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An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Book Review of: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Two Presidents, Two Parties, and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964

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Review of An Idea Whose Time Has Come, by Todd S. Purdham (Hardcover, 2014)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)


I really enjoyed this book until I got to the end. More about that, later. Overall, a wonderful book. Do not miss out on reading it.

This book gave me great insight into one of the most profound bits of legislation to be passed in my lifetime. Providing an almost shocking inside view of the fight to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Todd S. Purdham takes us into the chambers where the battles were fought. We also get glimpses of behind the scenes discussions and manipulations.

Half a century after being voted into law, this Act is a distant memory to those who watched President Johnson announce it on television. And it is just an historical footnote to younger folks. Today, it may be hard to understand what all the hooplah was all about. I think that's why a book that details the difficult birth of this Act is essential reading.

Purdham does an excellent job of bringing the drama to life. Unfortunately, his writing has a strong political bent to it. So there is a bit of misrepresentation here and there. I think on the core message of the book (what it took to pass the Act), he is pretty straight. His bias shows in a few places, noticeably his misportrayal of Barry Goldwater.

As for the Act itself, I've never really come to terms with the fact that it was needed. I just want to write the word "Redundant" all over this Act, because the liberties it protects are already protected by the Constitution. I have really two major problems with the Civil Rights Act of 1964:

  1. At the latest, the date should be EIGHTEEN 64.
  2. It's embarrassing that this Act had to be passed in the first place. The fact we needed an Act basically saying all citizens have the same civil liberties does not speak well of us as a people.

This book reveals just how difficult it was to get this Act passed into law, despite the fact it wasn't attempting anything other than re-iterating existing law (just in more detail). What it took on the House and Senate floors and what it took behind the scenes to get that job done is astounding.

Though I'm well-read on civil liberties in general and history in particular, the story revealed in this book was a shocking eye-opener to me. My misconception going into it was this Act had very broad support and the problem was the usual apathy in Congress toward actual governance. That was not at all the case.

This Act got passed only after extensive debate. I'm still at a loss to explain both sides of the "debate," as I don't see where anyone draws from the Constitution (which is the supreme law of the land) that it protects the rights of some people but not others. Nor does it say anything about the artifice known as "race" except in the one unfortunate compromise made in Article 1, Section 2. We're talking about fundamental civil liberties; what is there to debate?

Well, the other side drew arbitrary lines based on the artificial construct known as "race."  I also don't understand how it's possible to look a person in the eye and say she or he does not have the same civil liberties you do, based on something that has nothing to do with that person's character or behavior. But that was the mentality that many in Congress brought to the "debate" on this law. Many claimed it was actually UN-Constitutional, a defiance of logic if there ever was one. The goal of the law was to protect the Constitutional rights of all citizens. How can that not be Constitutional?

Making sure that "people of color" have their civil liberties protected has been a tediously slow and difficult process. Purdham didn't discuss the background aspect of this, a decision I agree with. He focused on the subject. This is a big enough book as it is; expanding it to provide all the background would have been a bad move.

For those who need a little "come up to speed," make a point of reading about events following WWII. That's when things finally began to gel. In World War II, there was some progress in the military but the GIs came home to a country where they were disrespected based on their appearance. After the war, the efforts to protect civil liberties ramped up. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 has a date in its name because it's one in a series of Civil Rights Acts.

And the job is far from done. Divisions, hatreds, and prejudices still remain. But legally, victims of various manifestations of these attitudes and behaviors at least today have extensive protection. Not complete, but extensive.

If you can find the old Howard Stern video showing a muckety muck from the KKK explaining the complex hierarchy of hatred, get it. The format is a game show, and this guy is a guest who has to rank various ethnic groups from best to worst. The idiocy and absurdity exhibited as he explains his choices are what make the point Stern wanted to make. There's no rationality to racism. Yet, it persists. This kind of non-thinking was what allowed people to accept such indignities as "white" and "colored" drinking fountains, among other insults.

Is this book uplifting? That depends. On the one hand, I found it a bit depressing that anyone could oppose such a simple idea--that Constitutional rights and basic human dignity belong to all citizens, not just some and not others. On the other hand, I was inspired by the accounts of those who risked their careers and important relationships to get this idea embodied into statute.

Is this book worth reading? Absolutely.

The twelve chapters and epilogue of this book span 339 pages. It also has extensive notes and an impressive bibliography. Well-written, and well-researched.

About the end

Purdum concludes with a short commentary that pushes the lie that Obama is "black" though Obama has nothing in common with blacks generally. This "brain off" propaganda is offensive and delusional. Worse, it's hugely damaging. And it ignores the plight of those who are disproportionately bearing the burden of Obama's extremely bad policies.

Increasing the federal debt by 80% in 5.5 years (despite promising in 2008 to eliminate it) has had horrific effects on the economy. An economy depends on capital the way a lake depends on water. Drain the capital out, and the level of economic health drops. That's why only 49% of Americans of working age have a job and many of those jobs are part-time.

The Unaffordable Care Act, Obama's trademark mislegislation, is a travesty that is devastating the poor, especially blacks, on top of the other stunts he's pulled. To tie anything about Obama to black progress is cynical at best. It's a foray into extreme ignorance and pathological denial.

Anyone who fears it is somehow "racist" to object to Obama's predations would do well to look up E.T. Williams on Youtube to get his blunt and accurate analysis.


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