Louis Fisher Discusses “Congress: Protecting Individual Rights”

9780700622115When asked which branch of government protects citizens’ rights, we tend to think of the Supreme Court—stepping in to defend gay rights, for example, in the recent same-sex marriage case. But as constitutional scholar Louis Fisher reveals inside “Congress: Protecting Individual Rights,” this would be a mistake—and not just because a decision like the gay marriage ruling can be decided by the opinion of a single justice. Rather, we tend to judge the executive and judicial branches idealistically, while taking a more realistic view of the legislative, with its necessarily messier and more transparent workings. In Congress, Fisher highlights these biases as he measures the record of the three branches in protecting individual rights—and finds that Congress, far more than the president or the Supreme Court, has defended the rights of blacks, women, children, Native Americans, and religious liberty.

After reviewing the constitutional principles that apply to all three branches of government, Fisher conducts us through a history of struggles over individual rights, showing how the court has frequently failed at many critical junctures where Congress has acted to protect rights. He identifies changes in the balance of power over time—a post–World War II transformation that has undermined the system of checks and balances the Framers designed to protect individuals in their aspiration for self-government. Without a strong, independent Congress, this book reminds us, our system would operate with two elected officers in the executive branch and none in the judiciary, a form of government best described as elitist—and one no one would deem democratic.

In light of the history that unfolds here—and in view of a Congress widely decried as dysfunctional—Fisher proposes reforms that would strengthen not only the legislative branch’s role in protecting individual rights under the Constitution, but also its standing in the democracy it serves.

Q&A with Patrick J. Maney, author of “Bill Clinton: New Gilded Age President”

9780700621941Q:     Why did you choose to write about Bill Clinton compared to another president?

A:     He was the first member of my generation to become president. We were born within a couple of months of one another and were shaped by many of the same events: the Cold War, the Kennedy assassination, the civil rights movement, the draft, Vietnam. His heroes were my heroes: Elvis, JFK, Martin Luther King. So I felt a sort of kinship with Bill Clinton—and Hillary.

I was also interested in understanding why they were such polarizing figures. Why the reactions to the Clintons, both pro and con, seemed out of proportion to their actions. How, for example, to account for the hatred that consumed so many of their critics? Sure, they rubbed a lot of people the wrong way by supporting abortion rights, affirmative action, gays in the military, and gender equality. The president’s infidelities understandably upset many. Still, most of their views resided safely in the political mainstream. Indeed, Clinton’s economic and fiscal views made him one of the most conservative Democrats to occupy the White House in the twentieth century. Here was a president who hailed the end of big government; who was more pro-business than pro-labor; who presided over deregulation of the telecommunications and banking industries; approved more corporate mergers than his two predecessors combined; wore his religion on his sleeve; approved drastic cuts in welfare; and was tough on crime. Before he became president, Clinton supported the Gulf War, and, after gaining his footing in the White House, showed himself more willing than many of his Republican critics to deploy American forces abroad. Something other than policy was at work here. The Clintons had become a kind of national Rorschach test upon which people projected their personal hopes and fears, values and attitudes. Critics weren’t alone in projecting onto the Clintons. Ardent supporters were apt to do it as well. How else to explain prominent African Americans like writer Toni Morrison describing Clinton as “the first black president” and “one of us,” even as they deplored Clinton’s support for welfare reform, discriminatory sentencing guidelines, and the death penalty (even in the case of Ricky Ray Rector, a brain-damaged African American inmate in Arkansas).

Q:     What did you learn about Clinton that you did not know before you wrote this book?

A:     Foreign affairs loomed much larger in his administration than I had remembered. After a stumbling start, Clinton devised a plausible strategic substitute for the containment policy that had guided the United Stated throughout the Cold War. He helped resolve conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo, of course, but also helped diffuse conflicts in Haiti, North Korea, and between India and Pakistan. More controversially, Clinton expanded the president’s war-making powers over Congress; anticipated some of the George W. Bush administration’s tactics in the post-9/11 War on Terror; and, by accusing Saddam Hussein of concealing weapons of mass destruction, helped lay the groundwork for the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. We don’t think of foreign policy when we think of the Clinton administration. We should.

