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Next after Dobbs


A guest opinion from Everett Wohlers of Boise.

In the late 1970’s, the Republican party turned to the abortion issue to bring into the party the anti-abortion segment of the population, comprised mainly of fundamentalist Christians and other social conservatives. The effort to overturn the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which established a right to abortion within prescribed bounds, has been the Republicans’ North Star. That effort has been a central motivating and unifying theme of the party for the past 40+ years.

Now that the machinations of Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump have managed to fill the Supreme Court with a super-majority of far-right Federalist Society justices, the Court has finally delivered on the Republican fever dream of overturning Roe in the recently issued Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision. The question is, “Is it enough for the Republicans?”

In the days since the Dobbs decision, there has been much discussion of what the Republicans would do next. Some Pollyannas believe they will be satisfied to let the decision take effect, allowing Republican states to re-impose the 17th Century in the Republican-controlled states by adopting laws that criminalize abortion, while leaving Democratic states as pro-choice havens. The more common view is that Republicans will try to keep the party’s right-wing base motivated by moving on to (a) preclude access to pharmaceutical abortifacients in Republican-controlled states that have made abortion criminal, (b) limit access to abortion in Democratically controlled states, and (c) limit or overturn other rights that the Supreme Court has found in prior decades and which the Republican base finds offensive, e.g. contraception, LGBTQ relationships and same-sex marriage.

To those ends, there have been suggestions by Republicans that they (a) pass laws in Republican-controlled states to criminalize the shipment by mail or courier of abortifacient drugs to women in those states from other states, notwithstanding the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, (b) criminalize the travel by women seeking abortions to states that permit abortion, as well as facilitation by third parties of such travel, and (c) bring legal actions to end rights that have been declared by the Supreme Court with the same rationale used by the Court in Roe, thereby giving the Court the opportunity to overturn those earlier decisions, and ending those rights. Others, including former Vice President Pence, have suggested making abortion unlawful under federal law, once the Republicans control the federal government.

While some or all of these approaches may come to pass, or at least be attempted, they are at this point just speculation. However, there are two things that the Republicans have made clear that they will do if/when they control both houses of Congress and the White House. Those are what make the 2022 and 2024 elections critical to the continued existence of the right of women to their bodily autonomy. Those two things planned by the Republicans for when they assume power are addressed in the following paragraphs.

I. Adopt a federal law prohibiting abortion absolutely

Republicans in both houses of Congress have made it quite clear that if they gain control of Congress and the White House, they would at the first opportunity pass a draconian federal law, making abortion a crime from the moment of conception, i.e. penetration of an egg cell by a sperm cell. That is, the law would make use of the morning after pill and, in some cases, the IUD a crime, in that the penetrated egg cell would immediately have full personhood with all rights under the 14th Amendment. Republican intent is clear because last year 164 Republican Representatives co-sponsored H.R. 1011, and 19 Republican Senators co-sponsored S. 99, both of which do exactly that.

Notably, Representatives Fulcher and Simpson of Idaho are among the co-sponsors of H.R. 1011, and Senators Crapo and Risch are among those for S. 99. While those bills had no chance of adoption in the current House and Senate, it is the roadmap for if/when Republicans gain control of both houses of Congress and the Presidency. Because the bills are written so broadly, i.e. they provide that “the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution is vested in each human being. . . ,” with “human being” defined as existing from “the moment of fertilization” of the egg cell by a sperm cell. That is, they enshrine a fertilized egg with full Fourteenth Amendment rights, thereby precluding exceptions to permit abortion in the cases of rape, incest or endangerment of the mother.

The effect of these bills would be to make use of the “morning after” pill impermissible because it prevents implantation of the blastocyst (which results from early division of the fertilized egg) in the uterus. It may also make use of the intra-uterine device (IUD) difficult, if not impossible, because in some cases, it does not prevent fertilization as it is intended to do, but it does prevent implantation of the blastocyst in the uterus. One other, probably unintended, effect of the bills would be to make the use of in vitro fertilization impossible because it necessarily entails fertilization of many more egg cells than are implanted. That is, the bills would not permit the excess fertilized eggs or blastocysts to be disposed of, and there is often no alternative to disposal.

