American politics

Serious observers of American presidential politics will not have missed the rapid rise to national prominence of Pete Buttigieg, the thirty-eight-year-old former mayor of the small Midwestern city of South Bend, Indiana. Within a year of announcing his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination, Buttigieg had made history as, in his words, ‘the first openly gay candidate to win a state in a presidential nominating contest – doing so as the first out elected official to even make the attempt’.

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On 4 November 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected president of the United States. The former radio announcer, Hollywood actor, and governor of California (1967–75) beat Jimmy Carter by four hundred and forty electoral college votes. No contender had beaten an incumbent by that much since 1932, when in the midst of the Great Depression Franklin D. Roosevelt triumphed over Herbert Hoover. And much like FDR’s victory, Reagan’s win in 1980 permanently altered the course of US politics. The welfare state that had existed under both Democratic and Republican presidents was diminished, if not entirely dismantled. The religious right, previously a nonentity in American politics, gained major clout. And the economic tenets of neo-liberalism, dismissed as fringe ideas in previous decades, took centre stage.

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John R. Lewis, who died in July 2020, was an extraordinary man. Born poor, the son of tenant farmers in rural, segregated Alabama, Lewis was one of America’s most prominent civil rights leaders by the age of twenty-three. He spoke at the March on Washington in 1963, when Dr Martin Luther King Jr delivered his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech.

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It is easy to believe, in the glad confident morning of the new presidency, that not being George W. Bush will be enough: that to restore America’s place in the world, Barack Obama need only avoid the mistakes and repudiate the misdeeds of his discredited predecessor. If so, his task will be easy, and this book may help. But what if something more is needed?

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Andrew Johnson’s first day in the White House was less than promising. Whether, as his supporters claimed, he was suffering from illness and had attempted to self-medicate or had simply been celebrating his new position as vice president, Johnson was devastatingly drunk. It was 3 March 1865, the Civil War was rapidly drawing to a close, and the recently re-elected President Lincoln was to deliver his second inaugural address. In prose that would eventually be inscribed across the walls of his marble memorial, Lincoln reflected on God, war, and the emerging challenge of how to rehabilitate a divided Union. The vice president’s words that day were barely decipherable and after prostrating himself before a Bible and subjecting it to a long wet kiss, he was quickly ushered away.

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Andrew Broertjes reviews 'Richard Nixon: The life' by John A. Farrell

Andrew Broertjes
Thursday, 07 December 2017

Richard Nixon remains one of America’s most intriguing presidents (1969–74). Intelligent, shrewd, and possessing a keen sense of the public mood, Nixon represented the ideal presidential model. His grasp of foreign policy has been unmatched by his successors, and his domestic policies represented the last hurrah of ‘New Deal'...

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On 12 August 2017 a mob of neo-Nazis descended on the campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, chanting racial epithets while openly carrying rifles and pistols. Many of the participants were from groups that advocate not just racial supremacy but the end of the US federal government, which they see as tyrannical ...

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Letter from America

Beejay Silcox
Monday, 22 August 2016

Politics is personal in the United States, far more private than it appears from outside. When political allegiance becomes tied to character, revealing one reveals the other ...

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Billy Griffiths reviews 'Unholy Fury' by James Curran

Billy Griffiths
Wednesday, 29 July 2015

I have never met an Aussie I didn’t like.’ The half-compliment was the best President Richard Nixon could muster during a restrained exchange with Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in the Oval Office in July 1973. After the turbulent build-up to this meeting, rivetingly conveyed in James Curran’s history Unholy Fury: Whitlam and Nixon at War, one almost expe ...

Varun Ghosh reviews 'The Stranger' by Chuck Todd

Varun Ghosh
Wednesday, 29 April 2015

It is sometimes easy to forget that Barack Obama ascended from the Illinois state senate to the presidency of the United States in just over four years. It was a steep rise – exhilarating and unprecedented. Since assuming office in January 2009, the road has been rockier, and it is Obama’s seven years in office that form the subject of Chuck Todd’s The Stra ...

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