Q:     What do you think was Clinton’s defining moment as president?

A:     Politically, the defining moment of the Clinton presidency came on the heals of two devastating defeats in 1994: The demise of health care reform—“Hillarycare”—and Republican rout in the midterm elections. For the first time in forty years, the GOP controlled both house of Congress. “The shape of American politics will very probably never be the same again,” said the dean of American historians, Walter Dean Burnham, adding that the GOP might be the dominant party for years, perhaps even generations. With seemingly no chance of being reelected, Clinton was reduced to telling reporters—not very convincingly—that he was still relevant. But at that very moment–with Clinton laying flat on the canvas and Newt Gingrich, the new Republican Speaker of the House, standing over him with arms raised in triumph–Clinton was plotting his comeback. And what a comeback it was. In 1996 he became the first Democrat since FDR to win a second term. For anyone interested in politics for politics sake, it doesn’t get any better than this.

Q:     How do you think Bill Clinton’s presidency affects Hillary’s campaign?

A:     It’s both help and hindrance. Hillary’s years in the White House, coupled with her career in the Senate and State Department, equipped her with a command of issues and policies rare among presidential candidates. No candidate in either party this year can match her detailed knowledge. Hillary also acquired a network of high-level advisors and policy experts that would be the envy of any presidential aspirant. A year or two ago, her experience and connections would seem to have been an unqualified plus. But no longer. We’re now in the year of the outsider. Senator Sanders’s surprisingly strong challenge has also forced Hillary to distance herself from many of the actions of her husband’s administration: the Defense of Marriage Act, deregulation of the telecommunications and banking industries, and the decision to leave unregulated the market in credit default swaps and other risky derivatives. President Clinton’s Iraqi policies are also a potential millstone. In the end, my hunch is that experience will still work to her advantage, but it’s too early to tell for certain.

Q:     What aspects of Bill’s presidency could Hillary use to her advantage?

A:     Instead of running away from the record of her husband’s administration, as Al Gore did in 2000 and as she is doing now, she might at least embrace some of the economic successes of the nineties. She might also note that despite the partisan rancor of the times, there was more bipartisan cooperation than at any time since.

Q:     How do you think Clinton’s presidency will be remembered? 

A:     Bill Clinton may well be remembered less for the successes and failures of his administration than for his personal resilience. Journalist Anna Quindlen compared him to “one of those inflatable children’s toys with sand weighting the bottom. You knock him down and he pops back up.” What historian Garry Wills said of Richard Nixon is also true of Clinton: “He rose again, eerily, from each stumble or knockout, apparently unkillable. He raised undiscourageability to heroic scale.” It’s possible Hillary will be remembered in the same way.

–Patrick J. Maney, author of “Bill Clinton: New Gilded Age President

Presidents’ Day: The Harmony of a Political Hero and an English Playwright

9780700621293At first thought the conjunction of Abraham Lincoln’s name with that of William Shakespeare’s may seem surprising.  What is it that connects these two iconic figures, one an American political hero, the other probably Great Britain’s most famous individual? Some have suggested that these men have a lot in common: both were born in humble circumstances and made their way in the world through hard work and visionary aspirations.  But, of course, these are incidental matters, and the real interest in examining Lincoln and Shakespeare lies in the former’s reading and appreciation of the latter.  

So the question becomes, how did this ill-educated frontiersman come to value the plays of the great English playwright?  One answer is that however minimal Lincoln’s schooling, Shakespeare played a role in it.  School “readers,” as they were called, emphasized the arts of reading, writing, and, especially, public speaking.  When the author of one of these nineteenth century textbooks wanted examples of moving and powerful poetry and prose, Shakespeare’s heroes and kings provided some of the best examples: the rhetorical eloquence of Marc Antony, Henry V, Hamlet, and Othello could stir the imaginations of the young.  And Lincoln, according to some witnesses, was also fortunate in his friends: the shadowy figure of schoolmaster Jack Kelso, characterized by some as somewhere between the village poet and the village idiot, loved Shakespeare and fishing: “Uninterested in the ‘right to rise,’” as one writer has suggested, Kelso “spent his days hunting and fishing, wandering in the woods, and generally not giving a damn.” Kelso and young Abe supposedly read and recited Shakespeare as they waited for the fish to bite.

