The Last Great Senate: Courage and Statesmanship in Times of Crisis

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Overview


Journalists have called the U.S. Senate an empty chamber; politicians have lamented that the institution is broken—yet the Senate was once capable of greatness. Senators of the 1960s and ’70s overcame southern opposition to civil rights, passed Great Society legislation, and battled the executive branch on Vietnam, Watergate, and its abuses of power. The right’s sweep of the 1980 elections shattered that Senate, leaving a diminished institution in its wake.

Ira Shapiro spent ...

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The Last Great Senate: Courage and Statesmanship in Times of Crisis

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Overview


Journalists have called the U.S. Senate an empty chamber; politicians have lamented that the institution is broken—yet the Senate was once capable of greatness. Senators of the 1960s and ’70s overcame southern opposition to civil rights, passed Great Society legislation, and battled the executive branch on Vietnam, Watergate, and its abuses of power. The right’s sweep of the 1980 elections shattered that Senate, leaving a diminished institution in its wake.

Ira Shapiro spent 12 years working for Senators Gaylord Nelson, Abraham Ribicoff, Thomas Eagleton, Robert Byrd, and Jay Rockefeller. The Last Great Senate is his vivid portrait of the statesmen who helped steer America during the crisis years of the late 1970s, transcending partisanship and overcoming procedural roadblocks that have all but strangled the Senate since their departure. The Last Great Senate is necessary reading for all those who wonder how the Senate used to work and what happened to the world’s greatest deliberative body.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
At a time when the hapless U.S. Congress has received low approval ratings, Shapiro, a former Senate staffer and now an international trade lawyer, looks back at a golden era of lawmakers whoperformed admirably in a period of domestic and foreign crisis in the late 1970s. Using Capitol Hill documents, media accounts, and interviews with congressional and White House officials, he shows this was a time of active legislators on both sides of the aisle putting aside partisanship and ideology to create a national energy formula, strengthen the Panama Canal treaty, control a tax revolt, investigate Watergate, and stifle numerous crises in the Mideast. Shapiro ably paints the political stumbles of the “outsider” administration of President Jimmy Carter in dealing with a congressional powerhouse consisting of senators Robert Byrd, Howard Baker, Ted Kennedy, Jacob Javits, Henry “Scoop” Jackson, Richard Lugar, and George McGovern. The administration and the Senate were at odds over nuclear weapons reductions, OPEC schemes, and saving financially troubled New York City and Chrysler. In his chronicle of Beltway politics, Shapiro’s excellent account of wise, capable U.S. senators putting constitutional concerns over party and ideology to do the people’s business is a prime example of how Washington can overcome its present deadlock. Agent: Kathleen Anderson. (Feb.)
From the Publisher

Steven R. Weisman, Author of The Great Tax Wars
"With his gift for lively narrative and vivid character study, Ira Shapiro brings to life a forgotten, unappreciated and surprisingly productive period of modern political history, when the Senate served as a 'national mediator' for the great issues of the day. The Last Great Senate is peopled with great personalities, from Ted Kennedy to Scoop Jackson to Hubert Humphrey, and from Howard Baker to Jack Javits and Bob Dole. It is bound to become a classic in the field of studies of how legislation is made, presidencies are unmade and results flow from calculation, courage and determination to rise above the fray in times of economic and national security crises."

Madeleine K. Albright, U.S. Secretary of State, 1997-2001
“By reminding us of what the U.S. Senate was, Ira Shapiro awakens us to what this increasingly shaky pillar of American democracy still could be.  In so doing, he gives us not only a riveting historical account, but also a prescription of how to restore health to our political system and true patriotism to public debate.”

 

Publishers Weekly

“In his chronicle of Beltway politics, Shapiro’s excellent account of wise, capable U.S. senators putting constitutional concerns over party and ideology to do the people’s business is a prime example of how Washington can overcome its present deadlock."

Library Journal
“Shapiro’s thorough analysis and background stories of these senators remind readers that the Senate once worked despite partisanship. Readers interested in political science and government history will enjoy the author’s engaging style and historical perspective.”
 
Boston Globe

"A sharply focused and instructive look back at the institution’s bipartisan achievements of the late 1970s. The Senate that served during the uneasy years of the Carter administration was the last, in author Shapiro’s estimation, to make hard decisions on a series of volatile issues not for political gain but for the good of the nation. The contrast to the political and personal rancor of recent years could not be more apparent.”

