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Book review: Whiplash! From JFK to Donald Trump, a Political Odyssey

It has been nearly a decade since the first “Facebook election” set us on our current course of superficiality in political discourse. Today we are inured to candidates and voters alike taking just a dash of politics along with their pop culture, late-night hosts, and ESPN sports-cum-social justice. From Barack Obama’s tenure as Instagrammer-in-Chief to Donald Trump’s addiction to Twitter, American politics continues its natural progression toward bumper-sticker wisdom.

The same could be said for books about politics. A walk through the ocean of most political memoirs would scarcely get your feet wet. One can read Hillary Clinton’s “What Happened” and learn such details as how much she enjoyed the pork chop-on-a-stick at the Iowa State Fair.

Lest professional politicians fail to connect with the world of prime-time television, reality shows, People magazine, Page Six, and TMZ, there is even a political how-to book: “The Twitter Government and Elections Handbook.” From this our elected officials can learn to “tweet about your favorite TV shows” and “talk to athletes.” Yet if, as Ronald Reagan famously said, “facts are stubborn things,” so too are ideas. Despite the observable trend away from the free exchange of ideas and toward the free exchange of insults, our American society of 323 million still includes many who seek answers the hard way, by thinking about things deeply.

One such person is the author, pollster, and political consultant Arnold Steinberg, whose philosophical odyssey has caused him to question everything and everyone in search of the right solutions to our nation’s enduring challenges. Over a career of nearly half a century, Steinberg has simultaneously plumbed the depths of libertarian, conservative, and progressive (n? liberal) ideas and practiced the art of politics in the real world. His persistently thoughtful approach to his craft helped him to infer good lessons even from occasionally bad people.

Throughout his career he was a constant student, and the people he learned from formed quite a professoriate: John F. Kennedy, Barry Goldwater, Jim Buckley, Ronald Reagan, Clint Eastwood, Dick Riordan, and scores of others whom he advised, worked with, or encountered along the way. Fortunately, he has encapsulated the wisdom of five decades in a single volume.

In “Whiplash!” (for £10 discount, free shipping, no sales tax: https://www.jbooksinc.com/) we accompany the author in his early experimental encounters with the ideas of the left and right, join him in battle during senatorial, congressional, and mayoral campaigns, and relax in his drawing room as, looking back, he distills all that he has learned into succinct, opinionated gems. Steinberg is unquestionably a political conservative, but his consistent dedication to principles (sometimes mistaken by others for eclecticism or iconoclasm) makes his personal narrative inviting to free thinkers of all stripes. As a southern Californian intimately familiar with Hollywood, the media, and the popular culture that has too often eclipsed serious thought, his keen understanding of how others see the world is as insightful as his own way of thinking.

Summing up a lifetime of accumulated experience, from his forebears who died in the Holocaust to the youth of today who have inherited his fascination with the marketplace of ideas, the author cites Tocqueville: America is about community and the true diversity that comes not from government but liberty. It is a life lesson worth sharing, and he has done so in rich detail. Chris Cox is president of Morgan Lewis Consulting LLC, is a former White House counsel to Ronald Reagan, chairman of the SEC, and U.S.

Representative from Orange County.

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