The Corner

Tevi Troy’s What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched, and Obama Tweeted

Sometimes working your way through a demanding book is worth the trouble. And sometimes you get lucky. Tevi Troy’s What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched, and Obama Tweeted is one of those fortunate cases where sheer fun from end-to-end turns out to be edifying and important as well. Stories of Jimmy Fallon’s peculiar way of introducing Obama, or the time Ladybird Johnson stopped a network from cancelling Gunsmoke, don’t seem to add up to anything more than light entertainment. But they do. Troy turns his seemingly light-hearted history of the presidency and pop culture into a window onto America’s soul.

Take the chapter on music. How did we get from the scandal of Harry Truman playing piano with Lauren Bacall’s long legs dangling off the side to Bill Clinton’s saxophone moment on The Arsenio Hall Show? The modern transformation of our ideas about presidential dignity is tied up with the rise of “subversive” rock music and our newly politicized pop culture. Until the late-sixties, when rock went to war against Richard Nixon, American popular music had no political preference. Since then, popular music, and pop culture generally, have systematically turned against Republicans. The great exception is country music, which parallels the GOP’s rise in the South.

Troy traces out these fascinating and interwoven threads, keeping in mind Plato’s dictum that “when modes of music change, the fundamental laws of the state always change with it.” How do Republicans handle the challenge of a popular culture at odds with their party? Surprisingly well, all things considered, and Troy lays out both the cultural tectonics and the political coping strategies on both sides in fun and fascinating ways.

Following America’s culture war through the history of the presidency turns out to be one of the very best ways to make sense of it. It also turns out to be non-stop fun. It’s hard to believe there are many Corner readers who wouldn’t enjoy Tevi Troy’s What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched, and Obama Tweeted. And truth be told, Democrats will like it too.

For more, check out Kathryn Lopez’s interview with Troy, and John Miller’s podcast. Here’s Yuval Levin’s take as well.

Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Most Popular

Economy & Business

Who Owns FedEx?

You may have seen (or heard on a podcast) that Fred Smith so vehemently objects to the New York Times report contending that FedEx paid nothing in federal taxes that he's challenged New York Times publisher A. G. Sulzberger to a public debate and pointed out that "the New York Times paid zero federal income tax ... Read More
Sports

The Kaepernick Saga Drags On . . . off the Field

Colin Kaepernick’s workout for NFL teams in Atlanta this weekend did not run smoothly. The league announced an invitation to scouts from every team to watch Kaepernick work out and demonstrate that he was still ready to play. (As noted last week, the workout is oddly timed; the NFL season is just a bit past its ... Read More
World

Israel’s New Way of War

Commuters on Route 4, driving toward the Israeli coastal city of Ashdod on November 12, were shocked by an explosion, a rocket impact next to a major intersection. Had it fallen on a car or one of the many trucks plying the route, there would have been deaths, and the road would have been closed. Instead, police ... Read More