Christian Science Monitor

“A first-hand, blow-by-blow account of the personalities and issues that animated the Senate during the Carter administration…. There is something surprisingly thrilling about it all…. There is no mistaking that the Senate operated differently 30 years ago than it did today and Shapiro persuasively shows that most of that change has been for the worse. As a result, his book begs the questions: Is the root of that change in our leaders or is it in us? And can it be reversed?”

History News Network

“Fascinating…. The Last Great Senate provides an alluring account of a functional Senate. Citizens might profitably read it to appreciate that ideal, and then send their copy to their senators to suggest models for better behavior. Those might be first steps to shaping the next great Senate.”

Cleveland Plain Dealer

“If today's voters want a sure-handed explanation of how the once-consequential debate in the U.S. Senate degenerated into a low-comedy revue, Shapiro's book offers it -- powerfully.”

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Shapiro, a former Democratic Senate staff aide, argues persuasively that the crucial middle ground needed for compromise in the 100-member elite body of Congress has disappeared.”
 

Philadelphia Inquirer
“Given the desire to escape today's toxic Washington culture, there may be no timelier book than Ira Shapiro's The Last Great Senate…. And there may be no more appropriate writer to pen such a title than Shapiro. A senior Senate aide who brokered legislative compromises among leading Democrats and Republicans, Shapiro worked behind the scenes on matters ranging from the Foreign Intelligence Act to the Senate Code of Ethics. In elegant, if sometimes dense, prose, The Last Great Senate fulfills its promises to chronicle ‘courage and statesmanship in times of crisis’- specifically, the last half of the 1970s, when a series of signal compromises were worked out by senators of very different ideologies. The book is for the 112th Congress (the one now sitting) what then-Sen. John F. Kennedy's Profiles in Courage was for the nation's Cold War leaders.…. Congress and all its members should read this methodically researched book. And not only them; political junkies and all those concerned about the direction of the nation will also want to immerse themselves in it. But for the country's sake, let's hope each and every U.S. senator reads The Last Great Senate before the next vote.”

Washington Post

“A tour-de-force meditation on the kind of high-powered policymaking and intricate legislative needlepoint that once seemed to define the Senate’s work…. The charm of the book is that [Shapiro] understands and is devoted to the old myths and warmly recounts a period in history when the institution was still trying to live up those myths, and when the country went along by revering the Senate and its members. Shapiro is an ardent researcher and a more than able writer, but it is his obvious love for the Senate that gives the book its personality. He manages to make Senate debates about energy policy and tax rebates seem interesting, in part because he explains who felt ambushed, betrayed and left hung out to dry. … The real pleasure of the book is the way it takes us back to an era without the current madness.”

