Archives for posts with tag: politics

Accidental PresidentSome of the most significant events in world history transpired in April through August of 1945. Germany’s surrender, the creation of the United Nations, the Potsdam Conference, the testing and use of the atomic bomb, and Japan’s surrender to end World War II all happened from April 12 – August 14, 1945 – the first 4 months of the Truman presidency.

A.J.  Blaine has penned a compelling chronicle of this time in The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months That Changed the World. This well-researched work takes the reader day by day through this momentous period but this is not a dry timeline of events. Blaine brings the events and people to life on the page and you feel as if you are in the room.

Blaine starts his narrative on April 12th which began as an ordinary day for Harry Truman. He rose at his normal early hour and took his walk before heading to his office in the Senate building. But this was no ordinary day and by nightfall he was sworn in as president and briefed on the secret weapon being developed, the atomic bomb. Stunned by the death of Franklin Roosevelt, many in the country wondered who Harry Truman is and would he be able to do the job. Truman himself said “I’m not big enough for this job”.

Before continuing with Truman’s presidency Blaine gives us an abbreviated biography. The author uses these pages to show us the qualifications and character Truman brought to the White House. He never went to college but he was well read and loved music. He was devoted to and loved Bess from the time he met her. In the Army during World War I he showed his ability as a leader but was unsuccessful in business. Even though he was elected with the help of Tom Pendergast (who ran Kansas City politics) Truman was honest in all his dealings as presiding judge in Jackson County.

He was elected to the U.S. Senate while Pendergast was still powerful and was dubbed the senator from Pendergast. But he won, to the surprise of many, a second term after Pendergast’s arrest and imprisonment. His committee to investigate waste and corruption in the national defense program saved money and brought him some national recognition.

Even though Truman wasn’t a complete unknown, the Democratic Party was stunned by his nomination as Vice-President for Roosevelt’s historic fourth term. He was a reluctant nominee but once nominated he campaigned tirelessly for the president.

Even though he was Roosevelt’s choice for VP he was not part of the inner circle and was not included in briefings or negotiations. On April 13th, his first full day as president, Truman began to learn the depth of what he did not know.

As Blaine recounts the next 123 days not every decision and meeting is detailed. Instead you get a sense of just how busy each day was and the amount of information Truman has to absorb from meetings and reports. Unlike Roosevelt, Truman’s cabinet meetings were for reporting and information. Following this meeting he would sometimes spend his whole morning in back to back 15 minute meetings.

During the first 2 weeks of the new administration, Roosevelt was buried, Nazi death camps were liberated, the United Nations conference began in San Francisco, Berlin fell, Mussolini was executed, Hitler committed suicide, and on President Truman’s 61st birthday, Germany surrendered.

The next weeks and months were more of the same with a deteriorating relationship with the Soviets, the war with Japan and the fulfilling of his official duties as president. The conference with Stalin and Churchill was to begin in July and the president wanted to be prepared. While determining what he believed was best for the U.S., Truman was aware of his obligation to honor both the agreements Roosevelt had made and the man himself.

The Potsdam Conference, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Japan’s unconditional surrender on August 14th ends this historic and pivotal 4 months.

The biographical information was an important part of the book but slowed the pace of the narrative. Once the countdown of days began however, this work was hard to put down. This fascinating look at what has to be one of the most difficult periods any president has faced, shows that the man who thought “he wasn’t big enough” greatly underestimated his abilities.

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rbg

2015 could probably be considered the year that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made it in pop culture. After gaining notoriety for her dissenting opinion on the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling, Ginsburg began popping up here and there in pop culture.

Ginsburg became a fairly regular character on “Saturday Night Live.” A blog called “Notorious RBG” sprang up, comparing her to rapper Biggie Smalls. The more I heard about her, the more she sounded like the sort of person I’d want to adopt as an honorary grandparent. Stars aligned, cogs turned, and “Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg” came across my desk.

Appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993, Ginsburg has led a career that puts her in the upper echelon of lawyers. Her career began in the 60’s as a clerk, helping research cases for Judge Edmund L. Palmieri. She wasn’t content to work behind the scenes, however, and by January 1973, she was presenting cases to the Supreme Court. RBG hasn’t slowed down since.

Much of her career was spent fighting to establish legal precedents for gender equality. She fought not only for the rights of women to move up in careers and make their own decisions about their bodies, but also for the rights of men who took on caregiver roles. Her goal for many of the cases she took on was to achieve gender equality under the law. One case, Duren v. Missouri, argued that jury duty for women shouldn’t be optional because it made women’s service on juries seem less important than men’s.

“Notorious RBG” also paints a picture of the Justice’s personal life, especially her marriage to Marty Ginsburg. The pair complemented each other well throughout their nearly 60 years of marriage. Ruth wasn’t a great cook, so Marty took over, much to everyone’s delight. They supported each other through all sorts of obstacles.

While he fought cancer in law school, she took notes for him and helped him complete his classwork. After she was done helping him each night, she would then work on her own assignments. Teamwork was the at the heart of their marriage, mirroring the overall theme her legal career. Sadly, Marty passed away in 2010, from a second encounter with cancer.

RBG has dealt with two bouts of cancer and in 2014 had a stent placed in her heart, but she shows no signs of stopping. One of the funniest portions of the book comes from her personal trainer, Bryant Johnson, who describes the tenacity with which RBG approaches her workouts. She once left early from a White House dinner to meet a training session, Johnson says.

On March 15, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg turned 83. When asked about retirement, RBG doesn’t have a date set. She seems to have a lot more in mind for her career and isn’t ready to stop working just yet. RBG’s sense of humor hasn’t faded over the years. Her office, the book’s authors report, is filled with memorabilia related to her recent rise in fame.

“Notorious RBG” is an interesting, humorous, and straightforward biography about one of the most influential women in the United States, maybe even in the world. While not tremendously in-depth, the authors included charts outlining RBG’s legal work, her dissents with commentary from other legal professionals, and even a quick guide to RBG’s workout regimen. “Notorious RBG” is probably best described as a gateway book: full of the sorts of interesting stories and details that will likely inspire readers to further investigate RBG and her astounding life.