs and political philosophy provide the historical foundation for both American liberalism and its embodiment in the Democratic Party. Answering the question posed by the book's title then becomes his quest to assess what has happened to that political tradition. Extensive use of secondary sources, along with some use of published primary documents, supports his interpretation. . . . The shortcomings [of the book], however ironically, contribute to the book's greatest strength: its value as a primary source for understanding the dilemma of those not wanting to be called conservatives but similarly unwilling to accept the tenets of modern liberalism. . . . Taylor is certainly not alone, and likely many Nebraskans similarly feel themselves at odds with much of modern liberalism. Nonetheless, they feel a strong connection with William Jennings Bryan, their state's 'Great Commoner,' who in the 1890s was an outspoken agitator for women and men like himself. Taylor's book does provide insight into the struggle of these modern day 'populists' attempting to find their place in the political spectrum.”

-- Nebraska History, Spring-Summer 2007

“As a people we possess and use long-standing and systematically related ideas about how American politics ought to work. . . . But how many genuinely resonant vocabularies for discussing our politics do we have? What do they say? When does one matter to politics more than another--and why? We have partial answers to these questions, thanks to the kind of study that Jeff Taylor has written. His is not the first such volume, of course. Arthur Schlesinger Jr.'s The Vital Center (1949) was once very influential. Political scientists still read and discuss Louis Hartz's 1955 classic, The Liberal Tradition in America, and James Morone has done much to revitalize Hartzian analysis . . . All such ambitious treatises seek a way to mobilize a wide audience and to mount social criticism of a troubling phenomenon in our politics. . . . For his part, Jeff Taylor seeks to show that the Democratic party and its leading politicians have gradually cut loose--to their detriment--from their Jeffersonian origins. . . . There's a certain amount of old-fashioned populist resentment coursing through Taylor's historical-intellectual analysis. But, in the end, Taylor has a point about regular two-party politicians today. Those who seek the presidency in our time are quite Hamiltonian--concerned with political economy and national greatness but not, in their hearts and minds, finely attuned to the life rhythms of ordinary Americans. . . . Certain empirical implications and applications in Taylor's stimulating and extensively researched book do not pan out. If one reads it, however, as a lament about the loss of a candidate style--a combination of political vocabulary and persona--then it is often eye opening. If the Democratic party nominates John Edwards to run for president in 2008, you will want to have this book . . . It will help you gauge the distance between populist Jeffersonian style of today and yesterday.”

-- Minnesota History, Summer 2007

“The book is, without a doubt, a great read. It’s really changing how I view some historical Democrats like William Jennings Bryan. . . . One of the suggestions for ‘libertarian Democrats’ is to describe their ideology in the framework of being ‘Jeffersonian liberals.’ Democratic activists may be more willing to listen to your ideas if you present them without the poison pill of the term ‘libertarian.’. . . For someone interested primarily in the Jeffersonian tradition, and not the figures of William Jennings Bryan and Hubert Humphrey, the first three chapters and the last two chapters are key. They outline both the origins of Jeffersonianism and the remnants today. . . . The middle seven chapters…make the most convincing case I've read yet for the ‘rehabilitation’ of the legacy of William Jennings Bryan.”

-- Logan Ferree, Freedom Democrats, September 28 & October 20, 2006 (http://freedomdemocrats.org/node/867 & http://freedomdemocrats.org/node/926)

“This is a really timely book . . . There's been a number of good articles written on the shift in the Senate, recognizing the appeal of populism in the newly elected Democrats. This book takes a broad view, and details the shift that went on in the Democratic Party . . . In many ways, it’s indicative of the Democrats that clearly espoused the popular people-based policies that helped win the elections for James Webb in Virginia and Sherrod Brown in Ohio, and others. Where Did The Party Go? is a really insightful look at the Democratic Party and its conflicting worldviews.”

