tv After Words Fmr. Sen. Ben Nelson D-NE Death of the Senate CSPAN November 11, 2021 6:47pm-7:48pm EST
♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ next on book tvs author interview program, after words, former democratic ben nelson of nebraska discusses the decline of bipartisanship in the senate and offers recommendations on how to restore it. his injury by republican senator ben sasse of nebraska. after words is a weekly interview program with guest host interbank top authors about their latest work.
>> hello and welcome to book tv. it is my pleasure today to interview ben nelson from the great state of nebraska. ben was born emma cook he is the husband to diana, the father of four, served 12 years in the u.s. senate from 2001 through 2134 of us are going to center our discussion on that today. ben was also governor of nebraska for eight years in the 1990s, a period during which nebraska won the national championship in football. 38% of all the years he was governor. so ben, given our partisan differences i do not know if i am supposed to campaign for you to come back and governor but if you can win national championships for football team three eighths of allll years it would unite our state again, welcome. >> thank you i cannot take full credit. i just want people to remember it happened during my watch. >> very nice. it is good to get to talk with you today about your new book
the death of the senate. congratulations on its publication. let's begin with two moments on the senate has been divided 50/50 we currently have a 50/50 senate with the tie-breaking vote is cast by vice president kamala harris. when you arrived in the senate 20 years ago it was a 50/50 senate as well. how about you set the stage forced by contrasting those two moments? what is different about a 50/50 senate today versus a 50/50 senate 20 years ago. >> i'm not sure there's a real difference in terms of how it would work. having 50/50 means at least in terms of the numbers you have to get somebody to switch over across the aisle from the other party to vote for something you want. or the vice president is the tiebreaker.
why the senate could not perform today it like it did before if there is trust, if there is an understanding, a mutual interest. we move away from divisive to divisive issues and spend more time talking about unity and what we find that we agree with. hear it and was in 2001 identified a marker ten years ago and you capped the trim line forward with the death of the senate. has changed from unity to find
seek where they want to be uniter or a divider. stay on and can be run from the edges but you cannot necessarily governor from the middle. in the mid- 1990s there isso some data that shows 25 -- 26 of americans considerr themselves centrex their slightly higher voters to the right and left of them. sometimes they look at lower propensity voters. but as your major explanation what are the key variables that drive why the american people become a more polarizedco and let's turn to how the elected officials respond to that polarization. >> because the emphasis on
division with wedge issues constantly being thrown out in front the bell rings they go back to their corners. winning both sides. as opposed to work together with the ultimately is mostn comfortable. >> you spend a chapter in this book talking about your role o in some of the gangs. some of that is about specific legislation or specific logjams that were there we
bipartisan and much of what he did. dog ted kennedy was the one that reached across the aisle a great deal when someone reached across thou they accepted that. support. he had to have pastors and receivers in football and have the same thing in politics a person has to be the trip she went on a broad to learn to do oversight, to thank our troops to let them know they are not forgotten. tells about the first couple
of trips what was theex bipartisan experience like on some ofde those congressional delegations? >> one of the first is not to, in a war zone of the middle east was down in columbia where the drug war was underway. a group of us went down to columbia and we spent time with the president of columbia as well as the military, flew over the area or poppies were grown and being eradicated in the process. but i got to know for example i got to know bill maslin from florida veteran we got to know the others on the trip as well. at the time we served together. it was an enlightening
experience about what was going on in south america particularly in columbia. and thennt following 911 i went to afghanistan as well has two other places in the middle east. particularly in afghanistan with olympia snowe and others we got better acquainted and were able to work together.he as always when i reached across to her she reached across to me if we could find commonality on particular issues. we worked together a great deal. getting to know people, i am a trickster pulling tricks on people always figuring out whether i could get by with it, i did knowledge overstep. being a bit of an agitator with a few tricks along the way, on one trip i went to couple of my colleagues who
went into the war zone and i had for them to t-shirts with bull's-eyes on the t-shirts. mine was plain blank just a few things like that you begin to have personal relationships whether through humor or being together learning more about what concerns them outside of politics. it is amazing how it breaks the silence because you begin to talk with one another. >> fortunately nobody ever set me up with a t-shirt with a bull's-eye on it for deer season this november i'm going to try this and trying on champ prank on my 10-year-old son very. >> absolutely it works.
