Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Century Turns: New Hopes, New Fears

By William J. Bennett, 319 pages,

Conservative writer Bennett covers with a journalistic eye the cultural shift that occurred in America between the end of the Reagan era and the present day. He centers this analysis on the bruising politics of D.C., spending much time looking at the presidential campaigns and what the issues of the day really meant from a larger cultural perspective.

In the past two decades, the record shows, American pop culture (though not necessarily Americans themselves) has become less Christian and more anti-family. Post-modern, in other words.

The rise of China, the fall of the Wall and Soviet Communism, the use of “values” by politicians, violence-oriented entertainment, and a preoccupation with all sorts of reform are detailed, from a staunchly pro-Republican viewpoint.

Bennett covers the personalities and styles of President Clinton and Presidents Bush Father and Son quite well, emphasizing Clinton's political skills and the second Bush's Christian beliefs, and his ability to articulate those beliefs in a way that touched many Americans.

Behind Bennett the journalist is a more philosophical thinker, and through this perspective he shows some of the longer-term changes that occurred, as with the following words from Ted Koppel, which he cites in A Century Turns:

“What we have done in America today is to turn ethics into a commodity. Virtue may still be its own reward, but we lose touch with its meaning when we allow it to be defined by the standards of the market-place or the political arena. The equation really couldn't be much simpler: When people, in large numbers, consistently reward bad behavior, then, inevitably, we perpetuate that sort of behavior.”

Despite these words and the many instances of cultural degradation, Bennett also highlights the good, such as the importance of electing the first black president. The author emphasizes that he remains an optimist.

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