II. Adopt a federal law creating a national registry of pregnancies

It is clear on the record that a significant number of Republicans in Congress seek to create a federal registry for all abortions. H.R. 581 was introduced in the House early last year with 64 Republican co-sponsors. Its Senate counterpart, S. 3500, was introduced early this year with 18 Republican co-sponsors. Representative Fulcher was the only member of the Idaho delegation among the co-sponsors of these bills. The bills require each state to “submit to the abortion surveillance system of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention” (CDC) data on every abortion performed in the state in the reporting year. Failure of a state to comply would result in all Medicaid payments to the state for family planning services to be cut off. While the required data do not include the names of the women who receive abortions, the data are so detailed that it would take a minimal amount of sleuthing for anyone to identify any such woman. That is, the data include the woman’s age, race, ethnicity, marital status, county of residence, and number of prior pregnancies and whether each resulted in a live birth, abortion or miscarriage. The data further include the gestational age of the fetus at the time of abortion, the abortion method and whether the fetus survived the abortion.

While the creation of such an abortion database is intrusive and intimidating on its own, there is good reason to believe that the Republicans who sponsor these bills have more on their minds. To examine that prospect, it is necessary to look at some relationships of the Trump-era Republican party. First, the connection of the party to the American Conservative Union (ACU) and its Conservative Political Action Conferences (CPAC) is quite clear from the level of participation of core party members in CPAC meetings, and from the close links between the ACU’s chairman, Matt Schlapp, and the Trump administration. Schlapp is a well-known close insider in the Trump White House, while his wife was its Director of Strategic Communications.

Second, there is a very clear affinity of the ACU and the Republicans who participate in CPAC meetings for the increasingly authoritarian regimes in Hungary and Poland, both of which have dramatically tightened restrictions on abortion in the years since they were taken over by authoritarian-leaning presidents. Hungary’s new 2012 constitution outlaws abortion from the moment of conception. In 2020, Poland outlawed abortion with exceptions only when necessary to save the life of the mother or in the case of pregnancy caused by rape. But more importantly, the ACU and other highly visible voices for the Trump Republican party, e.g. Tucker Carlson, have openly embraced the authoritarian model of Hungary and Poland as one that should be followed by the United States.

That is apparent from the rhetoric of people such as Carlson and Schlapp, as well as from the location of the recent May CPAC meeting in Budapest, where President Viktor Orban was the keynote speaker. That relationship was just further affirmed by the announcement that Orban will be the opening speaker at the annual CPAC meeting in Dallas in early August. While the Hungarian relationship is the more visible, the relationship with Poland is also apparent. For example, Jerzy Kwaśniewski, the head of the Ordo Iuris Institute for Legal Culture, Poland’s most powerful conservative NGO, participated in and spoke to the May CPAC meeting in Budapest. Further, American Andy Ngo and Canadian Stephan Molyneaux, both of whom have close links to the American alt right and the Trump inner circle, participated in a major event in Warsaw sponsored by the Polish government in the fall of 2021.

So why is the attraction of the Republican party to the authoritarian regimes in Hungary and Poland relevant to the Republicans’ desire to create an abortion registry in the CDC? It is because Poland’s Ministry of Health just adopted an ordinance that creates a registry in the Medical Information System that tracks all pregnancies in the country from the moment they are first identified through their end in birth, abortion or miscarriage. The information collected is comprehensive, including the identity of each subject and the expected delivery date. The Ministry is quick to note that the purpose of the registry is to enhance availability of health services to women, and that the information is kept totally within the medical system, i.e. not available to law enforcement or any other entity. However, there is currently a bill in the Polish parliament that would make all data in the registry available to a new Institute of Family and Demographics, the State Prosecutor and parties to family litigation. The bill has passed first reading and is awaiting further action. In sum, the database with all of the personal information on every woman who becomes pregnant is being created. If the bill currently in the parliament is passed, that information can be used to determine if an abortion or miscarriage has occurred, and it can be made available to the Prosecutor or a party to a civil suit against the woman.

