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The Most Exclusive Club: A Modern History of the United States Senate

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The Senate was originally conceived by the Founding Fathers as an anti-democratic counterweight to the more volatile House of Representatives, but in the twentieth century it has often acted as an impediment to needed reforms. A hundred years ago, senators were still chosen by state legislatures, rather than by direct elections. Now, in the wake of the 2004 elections, and the consolidation of Republican control, the Senate is likely to become a crucible of power shifts that will have enormous impact on American ...

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Overview

The Senate was originally conceived by the Founding Fathers as an anti-democratic counterweight to the more volatile House of Representatives, but in the twentieth century it has often acted as an impediment to needed reforms. A hundred years ago, senators were still chosen by state legislatures, rather than by direct elections. Now, in the wake of the 2004 elections, and the consolidation of Republican control, the Senate is likely to become a crucible of power shifts that will have enormous impact on American politics in the twenty-first century. In The Most Exclusive Club, acclaimed political historian Lewis Gould puts the debates about the Senate's future into the context of its history from the Progressive Era to the war in Iraq. From charges of corruption to the occasional attempt at reform, Gould highlights the major players, issues, and debates (including the League of Nations, the McCarthy hearings, and the Iran-Contra affair) that have shaped the institution. Beyond the usual outsized figures such as Lyndon Johnson, Strom Thurmond, and Barry Goldwater, Gould also tells the story of the lesser-known Senate leaders who have played a vital role in America's upper house. Filled with colorful anecdotes, this is a long-awaited history of one of the most powerful political bodies in the world, written by a master. Gould's sweeping narrative combines deft storytelling with a fresh look at the crucible of contemporary political debate and decision-making.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The history of the U.S. Senate in the 20th century is one of evolution from a genteel debating society into a collection of bitterly partisan politicians, half of them seeming to eye runs for the White House as they joust for media coverage. As Gould, a historian at the University of Texas (Grand Old Party) relates this disheartening history, a number of themes recur, including periodic battles over the filibuster (especially its use by Southern Democrats defending Jim Crow from the 1930s to the 1960s) and too many senators' chronic alcoholism, sexism and egomania. Inevitably, the book focuses on shifting institutional mores (such as the emergence of year-round fund-raising and campaigning after the advent of television) rather than the substance of policy debates. Gould's assessment of the Senate's historical performance is relatively bleak, noting that, for "protracted periods," it functioned "as a force to genuinely impede the nation's vitality and evolution." And he offers jaundiced assessments of the legacies of some men routinely described as giants of the Senate, such as Robert La Follette, Robert Taft and especially Richard Russell, the much admired six-term senator from Georgia, whose political gifts were deployed in the service of virulent racism. 20 b&w photos. Agent, Jim Hornfischer. (Nov.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention, which created the U.S. Senate to be a deliberative body that would check both presidential power abuse and the bedlam inherent in the House of Representatives, would be disheartened by its current sad state, says Gould (history, emeritus, Univ. of Texas; Grand Old Party). The author presents a revealing account showing that over the last century the Senate has been more a repressive and regressive legislative body than an engine for social progress. Gould does discuss notable exceptions when the Senate assumed an activist role, as it did with Wilson's New Freedom, Roosevelt's New Deal, and Johnson's Great Society and in response to Nixon's Watergate abuses. He also demonstrates that during the 1950s and 1960s a bloc of Southern Democrats, led by Richard Russell and Strom Thurmond, were obsessed with denying civil rights to African Americans. The book includes narratives about famous and lesser-known Senate leaders and discusses frankly the enduring "boys-will-be-boys" mentality that encouraged alcoholism and womanizing. Gould concludes that donation grubbing and the political bias of its members have diminished the current Senate. This informed survey is recommended for all public and academic libraries.-Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465027781
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 10/31/2005
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.38 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 0.59 (d)

Meet the Author

Lewis L. Gould is the Eugene C. Barker Centennial Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Texas and the author of The Modern American Presidency, Reform and Regulation, and Grand Old Party. He lives in Austin, Texas.

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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Great old personages : the Senate in 1900 1
Ch. 2 The president and the Senate four 17
Ch. 3 La Follette challenges the Senate 33
Ch. 4 John Worth Kern and the new freedom 53
Ch. 5 The Senate and the League of Nations 73
Ch. 6 Spearless leaders in the 1920s 93
Ch. 7 The Senate in the Depression 113
Ch. 8 The New Deal and the conservative club 135
Ch. 9 The Senate in wartime 155
Ch. 10 The Senate at mid-century 175
Ch. 11 The Senate club in the age of Joe McCarthy 195
Ch. 12 Pawed all over : Lyndon Johnson and the Senate 213
Ch. 13 Mike Mansfield's Senate 233
Ch. 14 "Juggling too many balls" 257
Ch. 15 A ruder Senate 277
Ch. 16 Republican ascendancy at century's end 295
Conclusion : the Senate and its future 313
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