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Eric Alterman is a political & cultural columnist for "The Nation",, & Intellectual & is a senior fellow of the World Policy Institute. He has contributed to "Rolling Stone", "Mother Jones", "Elle", "The New Yorker", "Vanity Fair", "Harper's", "The New Republic", "The New York mostra'n més Times" & "The Washington Post". He is the author also of two works of political commentary & analysis "Sound & Fury" & "Who Speaks for America". He lives in Manhattan. (Bowker Author Biography) mostra'n menys

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The Best American Political Writing 2005 (2005) — Col·laborador — 37 exemplars


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The author says “This book is a detailed examination of four key presidential lies: Franklin Roosevelt and the Yalta accords, John Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis, Lyndon Johnson and the second Gulf of Tonkin incident, and Ronald Reagan and Central America in the 1980s.” He’s right, it is detailed. No, it does not address the undisputed king (45) of lying while president, that’s in another book, nor general lies (again, another book). He does cover some of Bush 43 and the problems around Iraq in his conclusion, and skips Nixon. This is an assessment of four hugely impactful events and the deceptions surrounding them. Well, Teflon Ronnie’s should have been a lot more impactful. I have been alive for three of the four related here. Too young for the Cuban crisis, I nevertheless was in a Navy family and we talked about the events more than once. Johnson’s Viet Nam weighed heavy, though as a pre-teen, my awareness was tertiary. Reagan’s treachery is one that angers me still. But not as much as his canonization, nor as much as his creating the beginning of the political divide we endure today.

Well composed, researched, and cited, the only people who would have a problem with Alterman’s observations will probably be adherents of the subject presidents. Well done. I need to finish a few before I get to that other book, but I will soon.

Some selected sound bites. These are all quoted, and I’m not formatting them as such, so my comments, if any, are in [brackets]


In a few of these instances, Roosevelt had perfectly defensible reasons to say less than he knew to be true. Lying about peaceful negotiations during wartime is a categorically different act than lying about warlike acts in peace-time, and far less trouble. [I agree, and Roosevelt’s lies about Yalta only became trouble as the concessions of Eastern Europe with Stalin became known.]

The intellectually acrobatic Averell Harriman later criticized Truman for overreacting to the very advice that he himself had proffered, identifying this meeting [Yalta] as the precise moment the Cold War began.

The terminal illness of Arthur Vandenberg and the surprising defeat of John Foster Dulles in a special New York Senate election helped to push the party even further into the arms of the militants. [As far back as 1948!]


Interestingly, much of official Washington was outraged when Costner and Oliver Stone offered up their spurious version of the Kennedy assassination in Stone’s 1991 film, JFK. No one wanted to see Stone’s conspiratorial take on the assassination and the Vietnam War replace the official version. Yet when a film funded by O’Donnell’s own family sought to rewrite the historical record in such a way as to flatter the original mythmakers, it was met with approval and appreciation. Thirteen Days was screened at the White House and largely praised by pundits and historians alike, albeit with reservations.


The Johnson presidency, as [Robert] Caro, one of his most severe critics, admits, marked the “high-water mark of the tides of social justice” in the twentieth century.

Unfortunately for his ability to choose between competing alternatives, Johnson interpreted almost all dissent as disloyalty, and he was famously a politician to whom personal loyalty was all. [Enter 45...]


Ronald Reagan’s relationship to the truth has always been a problematic issue for historians, just as it had been for journalists; this is particularly true for people who wish to maintain a dutiful respect for the office he occupied for eight years, and for the voters who put him there. His own official biographer Edmund Morris called him “an apparent airhead.” [And yet, a genius compared to the jeenyus 45]

The documentary history of the Reagan presidency remains under lock and key at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, due, in large measure, to a presidential order signed by President George H. W. Bush overturning previous law, by executive fiat. But thanks to the careful re-construction of these events of the period by historians including Walter LaFeber, Cynthia Arnson, and William LeoGrande, coupled with the tireless declassification efforts by the invaluable National Security Archive in Washington, we now have a portrait of how the media eagerly helped the Reagan administration create its fictional Central America.

With an acquiescent news media and a paralyzed Democratic Party, the Reagan administration was given a virtual free hand to construct its Central American policies on the basis of a wholly self-constructed version of reality— one that adhered to the ideological and political contours of debate inside Washington, but otherwise floated untethered to reality.

