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This summer I have been teaching an American Government course for the first time in my life. The book, ordered by the university for all adjunct classes, is Government in America: People, Politics, and Policy, brief 8th edition, by Edwards, Wattenberg, Lineberry, published by Pearson Longman. By and large I think it is a good text.

Every so often the authors will write something that surprises me. That is, it surprises me to find it in an academic textbook. Take these two paragraphs from the chapter on the presidency.

We learned in Chapter 6 that the news is fundamentally superficial, oversimplified, and often overblown, all of which provides the public with a distorted view of, among other things, presidential activities, statements, policies, and options. We have also seen that the press prefers to frame the news in themes, which both simplifies complex issues and events and provides continuity of persons, institutions, and issues. Once these themes are established, the press tends to maintain them in subsequent stories. Of necessity, themes emphasize some information at the expense of other data, often determining what information is most relevant to news coverage and the context in which it is presented.
. . .
News coverage of the presidency often tends to emphasize the negative (even if the negative stories are presented in a seemingly neutral manner), a trend that has increased over the past 20 years. In the 1980 election campaign, the press portrayed President Carter as mean and Ronald Reagan as imprecise rather than Carter as precise and Reagan as pleasant. The emphasis, in other words, was on the candidates' negative qualities. George Bush received extraordinarily negative press coverage during the 1992 election campaign, and the television networks' portrayal of the economy, for which Bush was blamed, got worse as the economy actually improved to a robust rate of growth!

So, the next time you are arguing media bias with liberal friends, you need not quote Rush. Instead quote these political scientists.
A friend and colleague forwarded this email to me this morning, and I agree with his endorsement:

"Regardless of your political affiliation, this is a beautiful tribute to Lady Bird Johnson."

Although some might quibble with the political assumptions or the attempt to rally partisans around the death of an important Texan, on this day I will not.

From the Texas Democratic Party:

Moving Texas Forward

"Dear Fellow Democrat,

"All Texas Democrats are deeply saddened today by the death of Lady Bird Johnson, a revered public figure in Texas politics. A proud daughter of East Texas, she represented the highest ideals of our state, our country and our Party. One of the most effective leaders and campaigners the Democratic Party has ever seen, she worked tirelessly to support her husband, President Lyndon Johnson, and promote the Democratic message. Robert Kennedy proudly stated that "Lady Bird carried Texas" for the Kennedy-Johnson ticket, an electoral victory that paved the way for monumental changes in American government from Medicare to Civil Rights.

"For decades, she stood by her husband's side and played a critical role in promoting Democratic initiatives like Head Start and the War on Poverty. Upon assuming her duties as First Lady, she helped comfort Americans during a time of national tragedy. And through her beautification and preservation efforts, she helped bring environmentalism to the forefront of America's consciousness.

"Her legacy can be seen across the Lone Star State, from her beloved wildflowers along Texas highways to her beautification projects in Austin to the University of Texas, which she attended and later served as a member of the Board of Regents. Both our state and nation are fairer and more beautiful because of her leadership and commitment, and she will be deeply missed.

"I ask you to remember Mrs. Johnson and her family in your thoughts and prayers and join me in rededicating our Party to the ideals of justice, progress and beauty for which she stood.

"Your friend and fellow Democrat,

"Boyd Richie
Paid for by the Texas Democratic Party"

End Quote.

God Bless Lady Bird Johnson. Good luck to the Democratic Party in living up to the ideals stated above.
A man who was a significant evangelical force in the pro-life movement from its early days died recently. This article from Christianity Today highlights his accomplishments.
Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the opposite corner of the state from me, is a small-sized city with a lot of tension over illegal immigration. This article from MSNBC captures the current mood of the town.
This has been around for a few days--but it is worth noting belatedly:

Put away the flags!

"On this July 4," says Howard Zinn, "we would do well to renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed."

The gist?

A false belief in American exceptionalism leads us into all manner of self deceptions--many of which are dangerous to ourselves and others.

What is American exceptionalism?

The belief the United States of America as a "nation is different from, morally superior to, the other imperial powers of world history."

Zinn asserts that America is not "uniquely moral." But we are adept at framing our self-interested forays "into other lands" as noble crusades to "bring civilization, liberty, democracy" to the less fortunate.