what is when tron and zen mark? [laughter] because of my pranks all the time, apparently the hidden camera. >> they decided to come to lincoln and in the capitol set up operations, hidden camera set up in my office in the set it up in the conference room so when they would bring someone in, some poor unsuspecting soul from out in the rotunda and said the governor would like to talk to about something he is thinking about and would like to get your opinion about it. then they would get seated and be real comfortable and i was comfortable but i wanted to ask them about. i wouldlo tell them that statebu
of nebraska served as well. but if you want to break out of the crowd here of names right now, but we should be doing is looking at things like they have in the oil industry. : : : . what do you think about when tron or zenmar and one woman said have >> they say have you lost your mind and that is still happening there is plenty of time but what i tell them i smile, you are on candid camera, just one of those fun deals that i like to do. and i did of this on practical jokes but she wouldn't let me buy down until you pretty.
>> they were in the program we may come back to what you did to diane when you, the name of the state and i was away in college and i had some friends reach out saying they were not going to get a new teacher. so let's talk about national security and history of the 240 years of national security, that of unifying theif country coming came into the office you began in january of 2001, and obviously it was a contentious time and equally divided senate and then in september of that year, tragic hit 911 as 3000 of our fellow countrymen and women were killed by jihadists, tell us what it was like in the months before 911 and what happened in the months after >> the issue and he got
everybody's attention was tax cuts and an promising to be supportive of tax cuts but i wanted a balanced budget at the same time we had a balanced budget at the time, we are paying down thehe national debt .so the bush administration decided they would pursue something at $1.6 trillion of the tax cut that would be payable for several years. in a group of us said but i think we would be more comfortable with the number but we should not be on the cut side on it we should find some safety issue size is tax cut and also, when we stop to pay down the debt and what if we have our
stopped paying intel because we are spending more or the revenues fall off. "of a stopgap or if you will, a trigger that i say let's have a circuit breaker in other words we thought paying down the debt on whatever the debt was, whatever the budget was, he would stop this instep and we would go back and we would look at the spending and go back to look at the tax cut to make adjustments to get the budget balanced. and the question was 1.6 wasn't too much of a group of us including the senator and a few others, decided that maybe something more like 1.25 would be or 2.5 million or trillion would be about her number a closer. and that included what we
finally negotiated with the bush white house and it during those discussions, i met with the vice president in a small room with a small group and we talked about where he talked about 1.6 bringing it down to 1.45 and we were still at 1.25 and i think that actually compromised at 1.35. through this compromising even though it was a divided senate, and they had the tiebreaker with the vice president so we were able even during those times, following the case the supreme court and some people, you always have contention about something like that but we broke right through that and we were able to negotiate work together on the bipartisan deal.
>> would have an interest about the balanced budget in either or both parties in the last decade. >> it is gone, there may be some interest but how much discussion is that and how much is it going to be over the balanced budget and how much are we going to borrow. and once you start using your credit card, it is very difficult to stop and i think we would've been okay if 911 had not occurred elise for some period of time i might've been okay for a longer. but it would've been something else come another excuse for another reason to spend more than we were taking in. >> what about between policy and politics and personalities that were here during her 12 years and the senate and who is harry reid read.
