‘The Meanest Man in Congress’ – #bookreview

The Meanest Man in Congress

Jack Brooks and the Making of an American Century

Timothy McNulty and Brendan McNulty
New South Books

The Meanest Man in Congress should be essential reading for anyone interested in U.S. national politics and 20th-century American history. The book is a richly detailed, solidly researched, well-written biography focusing on the life, public-service career, and key achievements of a Democratic Congressman who served under ten presidents while representing Texas’s Ninth Congressional District for 42 years, until 2004.

Brooks, a World War II Marine combat veteran, played noteworthy roles in the passage of some of LBJ’s landmark Great Society legislation, as well as in Richard Nixon’s impeachment (Nixon called Brooks his “executioner”), plus the investigation of Ronald Reagan’s Iran-Contra scandal.

The Southeast Texan avoided running for higher office. But, capping his Congressional career, he served for six years as chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee. Along the way, Brooks also became “a guide and a friend” to a newly elected Californian, Nancy Pelosi, plus some other politicians still prominent today.

Despite being a staunch fiscal conservative, Brooks helped keep the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) alive at critical funding junctures and singlehandedly saved the International Space Station program from being defunded.

U.S. Rep. Jack Brooks (D-TX) spent 42 years in Congress including six as head of the powerful House Judiciary Committee. He also championed NASA and the International Space Station.

The authors write that “Brooks’s legislative productivity was without parallel. Whereas many senior members might settle into a rhythm of what could be passed without much fuss, Brooks took on bigger and bigger legislative fights, going directly after lobbies that had successfully stalled reform in Congress for decades.”

While reading this intelligent, enlightening portrait of Brooks amid twentieth-century Washington politics, it is easy–and unnerving–to see what, and just how much, has been lost during our current era of Congressional rancor, suspicion, and deep partisanship. It is also easy to see where the bitter turmoil began and why it led Jack Brooks to later call Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich “scum.”

Si Dunn

P.S.–My thanks to New South Books for sending an advance reading copy for review.

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