As a young lawyer, Lincoln found that citations from Shakespeare could sometimes spice up dry legal arguments.  Riding the circuit from courthouse to courthouse, he included a copy of Shakespeare’s works along with Blackstone’s “Commentaries on the Law” in his saddlebags. And among friends he would love to read or quote from Shakespeare’s plays.  Occasional references to Shakespeare, usually indirect, would pop up from time to time in his early political speeches and writings.

As president, Lincoln continued to read Shakespeare, sometimes out loud and late into the night, once putting his young secretary, John Hay, to sleep. Living in Washington, he was able to see some of the great actors of his day in Shakespeare’s histories and tragedies: Edwin Booth (brother of Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes), Charlotte Cushman, and Edwin Forrest.  The last week of his life, he read over and over again passages from his favorite play, “Macbeth.” After his death, he would be eulogized as Macbeth’s royal victim, Duncan, because, like that martyred king, he “bore his faculties so meek and was so clear in his great office, that his virtues will plead like angels, trumpet tongued, against the deep damnation of his taking off.”   

–Written by Michael Anderegg, author of “Lincoln and Shakespeare”

What Would Lincoln Do?

9780700621125In 1956 the esteemed historian David Donald famously noted that in the twentieth century it had become imperative for politicians, ideologues, do-gooders, and schemers of all types to link their cause to our sixteenth president. Lincoln was upheld by communists, vegetarians, isolationists, and spiritualists alike: everybody wanted to get right with Lincoln, everybody wanted to know “what would Lincoln do?” when confronted with whatever issue demanded attention at the moment.

In this spirit, and in honor of the 207th anniversary of the Great Emancipator’s birth, let us ask ourselves, how would Lincoln celebrate a revered and important birth?    

Luckily, we have several examples of Lincolnian celebration to guide us, but before we put on our party hats and break out the cake, we have to remember that Lincoln was a man of the nineteenth century, when a grand celebration usually entailed listening to an hours-long speech, followed by toasts and boasts that could last just as long. In 1862, for example, to mark the birthday of George Washington, Lincoln “recommended to the People of the United States that they assemble in their customary places of meeting for public solemnities” in order to “celebrate the anniversary of the birth of the Father of His Country by”… well, by listening to a stirring rendition of Washington’s “immortal Farewell address.”

Now, to be fair, in 1863, to mark the birthday of the our nation–and the twin victories of Gettysburg and Vicksburg–Lincoln welcomed a joyous torch-lit procession to the White House with presidential jokes and mirth, so it wasn’t always “public solemnities” with him.

Probably the most characteristic Lincolnian celebration of a birthday was his public letter of April 6, 1859 to Henry L. Pierce, the organizer of an event in Boston to celebrate the birth of Thomas Jefferson. Lincoln could not attend in person, but his message brought the spirit of Lincoln to New England, even before the Cooper Union tour the next year that would help elect him president.

Lincoln began by noting the oddity that Jefferson’s birthday was being celebrated at all in Boston, the former bastion of his Federalist opponents, while in contrast the Democratic party had virtually ceased to utter the name of its political progenitor. “The Jefferson party were formed upon its supposed superior devotion to the personal rights of men, holding the rights of property to be secondary only,” Lincoln noted paradoxically, but “the democracy of to-day hold the liberty of one man to be absolutely nothing, when in conflict with another man’s right of property. Republicans, on the contrary, are for both the man and the dollar; but in cases of conflict, the man before the dollar.”

This led Lincoln to a classic “leetle story,” like so many that Lincoln told, that made his point so cleverly that dissent would be churlish:

I remember once being much amused at seeing two partially intoxicated men engage in a fight with their great-coats on, which fight, after a long, and rather harmless contest, ended in each having fought himself out of his own coat, and into that of the other. If the two leading parties of this day are really identical with the two in the days of Jefferson and Adams, they have performed the same feat as the two drunken men.

