Monday, November 19, 2007

Book Review - Sinking the Ship of State

Author: Walter M. Brasch
Publisher: BookSurge Publishing
ISBN: 978-1-4196-6950-7

Walter M. Brasch, a professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University, has followed George W. Bush’s career from his first presidential campaign in 2000 until the present day. Brasch has listened to the president’s speeches, observed his policy formation and political appointment processes, and been dumbfounded by the press’s widespread refusal, until recently, to criticize the president, his policies and his politics. Unlike many of his journalistic peers, Brasch has asked tough questions about George W. Bush for nearly a decade. Sinking the Ship of State is the impressive (and, at 436 pages, bulky) compendium of Brasch’s news and journal articles about the Bush campaigns and subsequent administrations from February 2000 through April 2007. These articles also contain stern words for news media that, through their superficial coverage of campaign politics and presidential pronouncements and policies, have been complicit in the many blunders of the Bush presidency.

The book, which is arranged chronologically, opens with pieces that chronicle the presidential campaign of 2000. Brasch skewers pundits who pretend that speculations regarding candidates’ primary rankings and their prospects for gaining ground in the next round of the race are more newsworthy than examination of candidates’ policy positions and promises. Also missing are examinations of what candidates’ campaign tactics may reveal about their characters. Brasch countered this tendency with his own insightful observations of such items throughout the 2000 and 2004 campaigns and elections.

Brasch’s analyses proceed through the disasters of 9-11, the Patriot Act and other un-Constitutional legislation, the selling and maintenance of an illegitimate war, irresponsible energy and environmental policies, domestic spying, failure to prepare for and respond to Hurricane Katrina, the 2004 and 2006 elections and the accountability that was finally imposed upon the administration by the Democratic Congressional majority that was elected last year. Since that time, new revelations of the incompetence and political corruption of administrative branch departments have forced the Bush administration to assume a defensive posture that had not been compelled by either a complicit Republican Congress or a complacent national press for the previous six years.

Interspersed with the news accounts are updates regarding subsequent developments of the issues at hand. For example, one of Brasch’s articles, published in November 2005, about the Scooter Libby trial, is supplemented by an addendum describing President Bush’s 2007 commutation of Libby’s prison sentence. Such addendums helpfully remind readers of the ongoing nature of the events discussed throughout the book.

Political junkies will likely enjoy this book, which is a good summary of one writer’s view of a critical period in American history. I only wish that the author had included a subject index. One of the most appealing aspects of the book is the fact that it aggregates a series of “real-time” documents and lays them side-by-side, or end-to-end, as the case may be. It is fascinating to step back in time and relive events as they unfolded and to watch, with the benefit of hindsight, one man’s views as they form(ed). The dual nature of such a reading is engaging and thought provoking. Brasch’s writing is, in turns, witty, enraged, heartfelt and uncannily accurate and prescient. As Americans stand poised on the brink of yet another presidential election, Sinking the Ship of State offers insights into what can be expected in the coming campaigns. More importantly, it reminds us of the errors of our recent past, thereby giving us a tool by which we can begin shaping a better political future for our country. It is a timely book that deserves, perhaps even demands, a wide readership.

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