-- Jerome Armstrong, MyDD, December 1, 2006

“I own this book. This guy is right about a lot of things. Jeffersonians, from the actual day of Jefferson all the way down to today, with guys like Russ Feingold, Jerry Brown, and Ron Paul (not all Jeffersonians are liberal), have usually been right and Hamiltonians (like Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon B. Johnson, and the Clintons) have usually been wrong. Furthermore, though Hamiltonians usually win through application of money and control of the media, it's the Jeffersonians who are usually more popular with their parties' rank and file. Think Taft v. Eisenhower, or Jackson v. Dukakis. This guy's not right about everything. . . . But on the economy, on trade, on foreign policy, on civil liberties, and on the basic role of government, he is right, Jefferson was right, Bryan was right, and the Hamiltonians who are running the Democratic and Republican Parties are wrong. Everyone who really cares about the future of this party, and the future of this country, ought to read the book and consider what is said therein.”

-- craverguy, MyDD, December 1, 2006 (http://www.mydd.com/comments/2006/12/1/205839/309/4?mode=alone;showrate=1#4)

“The author discusses one of my heroes, William Jennings Bryan, who resigned as Secretary of State when it became obvious that President Wilson was determined to go to war. Bryan’s pacifism was genuine and based on his deeply-held Christian beliefs. He also opposed the war in the Philippines. . . . The author also makes an excellent critique of President Bush’s use of Christian phrases out of context and contrasts the application of his faith to his public service. Well-thought-out and brutally frank, this eye-opener challenges the Democrats to rediscover their roots and their strength--and the Republicans to be honest about power, religion, and the party philosophy.”

-- Dave “Doc” Kirby, WTBF Radio, Troy, Alabama, October 2006

“I would also like to take the opportunity to recommend this book highly . . . It would make a great Christmas present. . . . I guarantee that there is something here for Antiwar Leaguers and friends of all political persuasions. The book helps immensely to see how we have arrived at the current state of affairs . . . and also helps us to think about how to change things. Just one example. One of the glaring weaknesses of the leftist-led antiwar movement has been its utter failure to deal with or even comprehend support for the Bush war policy by evangelical or fundamentalist Christians and even conservative Catholics. Until this weakness is addressed we can never dismantle the war machine and turn away from empire and back toward our republican roots. The Antiwar League is attempting to redefine what it means to be antiwar in a way that does not exclude devout religious Americans. Jeff’s book can be a major resource and guidebook for all of us who are working toward this goal.”

-- Doug Fuda, Antiwar League, November 2006 (http://www.antiwarleague.com)

“What is unclear to me is how ‘libertarian Democrats’ offer anything substantially better or even more ‘libertarian’ than the old conservative Democrats and Populists of the 19th century whose legacy the modern Democratic Party has completely abandoned. Whether as diagnosed in Where Did The Party Go? or recounted by my relatives who were once Democrats but could no longer remain in that party, we all know that the party of both Cleveland and Bryan has become the party of Humphrey and Clinton and that this transformation is what irrevocably drove so many traditional Democratic voters, who shared an aversion to concentrated power and wealth, to the other side. For the last forty or fifty years these people have tried to convince themselves that siding with the party of concentrated wealth was at least slightly preferable to the party of concentrated power and cultural revolution. Unfortunately, the Democrats show no real signs of changing their fundamental direction or priorities, which do not include individual freedoms as most of these disenchanted Democrats understand them.”

-- Daniel Larison, “Give Me Bryan, Not Kossacks,” Eunomia, October 2, 2006 (http://larison.org/2006/10/02/give-me-bryan-not-kossacks)

“The consideration of the liberal reduction within the Democratic Party is examined by Jeff Taylor. Educated with a doctorate and serving as a professor do not interfere with his ability to produce an interesting and easy-to-understand book that is a pleasure to read and yet a good reference to serve the would-be scholar. Copious notes, a complete bibliography, and a detailed index would serve the researching reader as well. The ease of the political junkie in acquiring new knowledge is inherent.”

-- Dr. Harry C. Rasdal, conservative Republican leader in Iowa since the Goldwater '64 campaign, June 2007 (letter to author)

“I finished your book a couple of evenings ago and I must say that it is one of the most insightful and helpful books I have ever read! I now understand much about our political history and process that I had either once known but forgot, or never known and now have learned. The twelve main tenets of Jefferson and the tenets of Hamilton were most enlightening. . . . I was impressed with the manner in which our presidents and the two main political parties are tied to wealth, power, and elitism. As you point out, since most voters do not live in this milieu, it is not surprising that only half of eligible voters vote in presidential elections. Your analysis of George W. Bush’s Christian faith and how it works itself out (or doesn’t work itself out) in his political thoughts and actions was very discerning. You showed respect for the reality of his faith, while at the same time pointing out the inconsistencies of his faith and his practice in the political arena. I appreciate so much the manner in which you weaved the truths of evangelical Christianity throughout the book, including many noted Christian authors in your notes and your bibliography. . . . I could go on and on with things that I learned from your book, but I want to say that you are an honest and thorough scholar and a very interesting writer.”

