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The Thirteen American Arguments
Cover of The Thirteen American Arguments
The Thirteen American Arguments
Enduring Debates That Define and Inspire Our Country
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Howard Fineman, one of our most trusted political journalists, shows that every debate, from our nation's founding to the present day, is rooted in one of thirteen arguments that–thankfully–defy resolution. It is the very process of never-ending argument, Fineman explains, that defines us, inspires us, and keeps us free. At a time when most public disagreement seems shrill and meaningless, Fineman makes a cogent case for nurturing the real American dialogue. The Thirteen American Arguments runs the gamut, including
Who Is a Person? The Declaration of Independence says "everyone," but it took a Civil War, the Civil Rights Act, and other movements to make that a reality. Now, what about human embryos and prisoners in Guantanamo?
The Role of Faith No country is more legally secular yet more avowedly prayerful. From Thomas Jefferson to James Dobson, the issue persists: Where does God fit in government?
America in the World In Iraq and everywhere else, we ask ourselves whether we must change the world in order to survive and honor our values–or whether the best way to do both is to deal with the world as it is.
Whether it's the nomination of judges or the limits of free speech, presidential power or public debt, the issues that galvanized the Founding Fathers should still inspire our leaders, thinkers, and fellow citizens. If we cease to argue about these things, we cease to be. "Argument is strength, not weakness," says Fineman. "As long as we argue, there is hope, and as long as there is hope, we will argue."
Howard Fineman, one of our most trusted political journalists, shows that every debate, from our nation's founding to the present day, is rooted in one of thirteen arguments that–thankfully–defy resolution. It is the very process of never-ending argument, Fineman explains, that defines us, inspires us, and keeps us free. At a time when most public disagreement seems shrill and meaningless, Fineman makes a cogent case for nurturing the real American dialogue. The Thirteen American Arguments runs the gamut, including
Who Is a Person? The Declaration of Independence says "everyone," but it took a Civil War, the Civil Rights Act, and other movements to make that a reality. Now, what about human embryos and prisoners in Guantanamo?
The Role of Faith No country is more legally secular yet more avowedly prayerful. From Thomas Jefferson to James Dobson, the issue persists: Where does God fit in government?
America in the World In Iraq and everywhere else, we ask ourselves whether we must change the world in order to survive and honor our values–or whether the best way to do both is to deal with the world as it is.
Whether it's the nomination of judges or the limits of free speech, presidential power or public debt, the issues that galvanized the Founding Fathers should still inspire our leaders, thinkers, and fellow citizens. If we cease to argue about these things, we cease to be. "Argument is strength, not weakness," says Fineman. "As long as we argue, there is hope, and as long as there is hope, we will argue."
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    Chapter 3 THE ROLE OF FAITH

    God in His infinite wisdom must have designed Tennessee as
    the ideal place in which to argue the role of faith in public life.
    In what sometimes is still called “the buckle of the Bible Belt,”
    locals favor “strong preachin’,” but also the evangelism of a secular gospel
    called Jacksonian Democracy. Nashville is home to the abstemious souls
    of the Southern Baptist Convention, but also to country singers keening
    over lives ruined by drink and dissolution. In 1925 the mountains of east
    Tennessee were the site of the infamous Scopes Trial, in which a teacher
    was sent to jail for teaching the science of biological evolution. Yet those
    same rugged mountains are home to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory,
    a leading center for advanced science, and to two nuclear power plants
    that operate on the physics venerated there.

    So Tennessee was the appropriate launching pad for the political career
    of Senator William Frist, M.D.–and also the appropriate place for it to
    crash to Earth. In Tennessee, the senator had to fly through the crosswinds
    of cultural conflict, between the theories and demands of Bible Belt religion
    and of ivory tower science. The bumpy ride ultimately reduced his image
    from that of an idealistic, Grey’s Anatomy—style “superdoc” and presidential
    possibility to a hopeless political hack. The trajectory of his public life illuminated
    the power of an essential American Argument. We are a prayerful,
    Bible-believing country, yet that same trait causes us to constantly
    fret–and argue–over the extent to which our faith should influence decisions
    about education, research, welfare, and other government activities.

    Frist rose to prominence on the secular, science side of the argument.
    His first calling card was medicine. His father and uncle were prominent
    Nashville physicians who had made a fortune assembling one of the nation’s
    first HMOs. He was a brilliant, meticulous student, excelling at
    Princeton, at Harvard Medical School, and in internships at Massachusetts
    General Hospital.

