2020 Book Club
Andrea Phillips, Vice Chair of the Iowa Democratic Party and founder of the 2020 Book Club -
”Iowa Democrats take their role in vetting the 2020 presidential candidates seriously. I started a book club to read the books of all of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates” Iowa Starting Line
“Phillips told MSNBC she hopes the book club has helped voters know the candidates better. "That's really the point of the whole thing so that people can make a good decision on caucus night," she said.” MSNBC
The first question that Phillips asked everyone to respond to for each of the books written by the 2020 Democratic candidates is “How would you review this book in one sentence?” I post my “one sentence” reviews on Facebook and also, @bookwormsitw, on Instagram.
My reviews for the six books read to date follow.
The Truths We Hold: An American Journey
Reared by a smart, tough, fierce and protective mom from India (breast cancer scientist), who with Kamala’s father from Jamaica (Stanford economics professor), introduced her to the civil rights movement of the 1960s in Berkley and role modeled the importance of education; role modeled as well by a grandma community organizer in India; learned early that service to others gives life meaning; bussed to school and learned from the richness of diversity in the classroom; Howard University and UC Hastings College of Law; chose to be an advocate for crime victims and victims of ”a broken criminal justice system“, and thrived at being “for the people” as SF City Attorney, SF District Attorney, CA Attorney General; elementary school truancy project - jail and fines for parents of chronically absent students (a source of some controversy, then and now); impressed me as a tough and determined prosecutor and public servant, objecting to criminalization of the public health crisis (opioids, marijuana, etc.); railing against mass incarceration for minor offenses; promoting bail reform, sentencing reform, prison reform; advocate for DACA/ Dreamers; support for “Black lives matter” and for implicit bias and procedural justice training for police; also, for Medicare for all, healthcare/insurance/patient advocates; elimination of racial disparities in health care and life expectancy; debt free college; the same sex marriage battle; fight climate change; housing reform advocate; mortgage fraud strike force; rent assistance; child care; rebirth of organized labor; gun safety laws; protect NATO: reinstate the Paris climate accord; referred to Trump administration separation of children as “state sponsored child abuse”; patriotically “fights every day for the ideals of our country”, a fight borne out of optimism; an impassioned prosecutor and public servent; a self described “joyful warrior” in the battle to come.
Off the Sidelines: Speak Up, Be Fearless, and Change Your World
Memoir by upstate, farm country, New Yorker, role modeled by lawyer/ hunter mom, Albany politico grandma, Rosie the Riveter WWII munitions assembling great grandmother + her predecessor in the U.S. Senate, Hillary Clinton (“decisions are being made every day in Washington, and if you are not part of those decisions, you might not like what they decide, and you’ll have no one to blame but yourself”), and profoundly inspired by her friend and colleague, gun shot survivor Gabby Gifford; Dartmouth, UCLA Law School; a runner, tennis/ squash/ softball player; middle class upbringing and is a working mom (described many of the details of wedding planning, child rearing, bathroom cleaning, etc.); risk taking and, in the very best way, idealist; an ambitious, tenacious, empathetic, self described eager and earnest, and also an optimistic public servant (“when God closes a door, he opens a window”); an unapologetic advocate for paid maternity leave and sick leave, affordable daycare, universal pre-K, mandated equal pay for equal work; open and transparent government, and “the battle she was meant to fight” - gun reform; also battled to repeal don’t ask don’t tell; fought for support for 9/11 first responders, and has been hot on the trail to address sexual assault in the military; not without her complexities/ subtleties (supporter of gun rights + gun reform advocate; a woman of faith and bible study and profanity laced speech; “Al Franken . . . as charming and funny as a senator from Minnesota as he was on Saturday Night Live”.); expressly addressed to a women audience; the ultimate happy warrior, but nonetheless a warrior: “Walking away from the fight is not an option”/ “for a time such as this … we each have a moral responsibility to act”.
The Senator Next Door: A Memoir from the Heartland
Earnest, focused, successful as a County Attorney, and now a United State Senator in the great populist tradition of her Swiss/ German/ Slovenia immigrant Minnesota roots, a disciple of former Vice Presidents Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale and former United State Senator Paul Wellstone, with ”Midwestern humor”, ”Minnesota good sense”, and ”Minnesota nice“ (I’ve read the articles about allegations of ill treatment of her staff, but also note the constant shout outs, recognition and expressions of appreciation for her staff throughout the book), recognition as well, across the aisle, for President George W. Bush’s assistance in the rebuilding of a collapsed bridge in Minnesota, looks for the good in people and looks for the middle ground (“You can disagree without being disagreeable”), embracing the internationalism of the heartland, a granddaughter of a hard working Slovenian immigrant ironworker, daughter of a teacher and a newspaperman (“rough and tumble life”; “a champion of those on the outside”), great appreciation for the opportunity to attend, on financial aid and scholarships, Yale and the University of Chicago Law School, family + public defender/ prosecutor/ victim advocate; work/ life balance philosophy: “I do my best”; Senator Klobuchar scratches the itch that many feel, as I do, to record for posterity the details of life and family, and lots of personal details in this memoir, which, when taken together, paint a picture of the foundation of a person’s life, so I read and listened, searching for clues to an understanding of the author, and clues abound, including from her optimism, reflected in the following from a Slovenia obituary, “May you always remember that obstacles in the path are not obstacles, they are the path”.
An Unlikely Journey: Waking Up from My American Dream
Julian Castro attributes his drive, hope, resilience, inspiration and life of public service, which lifted him out of his poverty stricken neighborhood, to the strong encouragement of and the example set by his Mom, a role model (up to a point) who struggled to sustain her family but who created a foundation of support for her sons, who was an outspoken political organizer and “a hell-raising civil rights fighter”, a teacher and a fierce believer in the importance of education, and which resulted in degrees from Stanford and Harvard Law School, a seat in the San Antonio City Council, three electoral victories as a very successful Mayor of San Antonio, Texas and appointment by President Obama as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, truly an American Dream story, and a grandson of a border crossing immigrant’s story as well.
Shortest Way Home
A moving and hopeful memoir by a future leader of our great country, an extraordinarily well educated, yet humble and practical, son of the Midwest and self described millennial that recounts and reflects his experience as a very successful Mayor of South Bend, and as a Navy Lieutenant in Afghanistan, his experience with foreign affairs as well as urban affairs, experience addressing issues of race, urban housing, gun violence, policing, data driven efficient, analytical, rigorous city management, taking advantage of AI and machine learning along with intuition and judgment, and as a human rights advocate, his personal experience as a member of the LGBTQ community and his relationship with the man who would become his husband, and his experience as a Rhodes scholar student of philosophy, politics and economics who recognizes the Importance of coupling policy with symbolism, being present as the mayor, on behalf of the city, to show empathy, and who believes in “working at the local level as part of building a better nation, tearing down obstacles to a good everyday life in a single community, knowing how the small adds up to the great”, and who is likely to have the opportunity to do so much more, in 2020 or thereafter.
United: Thoughts on Finding Common Ground and Advancing the Common Good
United States Senator Cory Booker wrote a compelling narrative about his warm upbringing in a New Jersey suburb and academic excellence that led him to Stanford, to Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship and then to Yale Law School, about his social consciousness and activism, which led him to live in the inner city, specifically in Newark and in one of the most challenged apartment projects in the city, about his many mentors and his appreciation for the guidance and love shown to him on his journey from Council member, to Mayor and to his current position in the United States Senate.