From Publishers Weekly
Attacks on the Bush presidency have proliferated in recent months, but few critics bring to the argument the weight of Senator Byrd (D-W.Va.), who has served under 11 presidents. Few combine his scholar's understanding of constitutional government with the experience gained in his nearly half-century of Senate tenure. Of course, it must be noted that Byrd is a veteran Democratic leader now attacking a Republican president during an election year. In his view, Bush and his advisers—Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, Perle and Cheney—are dangerous not merely because their policies are ill conceived, but because they are intent on usurping the powers of the "the People's Branch of Government," Congress—refusing, for instance, to let Tom Ridge testify before the Senate Appropriations Committee on the proposed Department of Homeland Security. To Byrd the Constitution's checks and balances and the powers of the legislative branch, including the power of the purse and the power to declare war, have kept America a safe and functioning democracy. He argues, offering a series of instances, that the Bush administration is systematically, relentlessly and with stubborn arrogance making a mockery of these constitutional mandates through subterfuge, warmongering and intimidation of a Congress that is "cowed, timid, and deferential." Byrd is forthrightly critical of President Bush, charging him with "political mendacity" and saying that, in comparison with the other presidents he has known, "Bush #43 was in a class by himself—ineptitude supreme." This volume is a searing criticism, informed by Byrd's knowledge of history, leavened with his vast experience and written with his legendary rhetorical flourish.
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As the subtitle suggests, Senator Byrd has clear contempt for both the foreign and domestic policies of the Bush administration. Of course, his opposition to the war in Iraq has been consistent. Here, his main concern is what he views as an attack on our constitutional liberties and on the separation of powers, led by an ideologically driven administration. His warnings about the potential, down-the-road threat implied by measures taken in the name of "national security" deserve consideration. Unfortunately, his zeal overwhelms his historical perspective. Our freedoms survived the Alien and Sedition Acts, the Red scare of the 1920s, and the McCarthy era. So his claim that our freedoms are under unprecedented attack is over the top.
Most Jeremiahs' predictions are wrong. Yet we are compelled to listen to them because their most horrific visions occasionally come true. Had Bush or Rice paid closer heed to Jeremiahs in their own administration--well, who knows? Schell, who made his name as a prophet of doom in the Fate of the Earth series in the New Yorker, here warns us about inherent dangers in our war against terrorism. Apparently, he sees most of the dangers emanating from the American side. He absurdly blames the U.S. for "destabilizing Pakistan" (as if Pakistan was once an island of stability). He worries that our nation will lash out like "an enraged blind giant". Still, he does correctly point out that some of the more grandiose foreign policy goals of Bush's advisors risk setting off chain reactions with incalculable consequences. Jay Freeman
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