Zinn asserts that this view is dead wrong. The peace-seeking brotherhood of man all over the world, as well as the naive in America, are "victims," casualties of our "government's lies."

Zinn's prescription:

We need to refute the idea that our nation is unique and disabuse ourselves of the notion that we are a force for good in the world.

"We need to assert our allegiance to the human race, and not to any one nation."

The full essay in the Progressive here.

Although Zinn was a World War II bombardier--he makes no mention of any of the folks to whom we are not morally superior: the Axis powers he fought against, the Soviet Empire that filled the vacuum of power in Eastern Europe after the defeat of the Nazis or the current threat: Islamism.

In the crudest sense, Howard Zinn embodies the moral equivalency of the "blame America" crowd. Noting flaws and egregious mistakes in American history, which Zinn has done so expertly and lucratively over his career, is not tantamount to saying our system and ethos is fraudulent and malevolent.

For this week dedicated to celebrating American independence, I prefer to think of the myriad heroes who understood the uniqueness of our nation in their souls.

I prefer Lincoln over Zinn:

"It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
The Good News: Please take note of the excellent Richard Brookhiser historical perspective piece on New York politicians and American presidential races. With great skill and perceptive analysis, Brookhiser covers Jefferson's "botanizing" trip up the Hudson, which sowed the seeds for the first two-party system in American political history, to the Mario Cuomo candidacy that never materialized and everything in between. It is first rate. Read the TIME story here.

The Bad News: And this may be too petty--but TIME is on my list right now--you will need to look hard for this very fine history, as it appears sandwiched in between teen-aged girls and their woes at the mall, trash-talking wine salesmen, wedding gifts and extreme vacations in the "LIFE" section.

Come on, TIME mag. History just don't get no respect over there in Rockefeller Plaza at the Time-Life Building.
Last week, the CIA declassified and released a large chunk of 1970s-era documents gathered as part of an internal review designed to assess and prepare for possible public embarrassments in the midst of the Watergate investigation. In response to an order from then-chief James R. Schlesinger, as the Washington Post wrote last week, "the agency combed its files for what it called delicate information with flap potential. The result was a collection of documents [at least some CIA analysts] called the family jewels" (read the Post story in full here).

I hesitate to call this huge event an under-reported story (the news was everywhere last week; below you will find extensive treatment from the NYT). On the other hand, for historians this is a coup of great significance. Some of these "Freedom of Information" requests went back three decades. More than that, cataloguing newly released documents is the essence of "doing history." As the old guys say: "no document; no history." This is the exhilarating part of the business. In a word: poring over newly released primary sources is fun.

You would think that the news media would feel the same way. But I sense an awkwardness in regard to reporting this story. Although it is hard for me to put my finger on exactly, the coverage is less than fully engaged or even highly interested. In other words, the reporting lacks the joy you might expect in uncovering this treasure trove.

Why the lack of enthusiasm? Some speculation in brief:

1. The story goes against the template that the Bush administration is the most secretive White House ever. It is hard to reconcile this essential core assumption with the unprecedented access to secrets that four previous administrations (two of which were Democratic) denied.

2. The documents themselves also play against the template that all dirty tricks began with Richard Nixon. This assumption is perhaps even more sacred (although eminently less defensible) than the first.


--Although a gunman assassinated Martin Luther King the spring before Richard Nixon won election as president, we see in our mind's eye the Nixon White House harassing and surveilling the civil rights icon.

--John Kerry famously remembered spending Christmas Eve 1968 on a gunboat in Cambodia while the President of the United States [presumably Nixon] was telling people we were not in Cambodia. Again, Nixon did not take office until the next month.

Lies and deception are Nixonian and Republican. We do not enjoy hearing reports that Bobby Kennedy oversaw the project to assassinate Fidel Castro.

Having said all that, here are some nuts and bolts on where to start in terms of engaging this new information:

The New York Times offered an interesting series of commentary and expert analysis on their NYT blog, which you can access here (membership required).

The Actual Repository: The agency actually released the documents to the "National Security Archive," a self-described "independent non-governmental research institute and library located at The George Washington University." You may access the archive here.