For over two decades, my employment entailed development of the legal frameworks for government registries, the business design of such registries and the technical specifications for the application software for the registries. Therefore, I can say with confidence that it would be very easy to modify the abortion registry that is proposed by Congressional Republicans to make it into exactly the kind of registry of pregnancies that is being developed by the Polish government. It would be a simple matter to use job scheduling software to generate a notice to the US Attorney in the appropriate jurisdiction in each instance of a reported miscarriage or when a live birth has not occurred by or shortly after the projected delivery date. That is, every woman who becomes pregnant and does not deliver a living baby could be automatically referred to law enforcement for investigation and, if the US Attorney’s office suspects an abortion, charged with a crime. The same would be true of anyone suspected of assisting the woman with an abortion or a miscarriage characterized by the US Attorney as an abortion.

Given the admiration of the Republican party for the models they see in Hungary and Poland, and given their desire to make abortion impossible to obtain in the United States, Republicans would almost certainly seek to enact a law to track the pregnancies of all American women in a national registry such as Poland’s. If Republicans take control of the legislative and executive branches of government in the 2024 election or later, that can be expected to happen. American women would no longer have any sovereignty over their own bodies – the government would control them absolutely.

The Handmaid’s Tale was fiction. If the Republicans take control of Congress and the Presidency in 2025, this won’t be fiction.

Review: Beautiful Nate

Beautiful Nate/Dennis Mansfield
Howard Books

Beautiful Nate: A Memoir of a Family's Love, a Life Lost, and Heaven's Promises, written by Idahoan Dennis Mansfield about the son who died four years ago, is as much as anything else about finding the beauty within a mess. Mansfield does, although doing that has meant rethinking much of what he once thought he knew.

Those who got to know Mansfield when he first moved to Idaho a bit over 20 years ago, when he emerged as a state leader of Focus on the Family and maybe the state's most visible social conservative, encountered a person of near-total certitude. An activist on the abortion and gay rights fronts, and tightly connected through much of the Idaho (and national) evangelical community, he seemed easily defined by stereotype. In his personal life too, he writes, he had a definitive take on among other things how to raise children.

Then Nate happened, and if what followed didn't upend everything in Mansfield's world, it changed a great deal.

He still is a highly active evangelical Christian and a political conservative, and his faith runs through a book which feels written more for an evangelical audience, or at least within that framework, than for people of other persuasions. But it's well worth reading for non-evangelicals too, partly for the insights Mansfield offers here into the mindset, and partly because the story at the heart of the book, Nate's, is at its core a human tale of tragedy and hope, running well beyond limitations of religion or politics, a sequence of events that could happen to anyone and has happened to many.

We're all of us complex people, but Nate Mansfield, Dennis' eldest son, may have been more obviously so than most. A political conservative and an evangelical Christian - he evidently shared those things with his father, to some degree at least to the end - was both gifted and capable on a number of fronts (as a teenaged campaign manager, for example) but also rebellious, ferociously angry and driven toward drug abuse. The roots of this aren't completely spelled out (Mansfield may here be telling as much as he knows about those origins), but before Nate left high school he had been arrested - creating a problem for Mansfield's 2000 congressional campaign - and would be arrested repeatedly in the years to come. Periodically addicted to substances both legal and not, heroin among them, Nate died in 2009 of a drug interaction.

The story of how Nate and his parents related uneasily over the years to come is unfortunately not an altogether new tale these days. There is a notably breathtaking and wrenching section here where Mansfield and his wife have to decide whether to allow a then-imprisoned Nate out from behind bars and back into their house, and decide against. You can feel the pain on the page.

The background is distinctive, however, because Mansfield had come into parenting and into much of his early activist work out of certainty that he knew the right way to raise a child - he describes in some detail what that was, where it came from, how he tried to put it into effect and how it periodically smashed into practical application - and was thrown when it didn't work out. (In Nate's case, that is: We aren't told quite enough about the other two children in the house, but their lives apparently proceeded on less eventful and markedly smoother tracks to adulthood.) (more…)

The Idaho 2012 Yearbook

Each Monday, we publish the Idaho Weekly Briefing, sent via email to subscribers. toward the end of last year, we decided to try something new: Summarizing the key elements of the Briefings from throughout the year in one book. The Idaho Briefing Yearbook 2012 is now available, covering all of the last year.

