Culture > Books

Beltway Books: Of pols and statesmen

Books | Some problems are phony, while the real ones are ignored

Issue: "Federal Testing," Sept. 13, 1997

Scandals continue to swirl about the Clinton administration. Perhaps the best place to go for information on the doings of the First Couple and their friends is the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, from which Whitewater is drawn.

Robert Bartley explains that "we need an accounting, some judgment of history, to begin to restore our faith in our political leadership and in our society." Whitewater helps do so, covering the campaign and the Clintons' Asian connection, misuse of federal agencies like the FBI, character questions, and miscellaneous misdeeds like snooping through FBI files.

Of course, American politicians have never been perfect. Still, it is distressing that people today are willing to settle for so little, having once taken greatness for granted. Consider Thomas Jefferson. Principled in public affairs and measured in his private life, Jefferson actually believed his rhetoric, unlike current officials for whom effective lying is a job qualification.

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Jefferson's Memorandum Books offer a plethora of information about the private man-his business dealings, friendships, health, and finances. One of his most important traits, evident in the two volumes, is his omnivorous curiousity. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson covers his final months as secretary of state in the Washington administration. It was a time of discord between the British-leaning Alexander Hamilton, who served as Treasury secretary, and the Francophile Jefferson. This was a different era in many ways. Among other things, cabinet secretaries actually read and wrote their own correspondence!

I'd forgive modern politicians their ghostwriters if they faithfully performed their duties. But in Polluted Science, science writer Michael Fumento shows how EPA head Carol Browner is dishonestly pushing her costly ideological agenda on the rest of us. The agency has, explains Mr. Fumento, "fabricated new hazards that nobody before knew existed, including the regulators and the activist groups themselves." The proposed rules will probably "make more of us ill and even kill some of us off."

Another fake crisis is the growth of part-time work, one aspect of the strike against United Parcel Service. While public officials are now leading the parade against so-called "contingent" work, the government has encouraged the creation of part-time jobs by mandating so many benefits for full-time employment.

In any case, as economist Max Lyons points out in Part-Time Work, 80 percent of part-timers don't want regular hours: "The vast majority of students, retirees and married women who work part-time would rather not work full-time."

Public officials today are also loath to wrestle with serious moral issues, such as abortion. The Silent Subject brings together 14 thoughtful and illuminating essays on the issue. Writes WORLD contributor Brad Stetson: "Those who would see our prodigal nation return to an understanding it once held to be self-evident-that the right to life is inalienable-are obliged to continue to speak out in a voice however dissonant with the spirit of our age."

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