-- Dr. H. Gene Follis, evangelical Protestant pastor, November 2006 (letter to author)

SOME EARLY FEEDBACK ABOUT THE BOOK

Here are some comments about the book when it was still in manuscript form. They are, by necessity, anonymous but all four are scholars and authors. You may get a feel for some of the positive aspects of the book by reading them:

“The author provides us with something much more interesting and thought-provoking than a chronological survey of liberal principles and politicians. . . . The writing is surprisingly free of academic or methodological jargon. In addition, the versatile and eclectic reach of the author’s handling of textual material indicates a mature mind sensitive to the interplay of ideas and institutions in the American political and economic system.”

“I was very impressed with both the breadth and depth of the research. . . . He cites both genuine conservatives and genuine leftists and shows how their ideologies have a lot more in common with each other than the ‘conventional wisdom’ of the dominant political discourse would suggest. A lot of authors either cannot or will not simultaneously use polar opposite ideologies in their work.”

Where Did the Party Go? is a fresh and unusually perceptive examination of the Jeffersonian legacy in Democratic politics. . . . It is an original and provocative book that will find ardent champions and sharp critics upon its publication.”

~~~

Where Did the Party Go? was one of YBP's University Press Bestsellers for September 2006.

Where Did the Party Go? has been used as a resource for lectures by professors and/or supplementary reading for students, including:

Dr. Russell Arben Fox, political scientist, Friends University (Wichita, Kansas)
Dr. Tim Barnett, political scientist, Jacksonville State University (Alabama)
Dr. Christian Hacke, political scientist, University of Bonn (Germany)

Where Did the Party Go? has been acquired by over 335 libraries, including Los Angeles Public Library, Stanford University, UCLA, U.S. Air Force Academy, Georgetown University, Broward Community College, University of Iowa, Loyola University, University of Chicago, Amherst College, Brandeis University, Harvard University, MIT, Wellesley College, Johns Hopkins University, U.S. Naval Academy, Augsburg College, St. Louis Public Library, Appalachian State University, Omaha Public Library, Dartmouth College, Rutgers University, Columbia University, New York Public Library, Vassar College, Oklahoma State University, University of Oregon, Franklin and Marshall College, the Citadel, South Dakota State Library, Bryan College, Vanderbilt University, Southern Methodist University, Weber State University, College of William & Mary, University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, York University, British Library, National Library of China, Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, and University of Geneva.

Jeff Taylor speaking at the University Center Rochester Faculty Lecture Series, September 2006.

Jeff Taylor with a nineteenth-century wagon wheel in front of Pleasant Taylor's old house in Pottawattamie County, Iowa. Pleasant operated Taylor Station, a stage coach connection and post office. The house is across the road from where JT's paternal grandparents lived. The Taylors emigrated from England to Virginia in the 1610s. Traveling from Virginia through North Carolina and Georgia, they were living in Tennessee in 1811 when Pleasant Taylor was born. His father, Barzilla Taylor, was a soldier under General Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812. Pleasant lived in Tennessee, Indiana, and Illinois before going to Iowa territory in 1843. In 1850, Pleasant was one of the first white settlers in Pottawattamie Co., which was located in the southwest corner of the new state, not far from the eventual city of Omaha. The Taylors were small farmers and Jeffersonian Democrats for many generations. Pleasant Taylor died in February 1896. Five months later, the Democratic Party nominated William Jennings Bryan for president.

Jeff Taylor's maternal grandfather liked to give the little-used $2 bill, which bears Jefferson's picture, as a holiday and birthday gift.

Main page for book: http://www.popcorn78.blogspot.com


Main page for book: http://www.popcorn78.blogspot.com



About Me

My photo
Professor, Dordt College ~ PhD & MA, Political Science, University of Missouri * MA, Library Science, University of Iowa * BA, Social Science, Northwestern College