>> a former capitol policeman and he went to law school and he got elected and i think first, lt. governor and nevada and then he came to the united states - and he was i think somebody tht if you don't know him, and understanding, the more you know him the moree you understand hi, he boxed and also he is a fighter in real sense as well as in a less real sense in other words, he will work with people that he will stand his ground and he will insist on certain things pretty either relationship with harry reid that i never got pushed, harry never pushed me for anything, we and i together is good supported him and what i did, and yetin in spite of that, maye in lieu of that, we had a
personal relationship that continues today because out of the blue okay the call to ask me what is going on and we will chat back and forth pretty and he says nice things about me to my friends i think also to my enemies i suspect. >> excited role of senate majority leader, historically 150 years ago, almost not even be recognized in a consensus and the position appears to become something more to the speaker of house of representatives and explain the majority leader's role is when you arrived and then how it evolved during your time there. >> when ii arrived, they joked that his job was to keep trains moving on time in other words, the legislation and we would quit at dinnertime and we would
go home if we were the spells and we had family that was the way that he saw the leadership pretty he took a nap and turn an active role he worked with the caucus but i think that he was thus likely to push and maybe even the democratic leader is today as well and i think that it is the power but it should not be the power but it seems to possess today, the leadership role in a should not have the power. soth i look at this way, mitch mcconnell got to votes for kentucky's and his own i suspect. inosine the other senator from kentucky, ran the fall and pulp voted for him and sing with chuck schumer. people from back home, they'll send somebody to washington to be a leader of the caucus read
in theou leadership should to be one of coordinating and making sure that things happen but should not to be where you have i'm saying this straightforward, but had mitch mcconnell save the beginning, of obama's term, that is his goal was to prevent make sure the teahe did not get a second term. will be speaking on behalf of a caucus because he's a caucus leader and i think that he spoke for every republican member of that caucus anymore than i would want the democrat to document that with a republican and if he had said that his goal is leade of the democrats at the time, was to make sure that george w. bush did notge get a second ter, in my opinion, that is just wrong the leadership has so much power today that it can dictate as leading in explaining and
maybe some of your colleagues you may have a different opinion of that, i'm looking at it from the outside having seen the sort of develop to the point where io is today. >> what is the filibustering for state like ours, the state like nebraska. >> is designed to protect the minority interest accrued it would not otherwise be available pretty now we can say that in the house of representatives obviously there is a difference between the states but it's on the basis of population in the senate that is different. in the senate you have each state whether it is maine or nebraska or california or new york, each house to but still within the senate, when you processes and you have a part of senate majority of one or the other, and that with the
filibuster, you have the opportunity to make things deliberated did it doesn't always work that way but it's there and when it does work that way, so the senate was all about, the liberty in the world's greatest deliberating body and is sort of a shelf in politics right now because we think about it, that is one of the things that can drive it if you have to have a 60 vote threshold.d. and this is inside baseball moment for everybody else and you and id both understand that if the purpose of a vote is not to be reduced but to be available for those rare times when it's necessary in order to bring together the senate to do things in a 60 vote level. with the so-called budget
reconciliation approach resolution that gives you have the filibuster for some thanks but the unfortunate thing was that both parties had knocked on the filibuster to the traditional nominations there was a big stake in . my mind.nu >> let's focus on that in the minute because thousand 200 during the two-year pray to god, you represented nebraska from 2001 - 2013 i got there in 2015 and then in the summer of 2013, is when harry reid note executive calendar so far viewers who happily do not have to be on the inside baseball in the senate schedule everyday, distinguishes between an executive calendar the confirmation of judges or presidential nominees, to the jobs and the government and the legislative calendar which is about regular laws. both of them used to require 60 votes pretty brick-and-mortar
and harry reid change that rule to redefine it the ratio as that quantity of 51 in the summer of 2013 and how significant is that moment in the depth of the deliberation that you talk aboui in your book. >> significant because it's the first time that it was used and i think thatd was a mistake and as i understand how a leader of the caucus gets upset when you can approve the legislation it. and the other side can ignore and exercising and they are blocking if you will, obstructing by going to a 60 vote on everything. and when you have them go to 60 votes, and is stopped and obstruct the orderly regular
order of legislation and nomination and approvals of nomination confirmations. and i can why a leader got spirited about it. the judges awarded the nominees of the president. >> one of the recommendations in your book and have you walk us through the proposals of the senate should restore the super majority requirement filibuster opportunity to executive nominations and to judicial nominees of people who would serve for a lifetime of the federal bench and i would that work and how would you restore the super majority requirement once you'ver already lost it rated. >> its limitations in other words, like the old days, mr. smith goes to washington, and he would have to sit on the
floor and maybe it could be used or what cannot be used but i think that you put it back on the nominations on the on the legislation for sure, so that any kind of limitation on the, is demise in other words, if judicial nominees, have to meet 60 votes, that i think that you get a different category on the bench and you get people on the bench more mainstream and that's what's happening and both sides are funny at first on the left or the right is out there and that getting the majority on the bench. and you don't turn supreme court into the smaller version nine of member smaller version of the legislative body, it is not
about that changing the laws in this weather there, it is about opposing the justice and about enforcing and deciding and stepping into disputes and finding justices in the process for all the parties. i know with elias, and can the nebraska supreme court over eight years, and over half of the trial judges and when i talked to them about what i thought a parameters were, would not ask them the witness test question, didn't care what they thought about those, when i cared about was how they got to the questions when presented with they would not be opposing
there you. but law and equity and sold them that what you not care about whatar you think about something because when i come before you and practicing login i might know what itw is and want to be able to read the law and don't want to have to read your mind and now we have people second-guessing decisions in the court on second-guessing the mind is of the members of the bench. it's not supposed to bee that wy and i'm not naïve about this and i think that is with the law once the one judiciary that you can read the law does add enough for somebody to get on the bench and changing assault about about that in addition ivy and i worry that maybe we have gotten there besides. >> one of the things the filibuster does is force the
billing of ail consensus for legislation from you and i obviously disagree about obama care it is setting aside the substance of obama care, if you could go back in time to guess that was, christmas season of 2009. if you could go back then, do you think part of the reason that the law had become so controversial because it w was done is a simple one party built using the budget resilience and process as a positive having a consensus of the way. >> absolutely, regular order is bipartisan vote on that was absolutely i think essential and is holding out for that as long as a good asthma attack, in an interview that we were on with one of the shows, said the same thing.