Ordering information is in the box above. It is available now.

Unlike the regular Briefings, the book is available only (for now) in print version.

It takes in a wide range of territory, the same as the weekly Briefings (which also, separately, cover Oregon and Washington). We have reports on politics, federal, state and local government, legal and law enforcement action, business and the economy, the environment, health and education, transportation, communication and culture in the state. There are also calendars and reports on milestones of people - arrival and departures, including deaths, during the year.

If you want to know what happened (that's of importance) in Idaho last year, the Yearbook is probably the best place to start. Let us know what you think.

A window into journalism gone by

Book Review

God Gave Me a Mulligan: A Journalist's Life in War and Peace, by A. Robert Smith (Punster Press, 2012)

Northwest political watchers who go back to the 70s, or further, will recall the name of A. Robert Smith, who covered the region for nearly three decades from the viewpoint of Washington, D.C. His is a story of a specific time and place; it would not be easy to replicate now.

Smith was a World War II vet (the book's title derives mainly from a close call he had in the Pacific) unsure about what he wanted to do afterward, professionally. He became interested in journalism, drove to Washington D.C. to work for a while as a copyboy in one of that city's now long-deceased papers, and then decided he wanted to become a Washington correspondent - cover Congress, attend White House briefings, break stories through the executive agencies. He didn't go for it the usual way, which would have involved spending many years working his way up at one of the papers. His route, instead, was to go to one of the regions of the country where few of the newspapers had D.C. coverage other than the wire service (mostly, that is, Associated Press). That brought him to the Northwest, where he sold editors in the region - mainly Washington and Oregon (the Oregonian and the Eugene Register Guard among them) but a few in Idaho too, and also in Alaska, for which he covered the arrival of statehood - the idea of coverage tailored for their readers.

That meant Smith had essentially no preparation at all for taking on a major and highly complex journalistic assignment. Seemed not to matter. Through the 50s and 60s, his bureau grew in size. By the mid-seventies, as newspapers were swept into groups and the first of many rounds of cost-cutting began, the bureau began to struggle, and in 1978 Smith left for an editing job at a Virginia newspaper.

Before then, though, there were lots of stories, and Smithy tells quite a few in this memoir. Some of the best have to do with Senator Wayne Morse, the cantankerous Oregon liberal who was the subject of Smith's first book (Tiger in the Senate), which resulted in getting Smith banned from his Senate office for several years. (For the second time.) He throws in descriptions of many of the other Northwest figures, and presidents, he ran into along the way. There is, in all, the sense of a fair-minded guy who knew how to cover a partisan community in a decent and civil manner. Today's Washington press corps could do worse than to take heed.

Smith's bureau was eventually sold to Steve Forrester, whose family owned (and still does) several Oregon newspapers, and it continued on for some years. At present, though, there's no counterpart; probably the idea of making a living covering the Northwest for newspapers, once a viable business, is no longer practical. So much the worse for the Northwest.

But it was done once, and well. Large portions of Mulligan are simply personal (a well-told human story), but Northwesterners will find plenty of interest here.

(A small quibble: If he ever mentioned anywhere what the "A" stood for, I missed it.)

Review: The last of the Indian wars


Two subjects here. One is the long-time Washington Senator Henry Jackson, one of the most impactful the region has ever had, and his work with one of his staffers, Forrest Gerard - and we should note here that a lot of the work credited to members of Congress actually gets done by staffers, so that's a worthy story on its own merits.

The other is the issue at hand: "Termination," as applied to Indian reservations. As the glossary puts it, termination in the context of Indian reservations means "an end to the special relationship between tribes and the federal government. The idea was to settle claims with tribal governments and then terminate the federal government’s role on reservations. American Indians would then become subject to state laws."

For someone who likes clear and clean lines of government, the federally-recognized tribes and their reservations are an inconvenience. They fit nowhere in the nation's federal system, but they're not - terms of language notwithstanding - realistically independent nations either. (Independent nations controlled by a bureau of the federal government?) A wide range of people have bought into the idea of termination over the years. Of course, if that approach had become law, Indian country would look a lot different now, and surely a lot less prosperous.

