One Nation Undecided

Clear Thinking about Five Hard Issues That Divide Us

[Amazon Link]

Can't say enough good things about this book. The author, Peter H. Schuck, is a Yale Law prof and a self-described "militant moderate". You might think: "Oh oh. Another mealy-mouthed 'no labels' tergiversator." You'd be wrong about that.

Instead, Prof Shuck speaks to his reader as a "serious well-educated voter". (Flattery will get you, if not everywhere, at least somewhere.) His method is to examine five "hard" issues confronting modern America: (1) poverty; (2) immigration; (3) campaign finance; (4) affirmative action; and (5) religious exemption from secular public policies. For each issue, he presents a dense array of facts. He considers arguments made on both (or, more accurately, all) sides. And he does so with scrupulous fairness, avoiding partisan spin or ideology-based conjecture. Or, in his own words: "reasoned, empirically informed, normatively open-minded analysis."

As you might expect from a Lawprof, the legal issues are carefully dissected and examined (especially on the last three issues). Prof Schuck does a fine job explaining such matters to the legal ignoramus lay reader.

Yes, he does, on occasion, reveal his own opinions on these issues. He does so in a tentative your-mileage-may-differ manner to which it's impossible to take offense.

If I had one quibble—it's actually more of a regret—it's that the book is so timely, a snapshot of where each of these issues stood at the time of writing, circa late 2016. But the facts surrounding these hard issues will undoubtedly evolve and shift. I found myself wishing that the book could (somehow) evolve and shift with them. But no, there it sits, in cold type on dead trees.

But the important thing is that Prof Schuck's method is all too rare. He's not looking for victory. Instead, he's looking for objective improvement: repairing obvious flaws via narrowing "the range of disagreement." Partisans consider compromise a dirty word; he does not. The book's final word:

The only alternative to compromise, after all, is some form of coercion that threatens the perceived legitimacy of the victors and leaves the defeated bitter, vengeful, and determined to undermine the victorious party and policy. Sound familiar?

Yes, it does.