American Ideals

By Hnatiuk, Joseph | Winnipeg Free Press, April 7, 2018 | Go to article overview

American Ideals


Hnatiuk, Joseph, Winnipeg Free Press


Readers benumbed by gun violence in the U.S. — a consequence of the American Constitution’s reference to bearing arms — will appreciate the complexity of constitutional democracy after reading this latest comparative analysis of two personalities who dominated mid-20th-century America.

James Simon, former dean of New York Law School and author of several books on American history, law and politics, including What Kind of Nation (2001) and FDR and Chief Justice Hughes (2012), offers a lucid, refreshingly frank and often entertaining exposé of key individuals in the executive and judicial branches of government.

Their similarities, differences and regard for each other are revealed as Simon skilfully reconstructs major 1950s issues confronting the presidency and the Supreme Court, employing common language to highlight precedent-setting decisions.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Chief Justice Earl Warren were contemporaries, both men born in the early 1890s. Eisenhower, five months older, was a West Point graduate, achieving heroic status commanding Allied forces in Europe during the Second World War and then riding his popularity into the White House in 1952.

Warren attended law school in California before enlisting in the army officers’ corps shortly before the 1918 armistice, but it was his success as a lawyer, district attorney and progressive-minded state governor that gave him national recognition and, like Eisenhower, opportunities for higher office.

It was Eisenhower who named Warren to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court, a decision the president privately regretted, reportedly calling the chief justice a “dumb son of a bitch” for his strict views on equality and individual rights.

Simon discloses that Eisenhower’s preferred approach to issues such as civil liberties was a pragmatic “middle way,” a slower but hopefully peaceful process of coaxing racist elements to gradually accept the intent of the nation’s constitution.

While presenting a balanced view of the protagonists as patriotic Americans, Simon displays a bias toward the chief justice, lauding Warren’s liberal-minded court rulings, which reflected a firm belief that societal change required immediate — not gradual — adherence to the principles of equality and opportunity. …

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