Once, Jackson was one of them. He changed his mind, and his work with Gerrard was one of the key levers in that change.

So the new book Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars, written by former Seattle Post-Intelligencer Editorial Page Editor Mark Trahant (and, much further back, former Sho-Ban News editor), tells a story about how a policy - against termination - came to be put in place after an unsteady run through the years, and a story about how Washington works. It's a solid slice of political storytelling.

It isn't an entirely dispassionate look at the subject; Trahant is clearly anti-termination. His argument, and compelling, is that ending the federal relationship with the tribes would effectively end their governing structure, and over time - maybe not long time - that would effectively destroy the tribes and native culture. Now, he writes that tribal self-government "is no longer in question. Every tribe, state and federal leader now accepts that framework as a given."

Wasn't always that way. Trahant recounts how Congress formally adopted a termination resolution in 1958.

Jackson is one of the main personal reasons for that transition, along with Gerard. For those of us who don't track Indian issues in Congress closely, it's an obscure story. This book shows why it should not be.

Review: Mr. Lincoln’s Book

lincoln book

Mr. Lincoln's Book

What does it mean to be the author of a book? Sometimes it means sitting down for extended periods at keyboard (or typewriter, or pen and paper) to say what has to be said. Sometimes - you can take this as the norm, though not the absolute, for celebrity books - it means submitting to a few longish interviews with a writer, who then crafts the book. And there are all sorts of other variations, and descriptions of authorship that run along a sliding scale.

David Leroy of Boise has out a new book provocatively called Mr. Lincoln's Book (Oak Knoll Press/Abraham Lincoln Book Shop, New Castle DE 2009, provocative because Abraham Lincoln usually is assumed not to have written a book. (A post-presidential memoir, which he seems to have contemplated, by this expert wordsmith would have been something to savor.) However, Leroy here has latched on to something, a unjustly obscure piece of Lincoln's story, that prompts whole series of lines of thought, and ought to get some attention from historians professional and amateur alike.

Leroy's name will sound familiar to historians of recent Idaho politics, because he has periodically been part of it. He was a fast-riser for a while in Idaho politics, Ada County prosecutor, state attorney general and lieutenant governor; his string snapped in 1986 when he lost a race for governor, narrowly, to Cecil Andrus. In 1994 he also lost a run for the U.S. House, and in more recent years he has been around but not especially visible in Idaho politics.

Those who know him, though, also know him as a fanatic on history, mainly on two threads, early Idaho history and Abraham Lincoln, the link being Lincoln's designation of Idaho (1863) as a distinct territory.

Leroy's subject here goes back just a few years before that, running chiefly from the debates between Lincoln and Stephen Douglas in the 1858 Illinois Senate campaign, into Lincoln's run for president in 1860. Those two events are connected. The little-known Lincoln actually won the popular vote in the contest with Douglas - a major national figure through the 1850s - even though he decisively lost in the state legislature, where senators then were chosen. But the battle in one state might not have been enough to give Lincoln national cachet but for the legendary series of debates between the two candidates. And those debates, in turn, might never have gotten much national attention but for a scrapbook of newspaper and other reports of the debates which Lincoln personally compiled and lightly edited. It went to a book printer, and wound up selling commercially, and selling very well. Sales estimates varied widely; Leroy figured them at somewhere around 50,000, which would make it one of the first big political bestsellers in the country. And those sales happened during the supercharged presidential election season of 1860, when the leading candidates were none other than Lincoln and Douglas.

There's a temptation, in reading through the story, to suggest that Lincoln was the first presidential candidate (as Barack Obama is the most recent) to make specific effective use of a relatively new media technology in a presidential campaign. Books weren't new, of course, but printing capacities had recently developed and expanded, and so had distribution networks - a sale of 50,000 or so books in the way Lincoln managed it probably wouldn't have been feasible a generation earlier.

