Sunday, March 20, 2011

Reflections: Mr. Republican: A Biography of Robert A. Taft

Adam C. Zern shares his thoughts on Mr. Republican: A Biography of Robert A. Taft by James T. Patterson:

"In 1973 Eza Taft Benson, one my of favorite statesmen, religious leaders, political philosophers, gave a speech at Brigham Young University.  In that speech he listed three men who were his most admired statesmen: J. Reuben Clark, Winston Churchill, and Senator Robert Taft.  I didn't recognize the name of Robert Taft and after some further investigation I learned that Mr. Taft had run for the Republican presidential nomination in 1952 against Dwight D. Eisenhower.  He lost that nomination (his third attempt it turns out).  When President Eisenhower asked Ezra Taft Benson to be his Secretary of Agriculture, Mr. Benson very honestly admitted that he supported Mr. Taft for President and perhaps Eisenhower wouldn't want him (this is re-counted in another speech by Ezra T. Benson at BYU).  In my efforts to understand more fully Ezra Taft Benson, I thought it would be useful to read some more about this statesmen that I was mostly ignorant of.

As son of former president William Howard Taft, Robert Taft was no stranger to American politics.  In fact, this biography focuses almost exclusively on Mr. Taft's time in politics.  There is very little said about Mr. Taft's family life compared to how much is said about his political life.  Weighing in at a hefty 617 pages (not counting the bibliographic notes), this book could probably only be enjoyed by someone who is interested in American politics or in American history during the middle part of the twentieth century.  I enjoyed the book immensely and found the descriptions of the political process, presidential nominations, senate races, and parliamentary practices to be enlightening.

By the end of the book I understood why Ezra Taft Benson would admire Robert A. Taft so much.  Furthermore, he is not the only one who admired him.  John F. Kennedy honored Robert A. Taft with a section in his book Profiles in Courage for taking a principled stand against the Nuremberg trials.  The honored Senator was also selected to be in the Senate Hall of Fame along with other notables like Daniel Webster.  Robert A. Taft was above all a principled politician.  In many areas of interest, he leaned toward a libertarian viewpoint (which is why Ezra would like him so much) but usually withheld decisions and judgments until fully exploring the issue at hand (he broke with the normal Republican philosophy on issues like education, housing, and foreign policy).  Above all, I learned that political debates of today are for the most part the political debates of yesterday.  There really are two ideological viewpoints that have clashed in American politics for decades.

There are many great personalities in American politics and history.  Sadly, some of them get forgotten because they never achieve the highest cultural throne: the presidency.  Robert A. Taft might be one of those personalities.  This book was well worth the effort, but only for someone who had the same motivations to read the book as I did."

Statement enshrined on a bronze medallion of Robert A. Taft near his gravesite: "The consideration which ought to determine every decision is the necessity of preserving, maintaining, and increasing the liberty of the people of our country."

Monday, March 7, 2011

Reflections: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Sarah J. Zern gives her thoughts on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes:

"The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was an absolutely wonderful read.  This book contains twelve chapters, containing twelve independent mysteries for Holmes and Dr. Watson to solve.  Each chapter is only about twenty pages long, and each is written very clearly.  There are references to other cases that Holmes has solved throughout different chapters, but they are not integral to the plot of these subsequent cases.

I am a huge fan of the classic “Who done it?” mystery, so this book really appealed to me.  It always fascinates me when Holmes or Watson use the vast knowledge that they have, as well as their common sense, to solve cases that at times seemed completely and ridiculously unsolvable.  There were cases that I could figure out at least partially, which made this book even more engaging. 

One of the only things that surprised me about this book was how little Dr. Watson had to do with actually solving any Holmes’s cases.  Even though Sherlock is constantly insisting on Watson’s presence during each case, the Doctor consistently proves he has nothing to contribute to Holmes’s investigation, except for perhaps moral support and a gun.  On deeper reflection, Dr. Watson’s character is most likely used as a sort of surrogate for the reader.  Written from his viewpoint, it is easy for the reader, who most likely feels inept at deciphering these mysteries, to connect with Dr. Watson.  In essence we are Dr. Watson, completely unnecessary to Sherlock Holmes as a fellow detective.  We can offer no insight that Holmes has not already deduced. We are necessary on a much more personal level, however.  Dr. Watson (the reader) provides not only companionship for our bachelor Holmes, but an eager and complimentary audience. 

A wonderfully light, easy read!  I highly recommend it to all who crave a little mystery, and need all the facts wrapped up and presented in a beautiful package in the end."