Under the dictatorship of General Efrain Rios Montt, a born-again evangelical Christian, the [Guatemalan] army massacred as many as fifteen thousand Indians on the suspicion that they had cooperated with, or might offer aid to, antigovernment guerrillas. Entire villages were leveled and countless peasants were forcibly relocated to aid the counterin- surgency. At one point, when as many as forty thousand survivors tried to find refuge in Mexico, army helicopters strafed the camps.24 It was at this pro- pitious moment that President Reagan took the opportunity to congratulate Rios Montt for his dedication to democracy, adding that he had been get- ting “a bum rap” from U.S. liberals in Congress and the media. [Ah, Saint Ronnie]

Of the 143 human remains discovered in the sacristy of the Mozote church, 136 were judged to be children or adolescents, of whom the average age was six. Of the remaining seven adults, six were women, one in the third trimester of pregnancy.86 When all the forensics had been uncovered, the commission revealed at least twenty-four people had participated in the shooting and that every cartridge but one had come from a U.S.-manufactured and -supplied M-16 rifle. Of these, “184 had discernible head-stamps, identifying the ammunition as having been manufactured for the United States Government at Lake City, Missouri.” No one has ever been officially charged or tried for any crimes associated with the actions taken in El Mozote, which were deemed by Danner to be “the largest massacre in modern Latin American history.” For this bit of good fortune, the murderers may be grateful for the lies of the Reagan administra- tion and the men and women who willingly told them.

Lying about Nicaragua became such a prominent part of the Reagan administration Central American policy that a special office almost exclusively for this purpose, called the Office of Public Diplomacy (OPD), was set up by a presidential directive. Its separation from the CIA itself was necessary because the 1947 National Security Act specifically enjoins the spy agency from engaging in domestic activities, as did President Reagan’s Executive Order 12333, which prohibits the agency from participating in any actions “intended to in- fluence United States political processes, public opinion . . . or media.” […] It booked advocates for 1,570 lecture and talk-show engagements; in a single week during March 1985, the OPD officers bragged in a memo of having fooled the editors of The Wall Street Journal into publishing an op-ed allegedly penned by an unknown professor, guided an NBC news story on the Con- tras, written and edited op-ed articles to be signed by Contra spokesmen, and planted lies in the home media about the experiences of a congressman who visited Nicaragua. Otto Reich boasted of his ability to convince editors and executives to replace reporters he did not like with those he did and warned those reporters who did not cooperate that he would be watching them in the future, a threat that proved effective against National Public Radio, which Reich termed “Moscow on the Potomac.”

Those who had done the lying were not personally discredited, merely temporarily inconvenienced. [Still angering. But look at 45’s cabal and what they get. It’s worse.]

From the Conclusion, Bush II

As president, George W. Bush has appeared remarkably unconcerned with the question of whether he even appeared to be speaking truthfully. As the liberal commentator Michael Kinsley would observe early in the administration’s tenure, “Bush II administration lies are often so laughably obvious that you wonder why they bother. Until you realize: They haven’t bothered. If telling the truth was less bother, they’d try that, too. The characteristic Bush II form of dishonesty is to construct an alternative reality on some topic and to regard anyone who objects to it as a sniveling dweeb obsessed with ‘nuance,’ which the president of this class, I mean of the United States, has more important things to do than worry about.”

Why do American presidents feel compelled to deceive Congress, the media, and their country about their most significant decisions? [and then there is the pathological case of 45 in which it was everything, though oddly enough the “significant” events that should have been kept quiet for a while for security, he blurted]

Whether this situation is remediable depends on one of two possibilities: either future presidents become convinced that the long-term cost of decep- tion outweighs its short-term benefits, or the public matures to the point of seeking to educate itself about the need for complicated arrangements in in- ternational politics that do not comport with the nation’s caricatured notion of itself as a force for innocence and benevolence the world over. The obvious solution would be to convince U.S. presidents of the value of substituting a long-term strategic vision in place of their present-minded, short-term tactical views. But “Nothing in politics is more difficult than taking the long view,” notes the reporter Ronald Brownstein. “For politicians, distant gain is rarely a persuasive reason to endure immediate pain. Political scientists would say the system has a bias toward the present over the future. Parents might say politicians behave like perpetual teenagers. The problem, for politicians as much as teenagers, is that the future has a pesky habit of arriving.”
… (més)
Razinha | Hi ha 3 ressenyes més | Apr 21, 2021 |
Great book for all fans of the Boss!
MiriamMartin | Hi ha 3 ressenyes més | Dec 12, 2014 |
This book was an interesting history of liberalism from FDR to Obama. However, it was a very dry read and the author has a habit of going off on to random historical tangents that have little to nothing to do with the main narrative. He also skipped over things thst should have been better addressed (for instance, the Bush Years) while giving far too much time to things that were on the whole rather irrelvant. I also feel that the book should have been a little heavier on analysis as this is exactly the sort of book where understanding the 'whys' is more important than understanding the 'whats' and 'whens'.

Still, it was an informative book and well worth the read.
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sammii507 | Aug 19, 2014 |


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