The Courage and Compromises of George P. Shultz.

AuthorHeilbrunn, Jacob
PositionPhilip Taubman's "In the Nation's Service: The Life and Times of George P. Shultz"

In the Nation's Service: The Life and Times of George P. Shultz by Philip Taubman Stanford University Press, 449 pp.

The former secretary of state helped end the Cold War. He also acquiesced to the corrupt and crazy demands of his superiors.

When he died, at the age of 100, in 2021, George P. Shultz was widely hailed as a consummate pragmatist who represented a type of sober conservatism that has been almost entirely eradicated in the modern Republican Party. A charter member of the foreign policy establishment, he occupied four cabinet positions, including secretary of labor and secretary of state, in the administrations of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. In those posts, he earned his reputation for statesmanship by espousing enlightened policies on issues like civil rights and playing a key role in ending the Cold War. His death was taken as the symbolic passing of a bygone style of judicious and sane conservative governance that predominated in Republican administrations before Donald Trump took office.

But did Republican administrations ever follow Shultz's principled brand of politics--or, in fact, did Shultz himself? Philip Taubman's new biography of Shultz, In the Nation's Service, offers a more complicated assessment of the well-known government official and of the modern history of the GOP. Taubman, a former reporter at The New York Times, first encountered Shultz when he was Reagan's secretary of state. Decades later, Shultz asked Taubman if he would like to write his biography and promised exclusive access to his papers, which were housed in a sealed archive at Stanford's Hoover Institution. Taubman has extensively drawn on them to show that Shultz had real accomplishments but failed to stand up for his principles against unscrupulous conservative operators at key moments during the Nixon and Reagan presidencies. His story hints toward the GOP's long tradition of struggling--and often failing--to check the callous self-interest and viciousness that came to define the Trump White House.

Taubman traces Shultz's innate conservatism back to his father, a lifelong Republican who worked on Wall Street and emphasized the importance of social and professional status. As a teenager, Shultz viewed FDR's administration with misgivings, recalling that he felt he was "seeing this big intrusion and hoping it would work and realizing it didn't work very well." After serving in the Marines in the Pacific theater during World War II, Shultz entered graduate studies at MIT, studying...

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