Reflections of a Radical Moderate

Elliot Richardson, referred to as a liberal Republican on the jacket of REFLECTIONS OF A RADICAL MODERATE, thinks of himself as a political moderate—radical in the etymological sense of “deep-rooted.” He is aware that his rational, even-handed approach to the problems of American democracy in the 1990’s may seem obvious and unexciting, but the ten related essays in this book remind his readers of how often seemingly obvious truths are neglected and how compelling a thoughtful and clearly expressed discussion of the workings of a representative democracy can be.

Richardson draws on a remarkably long and diverse career in public service. He has held important offices in Massachusetts; at the federal level, he served as Under Secretary of State, Secretary of HEW (Health, Education, and Welfare), Secretary of Defense, Attorney General, and Secretary of Commerce. In later life, he was appointed to a number of national and international commissions, often as their head. He reached his point of highest visibility when he resigned as Attorney General in response to President Richard Nixon’s order to fire Special Watergate Prosecutor Archibald Cox.

While Richardson has much to say about the duties and responsibilities of government leaders, he lays strong emphasis on the responsibilities of the citizens who confer these positions of leadership. Thus, his book becomes a manual of citizenship also. he warns of the twin dangers of expecting too much from a government loaded with more obligations than it has resources to fulfill and the cynicism that so often results from the dashing of such expectations. He casts revealing light on such often-misunderstood concepts as “bureaucracy” and “conflict of interest.” He also acknowledges the serious problems which face America while approaching them with the optimistic spirit of a man buoyed by faith in democracy and in the American people.