Drift by Rachel Maddow

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Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow
Rachel Maddow makes the argument of how America has been rising to a state of military power through her wit and humor, just like her television news show. The appeal of Rachel Maddow lies in her ratio of comedian to wonk. On TV, she dives into charts and graphs and long, winding fact trails, unafraid of “geeking out” because she can depend on her funniness to save her. She connects the dots from fact to fact, or statistic to policy, and along the way a parachute of jokes opens. So, sure, I’m a fan.  But I worried that Maddow wouldn’t be as sharp on the page. After all, she’s a big enough celebrity that she could outsource the hard work to a half-dozen MSNBC interns and a ghostwriter, sit back, and reap the royalties. Or she could crank out a polemic that’s light on evidence, make some jokes along the way, and call it a day. In her new book, Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power, Maddow takes neither shortcut. Instead, she takes her readers on a biting, bracing tour of the rise of American military bloat. Maddow wants us to confront the size and heft of the national security complex we’ve built, and also to understand how its gargantuan growth is tied to the wolfish executive branch’s usurpation of the sheep-like legislature’s war-making powers. Plenty of legal scholars and others have been here before Maddow. But they didn’t bring along a joke parachute.

Drift starts with Thomas Jefferson and his distrust of the standing army. Seven pages later, we’re in the thick of Vietnam, and Maddow’s making the case that Lyndon B. Johnson changed the rules for American armed conflict. Unlike presidents before him, LBJ refused to call up the U.S. Army Reserve and the National Guard to fight his war, mostly because “he didn’t want to get Congress and the rest of the country all het up and asking too many questions.” Maddow has two problems with Johnson’s decision. First, it...
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