Tevi Troy — public intellectual, former White House aide, and (full disclosure) friend of Power Line — is the author of the just published What Jefferson Read, Eisenhower Watched, and Obama Tweeted– 200 years of popular culture in the White House. The book is, among other things, an exploration of the intersection of culture and politics at the highest level.
We have added Tevi’s book to the Power Line bookshelf.
I only received the book last night, and normally don’t promote books until I have read them more or less to the end. I’m making an exception here because of the wonderfully entertaining account Tevi delivered at this “book party” and because of strong endorsements from two of the conservative intellectuals whose opinions I value most, Yuval Levin and Stanley Kurtz.
The book is not only overflowing with fascinating stories that every political junkie will love, it is also full of insight about how politics and culture are deeply interconnected. Tevi is both a historian and a former senior White House staffer, so he’s uniquely suited to understanding what matters most in the story he relates. His book describes both how presidents have been shaped by the culture of their times and how they have tried to use popular culture to their advantage (mostly clumsily and unsuccessfully, but not always).
Tevi is also a conservative, cultural and otherwise, and so it is hard to leave his book without a sense that the long trajectory of our cultural history points downward (or as he puts it, “from Cicero to Snooki”). But he’s a conservative with a genuine appreciation of genuinely popular culture, and with a sense that high and low culture (like high and low politics) coexist and always have. It’s that very sense, I suspect, that enabled him to write a book that is both deep and fun.
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. . . .
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.
You can read Kathryn Jean Lopez’s interview with Tevi here.