Robert Kaiser, an associate editor of The Washington Post, and a former managing editor (second banana) from 1991 to 1998, bubbled over with praise in a Sunday book review for ultraliberal Rep. Henry Waxman. The headline was "Moustache of Justice."
Kaiser compared Waxman to baseball star Ted Williams and biblical hero King David, and offered his heartfelt "gratitude to the voters of Beverly Hills and nearby areas who keep returning this ornery fellow to the House to challenge entrenched special interests."
The book’s title is simply The Waxman Report, authored by Waxman and Joshua Green (the reporter who exposed Bill Bennett’s gambling habit). Kaiser began with a flourish:
Henry Waxman is to Congress what Ted Williams was to baseball -- a natural. As you read this nicely proportioned, fast- paced book, you realize that Waxman was born to be a member of the House, ideally the chairman of an important committee. He's just five-feet-five, he's woefully short of hair, he's neither charming nor funny, but none of that has mattered. Waxman has been one of the most effective members of Congress for 35 years.
A few sentences later, Waxman is David slaying Goliath:
This is the voice of David, whose career has featured the slaying of one Goliath after another. That is the theme of this book, which in fact does not explain "how Congress really works," but rather tells engaging stories about how Henry Waxman has made Congress work, sometimes, for the causes he has embraced.
One of those causes was AIDS, and Kaiser paints a picture of "homophobic" conservatives opposing teenagers who acquired AIDS through a transfusion:
Waxman's personal accomplishments are impressive. With symbolic support from Ryan White, a 13-year-old who contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion, Waxman pushed federal aid for victims of the disease through Congress, over ferocious, homophobic opposition from conservative members.
If that sounds like a caricature of reality, you would be right. As even liberal reporters Chris Bull and John Gallagher explained in their book Perfect Enemies,
With the exception of funding for sexually explicit AIDS prevention measures, which were often blocked by congressional conservatives, the lobbyists coaxed large outlays of federal funding to combat the disease, especially in the 1987 Ryan White Care Act, which provided billions of dollars in aid to cities hard hit.
Conservatives like Sen. Jesse Helms were active in seeking to prevent explicit promotion of homosexuality from getting federal funding through the fast-flowing spigot of AIDS funding. That did not mean conservatives opposed funding for AIDS sufferers.
"The Waxman Report" explains, at least, how Congress can work, and it is fun to read. You finish it with gratitude to the voters of Beverly Hills and nearby areas who keep returning this ornery fellow to the House to challenge entrenched special interests. More Henry Waxmans on both sides of the aisle would give us a much better Congress than the one we've got.
Tim Rutten of the Los Angeles Times also loved the book in a July 1 review: "If your plans for the long Independence Day weekend incline toward thoughts on the state of the nation, skip all the patriotic kitsch and read this book." But Rutten couldn’t help but get kitschy about liberalism:
Most of all, there's a persuasive declaration of faith in that particular brand of liberalism that the late Arthur Schlesinger called "the politics of remedy." As Waxman puts it, "In Boyle Heights, everyone thought of government as an institution that helped people."
As this heartfelt, important little book will remind its readers, there's a lot to be said for the faith of our fathers.