it is a matter of fact, in the foreword of the book, the authors in the book, said that they felt that the legislation they felt besthe about and been bipartisan and relief of a that way as well. when we got to the prescription drug benefits as part of the care, there was very bipartisan and felt good and nobody is trying to repeal it these days. when it's nonpartisan, and is bipartisan, think that it has a better standing p power because both sides have i invested event may be to 1 degree, maybe it is 6040 or 4060 or something like that that both sides invested in it they want to see it work for the people and that is why they didn't stand up and vote against it and the words, i really believe that bipartisanship isbe the answer for longer term for
this country becausese i think when you have the situation where you run to the left or the right, you go 100 miles north one year, or hundred miles south the next year and you say you've made progress and you kept the country divided it and i think that you're in a situation where people refuse than to try to get together and they keep tribal and the race as opposed to me towards a compromise on the tough issues so that we can all live together in a democracy. >> i think you make a h really good point from 1952 - 1990 for the house ofou representatives d never changed majority party and now basically every presidential administration and congress flips two years into any new
presidential administration and flips to the opposite party and if it takes only 51 and 49 versus 49 - 51, to change legislation country has scope for a lot of people and take 6042 past something, it's very unlikely that after next november you back on 60 - 49 all 40the way to 40 - 16 you'll hava whole bunch of people in the middle become the ballots maintain continuity in the american people can focus on the neighborhood and raising their kids as opposed to taking washington dc is there center of their consciousness and tribe. >> diane was expecting that we would entertain a lot with the public but we trident didn't really wasn't that much entertaining she had hoped there would be. so we gave up on interrupting we just realized that entertaining without the way it was done. we just went to luncheons, and am curious, you had some where
the senate has together went to the botanical garden or whatever it is or some other places in town at have a sitdown dinner. logically, you don't do everything in a partisan way. it's intermixed and there is not enough of that today and part of it is that people are anxious and they don't think about getting back so one of the suggestions that i think that was one that said we need to go back to a five day work week in the senate and that buying being there monday and on friday, no or maybe over the weekend of yearov for five days.
there is something had to happen for people in the senate are willing to talk to one another and don't have to fear that if they don't follow the instructions of a leader in a caucus, that there very likely to lose a committee assignment for the next time they need something, they are denied. with the move away from that is probably true in the house as well who are really focus on the senate the house is going to continue to be there for some period of time partisan because that's the way breaks out that we don't have to have a senate that's just partisan. >> do you think that cameras in the committee hearing rooms are good or bad. >> well they operated for their, net while i think about the bed as a democracy, they are good but i think as a result in bad
outcomes because of bad behaviors and i remember them not going to name it by name and in my book i remember shortly after i got on the senate appropriations committee and sitting right next to - from new jersey and the republicans were on the other side of the room and he had just got elected in the election before. and i was on the committee and he said there when there were issues about spending it, you can see his face got distorted and he would raise his thumb like this and he would go down like that they would look across the island us and like what do you think about that and i thought, i thought it was sodom and gomorrah best but it said something about what it was happening that somebody came now
for the room took off as opposed to care. i bet he never had five words that we were in the senate together. >> what are two or three of your preferred concrete senses to restore the institutional conversation here. >> trust, you have to trust that when you talk to somebody they will trust what you say in they will share their thoughts back with you and that's important and have to that when you get together, that somebody does not just walk away from you and leave you high and dry. it's just the angel thing the friendships and partnerships in business, as well as for personal relationships. you have to have one of that and if you don't have that, then
you're not going to cross the aisle like it will be get out of here or something like that pretty so if you feel like you can go talk to somebody, i never had any question in my mind about when i went across the aisle to talk to anyone of several republicans that they were going to listen when i had to say. that might come along and might not and john mccain and i were able to remember things together in he didn't remember everything and i didn't agree with him on other things.n but the other thing is that you cannot be like a hunting dog would in any false, he only was to shoot it so you better pick and choose things that you are going to write so that you don't become - and people will listen to anything if you talk about
