The CNN Original Series “Race for the White House” captures the dramatic twist and turns of America’s presidential elections past. Executive producers Kevin Spacey and Dana Brunetti offer a six episode series featuring coverage of JFK vs. Nixon; Lincoln vs. Douglas; Clinton vs Bush; Bush vs Dukakis; Jackson vs Quincy Adams; and Truman vs. Dewey. To learn more about the latter, read Andrew E. Bush’s “Truman’s Triumphs: The 1948 Election and the Making of Postwar America.” Even readers knowledgeable about Truman’s 1948 victory will discover new findings in this fresh and revealing account of that dramatic race.
When 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.
Yonder yesteryear at the dawn of that awful war in Vietnam, national security adviser McGeorge Bundy, presiding over the United States response to the latest terrorist “spectacular”—an attack on a U.S. airbase—told journalist David Halberstam that “Pleikus are like streetcars.” Attacks were opportunities. They occurred with frequency. The U.S. could choose its moment. The absence of introspection is sufficient to show how blindly Washington marched into war. Today we observe not just the 50th anniversary of the U.S. dispatch of combat troops to Vietnam, but the 40th anniversary of our adversaries winning that war. To paraphrase him, John Foster Dulles once said, it’s easy to go to the brink but the key thing is to avoid tumbling over it. America still needs to appreciate that. We went over the brink in Iraq and now we’ve tumbled right back in. Washington’s need to relearn the same lessons is disturbing.
—John Prados, author of Vietnam: The History of an Unwinnable War, 1945-1975
Forty years ago, the last U.S. Ambassador to Saigon refused to believe the war had been lost by our allies, and failed to plan adequately for the evacuation of remaining American civilians and their Vietnamese brothers-in-arms. What turned the resulting chaos into a moment of nobility was the heroism of my CIA and State Department colleagues who at grave risk hauled imperiled Vietnamese onto any outbound aircraft those last weeks of the war. In the course of this improvisatory Exodus, nearly seventy Americans, most of them civilian government workers but also including two brave Marines, were killed or captured by onrushing Communist forces—proof that Americans are always prepared to risk all to save their friends.
—Frank Snepp, last CIA strategy analyst in Saigon, interviewed expert for PBS’s Last Days in Vietnam, author of Decent Interval: An Insider’s Account of Saigon’s Indecent End Told by the CIA’s Chief Strategy Analyst in Vietnam
Former CIA analyst Frank Snepp, author of Decent Interval: An Insider’s Account of Saigon’s Indecent End Told by the CIA’s Chief Strategy Analyst in Vietnam, is mentioned within this insider account of the Fall of Saigon, an Associated Press story about Peter Arnett’s new book, Saigon Has Fallen.