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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

June 09, 1996|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

IN DEFENSE OF GOVERNMENT by Jacob Weisberg (Scribner: $22; 209 pp.). Weisberg is the national political columnist for the ever-snappy New York magazine and a contributing editor to the New Republic. This book is an eloquent plea for a return to a compassionate federal government like that under John F. Kennedy, a government that effectively creates legislative change but also inspires the desire and the vision of change in its people. "More than anything else, writes Weisberg, "Racial progress is what we need liberals and progressives for. There is no alternative to action on a national scale; the illness cannot cure itself." He traces the path to our current hatred for big government and the popular correlation of big-government liberalism with communism.

Weisberg criticizes Clinton's failure to take the assault by Republicans and their threats to disassemble government seriously, and faults liberals for "blaming anti-government sentiment on racism," using it as "an excuse for their own failure." He argues persuasively that the current "moment of Republican crisis" will not, in and of itself, bring back faith in government, and neither will the Clinton compromise, the New Covenant.

In the core chapter of the book, "Resurrecting Government," Weisberg outlines the "five habits of highly effective liberals": Accept risk, under-promise, jettison ineffective programs, force Congress to make laws instead of "navigating regulations on behalf of constituents," and finally, fix the size of government by balancing the budget and not spending beyond our means ("With this rule, government could no longer grow at the expense of the private sector").

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