Since his election to the U.S. Senate in 2006, Ohio’s Sherrod Brown has sat on the Senate floor at a mahogany desk with a proud history. In Desk 88, he tells the story of eight of the Senators who were there before him.
"Perhaps the most imaginative book to emerge from the Senate since Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts produced Profiles in Courage." —David M. Shribman, The Boston Globe
Despite their flaws and frequent setbacks, each made a decisive contribution to the creation of a more just America. They range from Hugo Black, who helped to lift millions of American workers out of poverty, to Robert F. Kennedy, whose eyes were opened by an undernourished Mississippi child and who then spent the rest of his life afflicting the comfortable. Brown revives forgotten figures such as Idaho’s Glen Taylor, a singing cowboy who taught himself economics and stood up to segregationists, and offers new insights into George McGovern, who fought to feed the poor around the world even amid personal and political calamities. He also writes about Herbert Lehman of New York, Al Gore Sr. of Tennessee, Theodore Francis Green of Rhode Island, and William Proxmire of Wisconsin.
Together, these eight portraits in political courage tell a story about the triumphs and failures of the Progressive idea over the past century: in the 1930s and 1960s, and more intermittently since, politicians and the public have successfully fought against entrenched special interests and advanced the cause of economic or racial fairness. Today, these advances are in peril as employers shed their responsibilities to employees and communities, and a U.S. president gives cover to bigotry. But the Progressive idea is not dead.
Recalling his own career, Brown dramatizes the hard work and high ideals required to renew the social contract and create a new era in which Americans of all backgrounds can know the “Dignity of Work.”
Ohio lawmaker Brown debuts with a timely history of 20th-century American progressivism told through the political careers of eight congressmen who previously sat at his desk on the Senate floor. Addressing his subjects chronologically, Brown begins with Alabama senator Hugo Black, a former member of the Ku Klux Klan who joined Congress in 1927 and became one of the most ardent supporters of FDR's New Deal and an architect of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act. Among such well-known figures as Robert F. Kennedy and George McGovern, Brown also profiles more obscure politicians, including Rhode Island senator Theodore Francis Green, who briefly became chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at age 93, and Idaho's Glen Taylor, whose 1947 showdown with the "ultra-segregationist" Theodore Bilbo resulted in the Mississippi Democrat being denied his Senate seat. Throughout, Brown is careful not to idealize his subjects, noting, for example, that Tennessee senator Al Gore Sr. suffered from a lack of focus and that Green was "sometimes annoyingly correct in grammar and speech." Each profile is followed by Brown's "Thoughts from Desk 88," in which he offers a stout defense of such progressive policies as Social Security and Medicare. This thoughtful, entertaining book will appeal to liberals and students of congressional history.
This book kept me sane during the 2022 midterms. Well researched and well-written.