Leroy's core thesis here is that this book was a book by Lincoln - that he was the author of it. This gets into a matter of definitions, and back to the question of what it means to "author" a book. The takeaway is that Lincoln probably best ought to be considered the "editor" of the book, because even though many of the words in it (from the debates) are his, so too are many from Douglas, and some from other writers. But Leroy has pulled together the details that show clearly the extensive effort Lincoln made personally to get the book organized, edited and into print - it was certainly his book in a meaningful sense. (That may be underscored by Douglas' eventual protests of it.)

Leroy has done a bit more here than assemble the history behind the book (write entertainingly about it), and to make the argument for it. He also has tracked down all 42 known authenticated signed copies of the book notes that "now we will identify each of these signed Debates by its Leroy number."

With the number of books on Lincoln up in the tens of thousands, you'd expect that not much new is left to be said. But the spins of interpretation seem endless, and surprisingly pertinent (hello, Team of Rivals). Leroy's deep dig into this obscure angle of the Lincoln story will give you an unexpectedly large number of things to think about afterward.

Books for reading, 08 edition

Some of the reads enjoyed here over the last year, and recommended to you, from Ridenbaugh Press. Let us know what you think - and what else we should be reading . . .


Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer by Shannon Brownlee (Bloomsbury, 2007). The counter-intuitive title pretty much says it. Yes, the lack of health insurance is an enormous problem; the lack of affordable health care generally is even bigger. But a key part of the problem has to do with some of the reasons that hideously expensive system is so expensive, and it includes a lot of treatment that shouldn't be. This is a subject this space will return to in the months ahead, and health care reform is highly likely to be a major theme of the months ahead; and this investigative book is excellent reading meantime about what should be an important part of all that. A whole lot of what is done in the name of our health isn't making us healthier, and we nationally need to come to grips with that. Soon.


The Appeal by John Grisham (Delta, 2008). It's one of his legal potboilers (which tend to be not quite as well written as his off-track books), but few books this year hit harder politically. Few overt polemics made the case so well; this is a classic case of using fictional characters to lay out a story that has the full ring of truth, the kind of function that has a long (even honored) history. It may be a thriller, but it's also one of the best political books of the year, and you need look nowhere further than the recent history of the contests for the Washington Supreme Court to see why. Grisham here is angry - he lets no one off the hook, most especially voters who too often don't know enough about what they're doing.


Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson (Vintage, 1995). Yes, this novel has been around for years, and yes, it's already gotten lots of kudos. But we just got around to it this year, and glad for it. The story is well told, the characters thoughtfully deepened and rounded, but what sticks most are the atmosphere and the feelings. Set in the Northwest (mostly in the San Juan islands), it has a lot to say about this region, without explicitly going there - it has a well-drawn background, but that's not its core subject. Its take on community relations, and how even the islands among our communities are globally linked, are both timeless and timely. This can be one of those books that changes the way you look at the world, and (maybe more than that) your neighbors.


Have a Nice Doomsday by Nicholas Guyatt (Harper Perennial, 2007). The back cover notes: "50 million Americans have come to believe that the apocalypse will take place in their lifetime." The background of that, and the myriad implications how this country is run, unspool in this book, written with a light touch - it isn't the slash job you might expect. There's humor scattered throughout, and Guyatt's tone is a little bemused (he's no true believer, just a student of those who are), but he plays fair. This book is about a whole large part of the country the traditional mass media rarely treat, and rarely know how. They (and the blogosphere, for that matter) could take a few lessons from Guyatt's approach.


Lincoln, President-Elect by Harold Holzer (Simon & Schuster, 2008). The subtitle is, "Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter 1860-61," and that's what it covers - and argues about. There's been a strain of historical thought, starting contemporaneous with Lincoln, that he mishandled, dealt too loosely, with the secession crisis during the months between his election and inauguration. This book, by a writer of numerous Civil War era histories and researched to intricate detail, makes an excellent case that Lincoln played the few cards available to him far better than most people thought, or still do think. This book, surprisingly timely, might be therapeutic for the currently hyperventilating among us.


The Conscience of a Liberal by Paul Krugman (WW Norton, 2008). This came out some months before Krugman won the Nobel, and his subject is mostly politics, not economics, though Krugman expertly weaves the two of them, and makes the (academic, without getting abstruse or pedantic) case for how economic and politics have had a direct effect on each other. You needn't agree with everything he says to find the book useful. More than any other of the year (that we've read), this one outlines the world view and the case for the governing just now coming into power, his early 2008 squabbles with Barack Obama notwithstanding. You'll pick up some useful history, some useful economics, a statistics lesson or two, and more along the way.