Lincoln then went on to unleash a series of hammer-blow sentences in defense of the author of our national creed that “all men are created equal” that, together, can stand with any of Lincoln’s writings for clarity, power, and impact:

But soberly, it is now no child’s play to save the principles of Jefferson from total overthrow in this nation….

The principles of Jefferson are the definitions and axioms of free society. Yet they are denied and evaded, with no small show of success.

One dashingly calls them “glittering generalities”; another bluntly calls them “self evident lies”; and still others insidiously argue that they apply only to “superior races.”…

We must repulse them, or they will subjugate us.

This is a world of compensations; and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, cannot long retain it.

All honor to Jefferson–to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, and so to embalm it there, that to-day, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression.

Here, then, is how to fitting celebrate and mark a birthday according to Lincoln: a joke, yes, a wry comment, certainly, but always a steely determination to stand by our highest ideals. In this world of compensations, when glittering generalities still bedazzle, we could do worse than to get right by Lincoln.

–Written by Martin P. Johnson, author of Writing the Gettysburg Address

UPK Publishes 49 of 150 Best Books of Kansas

ks lib logThe State Library of Kansas hosts a list of the 150 Best Kansas Books. UPK is proud to claim credit for publishing 49 of these tomes, including:

1001 Kansas Place Names, by Sondra Van Meter McCoy and Jan Hults

The Autobiography of William Allen White, by William Allen White

Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era, by Nicole Etcheson

Brown v. Board of Education: Caste, Culture, and the Constitution, by Robert Cottrol, Raymond T. Diamond and Leland B. Ware

Dying and Living on the Kansas Prairie: A Diary, by Carol Brunner Rutledge (out of print at this time)

The End of Indian Kansas: A Study of Cultural Revolution, 1854-1871, by H. Craig Miner and William E. Unrau

The Enduring Indians of Kansas: A Century and a Half of Acculturation, by Joseph B. Herring

Exodusters: Black Migrations to Kansas After Reconstruction, by Nell Irvin Painter (out of print at this time)

Farming the Dust Bowl: A First-Hand Account from Kansas, by Lawrence Svoboda

Flint Hills Cowboys: Tales from the Tallgrass Prairie, by Jim Hoy

Folklore from Kansas: Customs, Beliefs and Superstitions, William E. Koch (ed.)

Ghost Towns of Kansas: A Traveler’s Guide, by Daniel Fitzgerald

The Great Kansas Bond Scandal, by Robert Smith Bader

Guide to Kansas Architecture, by David H. Sachs and George Ehrlich

The Guide to Kansas Birds and Birding Hot Spots, by Bob Gress and Pete Janzen

Haunted Kansas: Ghost Stories and Other Eerie Tales, by Lisa Hefner Heitz

Hayseeds, Moralizers, and Methodists: The Twentieth-Century Image of Kansas, by Robert Smith Bader

Home on the Range: A Century on the High Plains, by James R. Dickenson

Indian Orphanages, by Marilyn Irvin Holt

John Brown to Bob Dole: Movers and Shakers in Kansas History, Virgil W. Dean (ed.)

Kansas: A History of the Sunflower State, 1854-2000, by H. Craig Miner

Kansas and the West: New Perspectives, Rita Napier (ed.)

Kansas Archaeology, by Robert J. Hoard and William E. Banks

The Kansas Cookbook, by Frank Carey and Jayni Naas

Kansas Geology: An Introduction to Landscapes, Rocks, Minerals, and Fossils, Rex Buchanan (ed.)

Kansas in Color: Photographs Selected by Kansas! Magazine, Andrea Glenn (ed.) (out of print at this time)

Kansas Murals: A Traveler’s Guide, by Laura Jost and Dave Loewenstein

Kansas Quilts & Quilters, by Barbara Brackman and Jennie Chin (out of print at this time)

Kansas Wetlands: A Wildlife Treasury, Joseph T. Collins, Suzanne L. Collins and Bob Gress

A Kansas Year, by Mike Blair

Land of the Post Rock: Its Origins, History and People, by Grace Muilenburg and Ada Swineford

Living Landscapes of Kansas, paintings by Robert Sudlow

The Last Cattle Drive, by Robert Day

Next Year Country: Dust to Dust in Western Kansas, 1890-1940, by H. Craig Miner

Peopling the Plains: Who Settled Where in Frontier Kansas, by James R. Shortridge

