Hope is a Tattered Flag: Book Review

April 26, 2010

I’m a huge fan of PoliPointPress and I thank them for sending me a copy of Hope is a Tattered Flag. That title comes from a Carl Sandburg poem, which I’d like to share:

Hope Is a Tattered Flag

Hope is a tattered flag and a dream of time.
Hope is a heartspun word, the rainbow, the shadblow in white
The evening star inviolable over the coal mines,
The shimmer of northern lights across a bitter winter night,
The blue hills beyond the smoke of the steel works,
The birds who go on singing to their mates in peace, war, peace,
The ten-cent crocus bulb blooming in a used-car salesroom,
The horseshoe over the door, the luckpiece in the pocket,
The kiss and the comforting laugh and resolve—
Hope is an echo, hope ties itself yonder, yonder.
The spring grass showing itself where least expected,
The rolling fluff of white clouds on a changeable sky,
The broadcast of strings from Japan, bells from Moscow,
Of the voice of the prime minister of Sweden carried
Across the sea in behalf of a world family of nations
And children singing chorals of the Christ child
And Bach being broadcast from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
And tall skyscrapers practically empty of tenants
And the hands of strong men groping for handholds
And the Salvation Army singing God loves us. . . .

What a variety of experiences, places, and characters the poem Hope is a Tattered Flag presents, and yet they all are tied together—as a symphony, as a democracy—under the mantle of hope. The same concept is true for the book Hope is a Tattered Flag: different people with different perspectives and occupations and passions are brought together by the authors under the mantle of the book’s subtitle—Voices of Reason and Change for the Post-Bush Era.

The authors of this extremely readable and very informative book of interviews are Markos Kounalakis and Peter Laufer, who co-host a radio program called Washington Monthly on the Radio, based on the prestigious Washington Monthly magazine. Mr. Kounalakis is president and publisher of The Washington Monthly, and Mr. Laufer is an independent journalist and filmmaker. In the introduction to Hope is a Tattered Flag, Mr. Kounalakis is credited with the statement, “As journalists we’re sentenced to a life of learning,” to which Mr. Laufer replies, “That’s so true, and it’s a joy, it’s a blessing.” So is their book.

While I wish that the interviews recorded in the book were dated, it’s a criticism that’s easy to forget in light of their depth and relevance to today’s world. Divided into such sections as “War and the Military,” “Oil,” “Immigration,” and “Church, State, and Culture,” they introduce the reader to both well known and new voices of reason. Among the familiar voices, I especially enjoyed Joe Klein, who discussed how FDR encouraged Americans to buy world maps during World War II, so they could keep up with the soldiers’ progress, and how “George W. Bush had a responsibility to start teaching us about Islam.” Tom Tancredo, who talked about about his 2008 presidential run, in which he sought to emphasize the subject of immigration reform, was also a fascinating subject.

The new voices are equally entertaining and stimulating. Marc Fisher, in a conversation about radio, makes the provocative statement that “up until maybe ten or fifteen years ago, you could drive across this country blindfolded and have a pretty good idea of where you were just because you had the radio on.” And Chris Anderson describes the “end of the monopoly of the hit” in the world of the music business. As these examples show, things to think more about abound in this book. Hope is a Tattered Flag is not a typical Current Affairs/Politics selection. As PoliPointPress describes it, the book is a collection of “freewheeling conversations with America’s political and cultural leaders,” and I’m here to say that these conversations are very much worth joining as a reader.

Read Don Tapscott on the subject of “mass collaboration in the political world,” Rev. Barry W. Lynn on how “Thomas Jefferson would not even sign Days of Prayer . . . sent to him by the Congress,” Bill McKibben on how “we have the means to . . . be local without being parochial . . .”—I could go on and on. Mrs. Kounalakis and Laufer are intelligent, curious, and witty masters of ceremonies throughout. Whether you know the interviewees’ names or not, if any of these subjects interest you, or if the subject of important subjects interests you, reading Hope is a Tattered Flag will enrich your life. It’s a book about America, and it covers as much ground as its namesake poem, all in the name of hope—which, to quote the poet Emily Dickinson, is

the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all . . .

Like America, Hope is a Tattered Flag is diverse, exciting, full of contradictions and theories, and a joy to explore. I hope that Mr. Kounalakis and Mr. Laufer never stop conducting their interviews; we all can benefit from them and from the hope they provide.


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