Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Book Review: "Bridging the Divide"

Edward W. Brooke, the first African-American to be popularly elected to the Senate, tells the story of his life in a new memoir, Bridging the Divide: My Life (Rutgers University Press, 2007). A committed centrist who worked throughout his career to find solutions to some of this country's most pressing problems and injustices, Brooke has written a candid political autobiography and offers important insights into the state of contemporary American political discourse.

After attending Howard University and fighting in Italy during WWII, Brooke got his law degree in Boston and built a practice here before entering elected politics. After several false starts, Brooke was elected attorney general of Massachusetts in 1962 and 1964, then ran successfully for the Senate (as a Republican) in 1966. He served two terms before being defeated in the 1978 election after a messy divorce which made its way into the newspapers. Brooke writes vividly of his forays in public life, including the investigation into the Boston Strangler case, his efforts to pass civil rights legislation in the Senate, and the various campaign ups and downs he experienced.

Two elements of this book particularly resonated with me: Brooke's account of his visits to Vietnam in the late '60s to better understand the conflict raging there, and his brief discussions of the current political polarization. On the former, Brooke writes (p. 167) "During [Vietnam], as a senator, I could at least try to influence events. Today, I watch our occupation of Iraq only as a concerned citizen. As events unfold there, I fear that those who gave us today's war did not learn the lesson of yesterday's."

On the latter (p. 181): "The polarization of Congress; the decline of civility; and the rise of attack politics in the 1980s and 1990s, and the early years of the new century are a blot on our political system and a disservice to the American people. I do not see any signs of a return to civility, and I can only look back on my time in the Senate as a golden era that I pray will come again." It's easy to say, but Ed Brooke walked the centrist walk throughout his career, and when he speaks, we ought to listen.

A well-written and interesting memoir; recommended.