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Desk 88: Eight Progressive Senators Who Changed America

Review

Desk 88: Eight Progressive Senators Who Changed America

It has been almost two decades since Robert Caro published volume three of his biography of Lyndon Johnson, MASTER OF THE SENATE, which covered the years from 1949 to 1960 when Johnson served in the United States Senate. The book was a revelation about the history and workings of the Senate and how Johnson mastered the organization as no politician before him. When it released in 2002, Sherrod Brown represented Ohio in Congress. In 2006, he would win election to the Senate. He has been re-elected twice, which is no easy task, given the state’s conservative electorate and his unabashed progressive leanings. As the 2020 presidential campaign began, many progressives hoped he would run for president, but for now he has chosen to remain in the Senate.

DESK 88 is part autobiography and part historical account of the Senate through the story of the men who occupied the desk that Brown now occupies on the floor of the Senate. Upon his arrival in the Senate, he was given the responsibility of selecting a desk for the Senate floor. The traditions of the Senate run deep, and one of them is that most senators at some point carve their names in the drawers of their desks on the Senate floor. Brown’s search led him to Desk 88, previously occupied by Hugo Black of Alabama, George McGovern of South Dakota, Robert Kennedy of New York, William Proxmire of Wisconsin, and several other progressive senators. Brown had found his Senate home.

"Anyone who has seen or heard Brown speak on issues important to him will appreciate the organization and writing of DESK 88. Just like its author, the book is well-organized and passionate."

Anyone who has seen or heard Brown speak on issues important to him will appreciate the organization and writing of DESK 88. Just like its author, the book is well-organized and passionate. He alternates chapters on his predecessors with his own career and political views on important contemporary issues. Recounting the fascinating history of former U.S. senators serves as a reminder that although we are at a complex, perilous moment in our nation’s history, we have been here before.

The biographical portraits also shed light on the continuing evolution of life in American politics. Hugo Black was a progressive senator from Alabama, yet he was also a member of the Ku Klux Klan. His membership became public as he was nominated and confirmed to serve on the United States Supreme Court. In contemporary America, it is doubtful that Black would have been confirmed. Nor would men like Glen Taylor or George McGovern ever have been elected to the Senate, as they ran shoestring campaigns without any significant campaign donations. Before the days of television, social media and candidate imaging, candidates could make their appeal to the public in a far different manner than we see in America today.

In the personal portion of DESK 88, Brown makes the case that the progressive idea is not dead. You may not agree with him, but embracing his politics is not a requirement for appreciating the deep and endearing history of the progressive era in America. There was a time in our country when political disagreement could still find politicians seeking common ground for the public good. Brown reminds us of those bygone days, which hopefully will return to America’s political stage.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on November 22, 2019

Desk 88: Eight Progressive Senators Who Changed America
by Sherrod Brown

  • Publication Date: November 5, 2019
  • Genres: Biography, History, Nonfiction, Politics
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • ISBN-10: 0374138214
  • ISBN-13: 9780374138219