"In Praise of Public Life" by Joe Lieberman

Brian Gongol

One-paragraph review: "In Praise of Public Life" is an unintentional time capsule, preserving a record of the atmosphere from the brief post-Cold War consensus period in American politics. There were differences among candidates and parties, of course, but the budget-balancing, technologically optimistic, pre-9/11 era was one in which good feelings generally were free to prevail. Joe Lieberman, as a prominent figure of the "New Democrat" movement, could afford to be pro-business, devoutly religious, and hawkishly internationalistic, and yet still (at the time of the book's publication in early 2000) be on the Democratic party's Presidential ticket. "In Praise of Public Life" is mild-mannered throughout, offering broadly hopeful and inoffensive themes about the value of electing decent people to office. It's an earnest book, but not much to stir the reader. Lieberman's mild manners in many way suited the times; he could convey an authentic disappointment in Bill Clinton's notoriously dishonorable behavior in the Oval Office and yet still sound like a bona fide advocate for issues like environmentalism. Lieberman conveys a particular dismay over low election turnout, seeing it as a symptom of cynical disengagement. With the distance of history, we can perhaps see that low turnout may have actually reflected a broad satisfaction with political trends in general (or, at least, a very low objection to the status quo) -- a calm that looks rather preferable to violent tempers. It will be some time before another book like this is published again.

Verdict: An inoffensive but not especially memorable tribute to service in public office