Obama: From Promise to Power by David Mendell (Amistad, 2007). The two self-penned Obama books are worth the read (for different reasons), but if you want an informed outsider's take on the man, this is a good option. Mendell was a Chicago Tribune reporter from 1998 to 2004, and covered Obama closely during most of that time; he's familiar with the background, and he knew the man pre-fame. The book dishes little real dirt, although it amply covered almost everything that came out this year about Jeremiah Wright and other Chicago hot spots - none of those came as a surprise to anyone who read this early in the year. But it feels well grounded. There's a little too much self-referential press material in it, and the book ends just before the '08 presidential really kicked in. But this one may stand for a while as a solid backgrounder on the next president.


1960: LBJ vs. JFK vs. Nixon: The Epic Campaign That Forged Three Presidencies by David Pietrusza (Union Square Press, 2008). This doesn't seem quite like the definitive take on the subject that it might have been, that Theodore White's once seemed to be. But it covers such a mass of detail, full of so many neatly-observed pieces, that it belongs in the upper ranks of campaign books. Reading it this fall, as the presidential campaign hit its mid stages, it seemed especially appropos - the linkages kept popping up. Good history almost always repays reading; you never know where the lessons will reapply.

Review: McClure of Idaho

McClure of Idaho, by William L. Smallwood, Caxton Press, Caldwell ID (2007).

reviewIn thinking back on James McClure, who was a senator from Idaho for 18 years through 1990 and a U.S. representative six years before that, you don't recall either an overwhelming personality or riotous controversy; the mental picture can seem a little blurred, some of the normal shorthand - that he was a "conservative Republican" - doesn't quite seem to cut it, especially for what the terms mean in this decade.

McClure bookThe new - release is set for September 1 - biography, McClure of Idaho, brings some focus. Get hold of two basic points and you have a fair sense of this guy who, improbably in some ways, has been one of Idaho's most successful politicians.

One is this: He never really left the small, socially conservative, rural town of Payette where he grew up and established himself professionally. Politicians like to say such things about themselves, but in McClure's case it seems generally true, generating the range of positives and negative you get from that background.

The other, less obvious to most of the public but clear to those who worked around or across from him, is implied by this passage: "You need to know that Jim McClure fancies himself as the consummate do-it-yourselfer. He did all the wiring and plumbing and heating installations in his Payette house during the years when it was undergoing remodeling, and he did the same thing in his cabin on Payette Lake outside of McCall. There isn't anything around a house that he thinks he can't install or repair." McClure was (is presumably), to a degree unusual for a legislator, a highly focused detail man, happier working on the precise language of legislation or on a stubborn electrical wiring job, than in blasting off on the ills of the world.

Put the two pieces together, and you have a basis for evaluating McClure. This book, too - in an analogous sense, it too has these qualities. It is very much an "authorized" biography, and its mood and attitude is suffused by McClure's and the community of family, friends and associates around him. But its 485 pages are also packed with loads of detail, and it's an easy recommended read for anyone interested in one of Idaho's leading political figures and the impact - considerable - he has had on the state.


Books from the year, or thereabouts

Abit off-topic for this Northwest site, but not by too much: Herewith, a quick review of 10 books we read over the last year (all of these published in 2006, or shortly before) which gave us useful insight in a number of areas . . . including the great Northwest.

Even though only one of these books was explicitly about the region.

To be clear, we're not suggesting this as any kind of "10 best" list (and we'll list them in alpabetical order by author). Some are national sellers, but most are lesser known, and one a relatively obscure regional academic books. Just two are specifically "Northwest" books. But all of them have, in their various ways, fresh and useful ideas and information useful to anyone trying to better understand politics and society. They are all highly useful. And between them, they suggest some of the many ways books can help us understand our neighbors as well as people who live somewhat further away.

The only descriptive word we can think of that all have in common is, "provocative" - they will make you think. At least, they made us think.