    Frist had a need to exhibit his knowledge in dramatic circumstances.
    He became a renowned cardiothoracic surgeon famous for steely nerves
    and clinical derring-do, “cracking open chests,” as he put it, thrusting his
    hands into thoraxes to remove diseased hearts and lungs. He owned a
    plane, which he kept gassed up and ready to fly so he could ferry in replacement
    parts–living hearts–for his patients. He piloted the plane, of
    course. He was forever experimenting with new surgical techniques,
    studying logistics, puzzling over the social consequences of the on-the-fly
    triage necessary to match salvageable patients with salvageable hearts. A
    committed runner, lean as a whippet, and blessed with an ability to concentrate
    in an operating theater, Frist slept only three or four hours a night.

    He used the wee hours to educate himself by writing medical tracts.
    As he launched his campaign for the Senate in 1994, his religious faith
    was not a visible part of his public profile. He rarely talked about his
    standard-issue Presbyterianism, the denomination of choice among the
    Southern business establishment. Rather, he advertised the healing power
    of medicine. On the wall behind his desk, he tacked up a picture of a picnic
    he had organized and attended earlier that year. He was surrounded
    in the photo by a cheerful-looking throng of more than one hundred.
    Who were they? “Those are my former transplant...
About the Author-
  • Howard Fineman is Newsweek's senior Washington correspondent and columnist. An award-winning reporter and writer, Fineman is also an analyst for NBC and MSNBC, appearing regularly on Countdown with Keith Olbermann, Hardball with Chris Matthews, Today, and the NBC-syndicated Chris Matthews Show. His column "Living Politics" appears in Newsweek, on Newsweek.com, and on MSNBC.com. Fineman's work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The New Republic. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife and two children.
Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine We are the arguing country, born in and born to debate. This is Howard Fineman's argument. The NEWSWEEK columnist sees silence--the lack of argument about the Iraq War, for example--as dangerous and regards political clashes as healthy and vital. He makes his point by linking current issues--immigration, the War on Terror, the increased power of the presidency, and the Vermont secession campaign, to name a few--to historical events and arguments. Scott Sowers gives Fineman's arguments a no-nonsense tone that is tough enough to take on the TV talking heads and their opinions. Giving voice to Fineman's research and thoughtful points, Sowers's narration is compelling. Fineman's aim is to get people talking--and arguing--about what our nation needs, and he succeeds. J.A.S. (c) AudioFile 2008, Portland, Maine
  • RealClearPolitics.com ""The Thirteen American Arguments is a thought-provoking, engaging study of the great American debate, and a highly worthwhile read."
  • Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of Team of Rivals "Insightful and enjoyable . . . . In The Thirteen American Arguments, Howard Fineman lifts readers above the fog of modern politics . . . and offers a unique vantage point from which to see that the debates that shape American politics are timeless and profound."
    --The Washingtonian

    "A spectacular feat, a profound book about America that moves with ease from history to recent events. A talented storyteller, Howard Fineman provides a human face to each of the core political arguments that have alternately separated, strengthened, and sustained us from our founding to the present day."
  • Jon Meacham, author of American Lion and Franklin and Winston "With a marvelous command of the past and a keen grasp of the present, Howard Fineman expertly details one of the great truths about our country: that we are a nation built on arguments, and our capacity to summon what Lincoln called 'the better angels of our nature' lies in undertaking those debates with civility and mutual respect. Few people understand politics as well as Fineman does, and this work is an indispensable guide not only to the battles of the moment, but to the wars that will go on long after this news cycle is long forgotten."
  • Newt Gingrich, author of Real Change: From the World That Fails to the World That Works "In an impressively thought-provoking original approach, Fineman revisits the great defining arguments that will deepen your understanding of America."
  • Arianna Huffington, author of Right Is Wrong "Howard Fineman proves that few things are as compelling as a well-argued debate. This book offers a thought-provoking way to look at America, its history, and our evolving public discourse."
  • Jeffrey Toobin, author of The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court "A perfect antidote to the old horse-race political journalism--a timely (and timeless) reminder of what's really at stake in the race for the presidency."
  • Kathleen Hall Jamieson, co-author of unSpun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinf "Howard Fineman guides the reader through the controversies that have haunted this nation since its inception. In the process he creates a fresh context for making sense of the 2008 campaign. Both scholars and students of politics can learn much from this book."
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The Thirteen American Arguments
Enduring Debates That Define and Inspire Our Country
Howard Fineman
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