Library Journal
The U.S. Congress wasn't always gridlocked. Members of the Senate weren't always hyperpartisan. Controversial issues like SALT II and the Panama Canal Treaty would probably be DOA in Congress today, but Shapiro, who was on the staff of several senators during that time, reminds readers that during the Carter administration, the Senate passed controversial landmark legislation with bipartisan support, facing issues on their merits. Shapiro identifies important legislation and treaties debated in the Senate from 1978 to 1980, explaining positions and senators who played important roles on each side. He describes the debate and amendment process used to create a bill that could pass. He also discusses domestic issues the Senate battled over, such as government-backed loans to save New York City from default and a bailout for the Chrysler Corporation. Senators Ted Kennedy, Henry "Scoop" Jackson, Robert Byrd, Howard Baker, and Ted Stevens, for example, found ways to compromise, allowing national interest to prevail over partisan and ideological rhetoric. VERDICT Shapiro's thorough analysis and background stories of these senators remind readers that the Senate once worked despite partisanship. Readers interested in political science and government history will enjoy the author's engaging style and historical perspective.—Jill Ortner, Sch. of Information & Lib. Studies, SUNY Buffalo
Library Journal
Back in the Sixties and Seventies, the Senate cast aside political divisions and passed transformative civil rights and Great Society legislation while challenging the administration regarding Vietnam and Watergate. Then came the conservative triumph of the 1980s. Having worked for Senators Gaylord Nelson, Abraham Ribicoff, Thomas Eagleton, Robert Byrd, and Jay Rockefeller, Shapiro has the wherewithal to explain what was so right about the "Last Great Senate"—and what went so wrong. Important.
Kirkus Reviews
From a Washington insider, a scrambled but edifying examination of the last four years of the Senate's "era of greatness"—1977 to 1980. The class of '62 (a Democratic majority) presided over the Senate during the two ensuing decades that wrought the great civil-rights legislation, cut off funding for the Vietnam War, propounded environmental-protection laws and oversaw the Watergate hearings, among other epic national battles. Shapiro, now an international trade law lawyer in Washington, concentrates on the tail end of that brave, progressive and fluidly bipartisan run, when Robert Byrd of West Virginia (known as "the grind," having grown out of his bigoted early conservatism) acceded as majority leader, inheriting the inspired leadership mantle of LBJ and Mike Mansfield before him. By 1977, with the election of Jimmy Carter, the Senate had regained its democratic footing since being unsettled by the "imperial presidency" of Richard Nixon, and was receptive to Carter's urging for strengthening ethics in government. Despite Carter's tendency to circumvent legislators' input altogether, Byrd's diverse, youngish, dynamic Senate passed the ethics code, met the energy crisis, deregulated airlines, raised the minimum wage, passed the Panama Canal treaties, took on labor law reform, saved New York City and Chrysler from financial collapse, protected Alaska wilderness land and agreed to the peace proposal between the rancorous parties in the Middle East. All of these Herculean efforts required the experience and cajoling of now-legendary senators like Moynihan, Javitz, Kennedy, Ribicoff, Muskie, Church and Mondale. The progressive run would come to a screeching halt with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and the decisive turn of the Senate, and populace, to the right. A work of broad, archival and anecdotal research by a writer with a good grasp of the messy era and times.
Terence Samuel
…an extended and lovingly rendered reminder that the U.S. Senate, like the American system of governance itself, was once something great but that its time of greatness has passed. The book is a tour-de-force meditation on the kind of high-powered policymaking and intricate legislative needlepoint that once seemed to define the Senate's work…Shapiro is an ardent researcher and a more than able writer, but it is his obvious love for the Senate that gives the book its personality. He manages to make Senate debates about energy policy and tax rebates seem interesting, in part because he explains who felt ambushed, betrayed and left hung out to dry.
—The Washington Post
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586489366
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 2/14/2012
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 516,365
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.80 (d)

Meet the Author


Ira Shapiro came to Washington in 1975 and spent 12 years working in senior positions in the Senate, playing important roles in accomplishments as diverse as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the Senate Code of Ethics, and completing the Metrorail system. During the Clinton administration, he served as a leading U.S. trade negotiator, ultimately earning the rank of ambassador. He lives in Potomac, Maryland.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2012

    A Must Read

    Mr. Shapiro has written a hard-to-put-down book on a time in American politics when opponents were not sworn enemies and policy disagreements did not have to be fought to the death. We are all seeing first hand what the inability to compromise across the aisle has created -- a government that hardly functions, where partisian politics trumps policy and members of both House and Senate do not base votes on whether a measure is good for the country, but on pure party (or personal) politics. It was good to revisit a time when government actually worked and issues were judged on their merits.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 18, 2012

    Highlly recommended for those from the 60's generation.

    For those of us who lived through this period, and are bothered by the ineffective government we have today, this is an outstanding book describing how people of talent can accomplish great things.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 14, 2012

    MUST READ FOR HISTORY LOVERS OR ANYONE WHO WANTS TO UNDERSTAND WHY CONGRESS IS SO POLARIZED TODAY

    Mr. Shapiro's most enlightening and enjoyable book is written from the perspective of someone who actually experienced the inner workings of the Senate first hand. From the people who served to the presidents they served under, Shapiro brings the characters to life and makes the reader feel like they were actually there to witness events themselves. I had forgotten many of these legendary senators, or underestimated their contributions. Tom Brokaw's book, The Greatest Generation, captured the spirit of those who survived The Great Depression and World War II. Mr. Shapiro's book encompasses the best about this generation of Senators and the important work they accomplished that still impacts our lives today. The Senate actually used to be great! The book demonstrates the way things used to work, allowing the reader to observe what has changed, and how we reached the partisan paralysis that exists today. This should be required reading for every U.S Senator and Congressman today. I highly recommend this book.

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