In This Review

Ernest Gruening and the American Dissenting Tradition
Ernest Gruening and the American Dissenting Tradition
By Robert David Johnson
Harvard University Press, 1998, 416 pp

Gruening is best known as the liberal Democratic senator from Alaska who spoke out in 1964 against the U.S. intervention in Vietnam and voted with only one other senator against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Johnson studies Gruening's long career as a dissenter, which began in 1921 when he ardently opposed keeping American marines in Haiti. A lifelong contrarian who concentrated on Latin American issues, he was given responsibility for administering Puerto Rico by Franklin Roosevelt. Judging him ineffective, Roosevelt then shunted the prickly Gruening off to be governor of the Alaska territory. Although he frantically tried to avoid being sent to the "Siberia of the Interior Department," Gruening stayed for 14 years, helped win Alaska statehood, and won election to the Senate -- where he again embraced the anti-imperialist agenda of his youth. Johnson is sensitive to Gruening's principles but remains clear-eyed about both the policy issues and his subject's less likable traits. The book proves how the U.S. Senate can be the ideal perch for mavericks and dissenters outside the political mainstream who want to retain a public voice. A model for how to write a congressional biography.