The Least Among Us
The New Press, 2017
The voters of Connecticut’s 3rd congressional district have shown much wisdom in continuing to return Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro to the House of Representatives for the last 26 years. Even allowing for the expected hype that accompanies autobiographical writings, it would be difficult to find a more knowledgeable, more passionate and more committed champion of the rights of working families than Congresswoman DeLauro.
The book’s greatest strength is it’s reliance on DeLauro’s first-hand experience. She describes her participation in legislative efforts, mostly undertaken to prevent or limit damage to the social safety net from the “Gingrich revolution”. Prince Bismarck famously said “laws are like sausages. It is better not to see them being made.” But this is precisely what she does. She lifts up the hood on the process and what one see is a fascinating stew of coalition building, back and front stabbing, betrayal of allies and cozying up to enemies, compromises, threats and bullying. A melodrama worthy of a soap opera if it weren’t so important.
A chapter I found particularly interesting is entitled “Politics and Faith”. DeLauro describes how the Roman Catholic hierarchy engaged in a systematic campaign to intimidate with threats of excommunication, Catholic politicians who declared themselves as “pro-choice” on the abortion issue. The church could not be persuaded that by attempting to preserve and extend the social safety net, these legislators were following the social teachings of the church. Such an atmosphere of harassment ended with the ascension of Pope Francis.
However, Bismark’s point about seeing the product versus the process still applies in relation to DeLauro’s work. Like many skilled tradesmen, she has a tendency to drag out the descriptions of the various nuances in each and every bill she becomes involved with. The details of long forgotten amendments, their costs, their coverage, their eligibility requirements, begin to make the reader feel as if he/she were button-holed by an auto mechanic who insists on describing all the details of the last 120 engines he has repaired, it gives the reader a bad case of MEGO (My Eyes Glaze Over).
It is in this regard that The Least Among Us would benefit from tighter editing. The proliferation of abbreviations and acronyms becomes mentally taxing and hard to follow. By the time you digest SNAP, CTC, FMLA, EITC, LHJEAP and TANF, you feel as if you are bloated with alphabet soup. Furthermore, passages such as, “I made phone call after phone call after phone call after phone call” don’t effectively enhance the narrative. After the second phone call, I think we get it.
Lastly, I am disappointed about what feels like an omission. In 2017 the Democrats find themselves entirely excluded from power. The party is hoping to recover its sense of direction through vigorous debate between “progressives” and “moderates” (dark blue versus light blue?) How does Congresswoman DeLauro weigh in on issues that affect the future direction of the Democratic Party? We need to know this.
Peter Hechtman is the founder and owner of The Book Maven. Peter can be reached at email@example.com.