My Life in Progressive Politics: Against the Grain

My Life in Progressive Politics: Against the Grain

My Life in Progressive Politics: Against the Grain

My Life in Progressive Politics: Against the Grain


Gun control, voting rights, family planning, and environmental protection--these are all hot-button issues today, but they were also the same difficult and intractable issues that Senator Joseph D. Tydings of Maryland faced during his tenure in the Senate in the 1960s.

In this timely memoir, Tydings looks back on a life of public service, from the Maryland General Assembly to chief federal prosecutor in Maryland and ultimately to the United States Senate. As an early "Kennedy Man," Tydings's political stock soared, but it just as quickly crashed because of his willingness to go "against the grain" on perhaps one progressive issue too many.

As the adopted son of a US senator, grandson of an adviser to three US presidents, and step-grandson of perhaps the wealthiest woman of her age, Tydings nevertheless made his own way, rising from horse platoon corporal in war-ravaged Germany to legislative reformer. He prosecuted fellow Democrats for fraud, stood up to presidents over Supreme Court nominees and the war in Vietnam, and faced down segregationists over voting rights. His family planning initiatives are still in effect. He battled the National Rifle Association over gun control--and suffered the consequences.

After a decade of political assassinations, from the Kennedy brothers to Martin Luther King Jr., and a turn to the right with the election of Richard Nixon, America's political climate soured for progressive politics, and Tydings narrowly lost reelection.

My Life in Progressive Politics provides an important, insider account of a landmark era in American politics.


Joe Tydings and I never got to work together in the Senate. He served a few years ahead of me. But his six years in office showed him to be a man I would have been proud to fight alongside—a man of principle who, to this day, cares deeply about the direction of our country.

Joe and I come from different backgrounds. We took different paths to the Senate. Despite those differences, however, our politics ended up in the same place. the values that drive Joe, and that are on display throughout these pages, are the same values that have always animated my passions.

When I think back to my early years in the Senate, I was building on groundwork that Joe had helped to lay—from opposing the senseless carnage of the war in Vietnam to expanding civil rights protections for all Americans.

We both believe in standing up against the abuse of power to ensure that every American gets a fair shot. We are both committed to the basic principle that every single person is entitled to be treated with dignity. We both understand that the point of public service is to make a difference in people’s lives.

Joe also embodies a code that I’ve lived by my entire political life— it’s the advice that I give to everyone thinking about running for office— decide what’s worth losing over. Joe brought a progressive foresight to a range of difficult issues of the 1960s, and he demonstrated genuine courage to stand up for what he knew to be right, even when he knew it might hurt him politically. So while the Senate lost Joe Tydings after only one term, the American people continued to benefit from the leadership he demonstrated in office for decades afterwards.

In reading this memoir, you can’t miss the salient parallels to challenges facing our nation today. the issues on which Joe staked his Senate career a half-century ago are the same ones that still require our advocacy and attention. Protecting voting rights. Safeguarding our . . .

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