Prohibition in Kansas: A History, by Robert Smith Bader

Roadside Kansas: A Traveler’s Guide to its Geology and Landmarks, by Rex C. Buchanan and James R. McCauley

Section 27: A Century on a Family Farm, by Mil Penner

Seeding Civil War: Kansas in the National News, 1854-1858, by H. Craig Miner

Sod and Stubble: The Story of a Kansas Homestead, by John Ise

Sod-House Days: Letters from a Kansas Homesteader, 1877-1878, by Howard Ruede

Time, Politics, and Policies: A Legislative Year, by Burdett A. Loomis

A Time to Lose: Representing Kansas in Brown v. Board of Education, by Paul E. Wilson

True Tales of Old-Time Kansas, by David Dary

West of Wichita: Settling the High Plains of Kansas, 1865-1890, by H. Craig Miner

What Kansas Means to Me: Twentieth-Century Writers on the Sunflower State, Thomas Fox Averill (ed.)

Wildflowers and Grasses of Kansas: A Field Guide, by Michael John Haddock

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Kansas Centennial Edition, by L. Frank Baum, Michael McCurdy, and Ray Bradbury

The WPA Guide to 1930s Kansas, by the Federal Writers’ Project of the Work Projects Administration for the State of Kansas, Introduction by James R. Shortridge

Bill Clinton’s Back

9780700621941Of the original Gilded Age, historian Richard Hofstadter wrote: “There is no other period in the nation’s history when politics seems so completely dwarfed by economic changes, none in which the life of the country rests so completely in the hands of the industrial entrepreneur.” The era of William Jefferson Clinton’s ascent to the presidency was strikingly similar—nothing less, Clinton himself said, than “a paradigm shift . . . from the industrial age to an information-technology age, from the Cold War to a global society.” How Bill Clinton met the challenges of this new Gilded Age is the subject of Patrick J. Maney’s book, “Bill Clinton: New Gilded Age President,” an in-depth perspective on the 42nd president of the United States and the transformative era over which he presided.

Maney’s in-depth study of Clinton goes beyond personality and politics to examine the critical issues of the day: economic and fiscal policy, business and financial deregulation, healthcare and welfare reform, and foreign affairs in a postCold War world. But at its heart is Clinton in all his guises: the first baby boomer to reach the White House; the “natural”—the most gifted politician of his generation, but one with an inexplicably careless and self-destructive streak; the “Comeback Kid,” repeatedly overcoming long odds; the survivor, frequently down but never out; and, with current Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, part of the most controversial First Couple since Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.  Maney’s book is, in sum, the most succinct and up-to-date study of the Clinton presidency, invaluable not merely for understanding a transformative era in American history, but presidential, national, and global politics today.

The New York Times Interviews Dan Flores about “American Serengeti”

9780700622276The New York Times highlights the 32nd National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, where UPK author, Dan Flores, discusses his latest book, “American Serengeti: The Last Big Animals of the Great Plains.”  The Times proclaims, “Flores’ latest book examines the similarity between the wildlife that still exists in the African grasslands and the American bison, antelope, wolves, and grizzly bears that roamed the great expanse from the Missouri River to the Rockies when American explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark entered the wilderness in the early 1800s.

In a work that is at once a lyrical evocation of that lost splendor and a detailed natural history of these charismatic species of the historic Great Plains, veteran naturalist and outdoorsman Flores draws a vivid portrait of each of these animals in their glory—and tells the harrowing story of what happened to them at the hands of market hunters and ranchers and ultimately a federal killing program in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Great Plains with its wildlife intact dazzled Americans and Europeans alike, prompting numerous literary tributes. American Serengeti takes its place alongside these celebratory works, showing us the grazers and predators of the plains against the vast opalescent distances, the blue mountains shimmering on the horizon, the great rippling tracts of yellowed grasslands. Far from the empty “flyover country” of recent times, this landscape is alive with a complex ecology at least 20,000 years old—a continental patrimony whose wonders may not be entirely lost, as recent efforts hold out hope of partial restoration of these historic species.