Monday, April 26, 2010

A Century Turns

In the years from 1988 to 2008, the United States – while never a static country – went through some of its most dramatic and fascinating changes. William J. Bennett’s A Century Turns: New Hopes, New Fears describes this, from race riots to natural disaster to the election of America’s first black president. I requested this book from Thomas Nelson and found it an informative read.

The author traces American political and social developments, beginning with the administration of Bush the Elder. I don’t know much about politics, so I found it interesting to learn how candidates’ expression of emotion (or the lack thereof) influences voters. The book also explains why a candidate might pick a certain running mate.

For instance, Bill Clinton chose Al Gore even though Gore was of the same age and from a neighboring state, so it wasn’t a “balanced ticket” in that regard. However…

Al and Tipper Gore’s marriage was famously free of any hint of scandal or dalliance. In selecting Al Gore, Clinton seemed to be saying to voters, “I know my own marriage has not been perfect, but I respect your traditional values and I will uphold them.” … From the moment in June when Clinton named Al Gore, he was never behind in the public opinion polls.

This may be well-known to someone who’s familiar with politics, but I appreciated it being spelled out like this. :)

Events abroad are covered as well, in terms of how they affected the United States. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the event that inspired Black Hawk Down, the fate of Elian Gonzalez… it’s all touched on, proceeding through George W. Bush’s presidency and ending as the McCain and Obama campaigns kick into gear. A strong sense of salute-the-flag runs through this book, so it would make a good read (or good gift) for someone who shares a similar patriotism.

On the other hand, while most discussions of reproductive rights issues in this book seem to avoid bias, the author refers to “partial-birth abortion”, which isn’t a medical term. This procedure is also described in an emotive way without an explanation of why it may be found necessary.

Then again, the author also says that he told a young Bill Gates that his life would be so much better if he would stay in school (page 133).

The book concludes by contrasting two Americas – one led by “an evangelical Christian, who deployed military force to destroy terrorists” and one which seems to be Obama’s America, a place more ready for multiculturalism and acceptance. It made me think of the duality in the book’s subtitle - New Hopes, New Fears. Perhaps one America has the fears, and the other the hopes.

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