everything so you have to know the person on the other side of the aisle and feel comfortable talking to them. and i don't think you'll ever be able to talk with him and you know you have people on the other side of the aisle that you feel carnival talking to this beginning and then i think you have to have good ideas about why you want to do something together braided not remember in one of my colleagues, approaching me on the floor and said, i really want to explore my bill and i looked at it and i thought this is not good and not sure is good for the country. but i don't need to be sniffy about it but i just don't think i can andnd you're asking me too something that i just don't think i'm comfortable doing ands then she said, okay, she came up there and once again try to persuade me to support that bill as opposed to voting for commonality which was something that i could suggest to make it
different. and finally, i didn't get anywhere in a civil, i think i finally understand why you came up here to compromise, your definition of a compromise is different than mine. were looking for a solution, you are just trying too persuade me, you were right that already told you you may be right but not for what i'm thinking about nebraska in the country she looked to me and she grinned and she said i guess maybe you're right we still couldn't get together on it but the compromise as we try to find something, 80 percent of it or maybe even 50 percent of it something, something there that is worthwhile andt' explore that. and that is why focus on legislation on the left ander sometimes a little sense of right are able to find that
spot. call it the sweet spot if you will but that spot were both sides are comfortable enough that they can get together. that's what we did with the first tax cut in the second tax cut that i worked with with the senators. i don't want to get her into trouble and it we work closely on it w in the second tax cut ad we found a solution in a compromise that worked for getting money to come back to the senate and we went to the president and she went to the vice president and we simple, it doesn't make sense to cut taxes in dc and ignoring the fact that they're having trouble budget wise with all of the underfunded federal landings and the like. ... out $20 billion for the
fmap come for medicare, from medicaid eligible and people who needed the expenses, healt health expenses covered, having trouble make itdg balanc. i write about that in the book. and we got through. what does federalism have to do with the senate decline? would it solve some of the senate problem by empowering governors more? i think the governors need to be included to bring nebraska's values to d.c.
worked again cited that even as governor and the governor's association on getting legislation through i think of senate bill one back during that timeframe. it's going to stand state money will have a score on it to see what they are doing too have a better relationship of what the states are, quick to say in your book in the last
quarter you turn to contemporary politics they said they are scared of donald trump what are democrats scared of both parties are led by people moving further and further what are democrats scared of? >> i don't think democrats are scared of republicans certain republicans have adopted i guess it is the republican party as a republican party change so did some members of that party are more in line with former president trump positions where there are some who are not there more worried about tribalism and a base
further than to the right that is before. i worry about a democratic base and or policy that's further to the left than ever before. i think democrats and republicans like to say enlightened republicans or enlightened democrats worry about extremism in terms of hyper partisanship. >> the pew data would suggest the mid- 1990s, both parties have moved away from the american center. the electorate wants something quite different than they are offered. let's talk about vantage point when you were elected you were elected governor in 1990, reelected in 1994 overwhelmingly elected to the senate in 2000 and reelected
in 2006. you are the last democrat to be elected statewide in our state i believe. it's been 15 years since ben nelson got elected senator of nebraska no one has been elected to any from nebraska. in d a statewide office. what advice you have to offer to democrats running in a red states will republicans running in blue states? >> i o don't think you should be ashamed or shy of reaching across the aisle and havingth members of the other party support you. and other words, when iran we always had republicans for nelson and their own sign in parades i started off my speeches my fellow democrats and republicans. you're going to be a senator
for all nebraskans going to be a governor of all nebraskans. that is what you should be do doing. he said i am a uniter, not a divider. he brought some se dividers alog we need people today who promise to be uniter's are not suggesting an easing savings. it's going to be difficult but that is what you have to do. if you promise to be for republicans at some point what goes around will come around. i think justice kavanaugh said that for the democrats in the hearing. it's true though, and sooner o
or later the tide will change and circumstances will be different. >> a lot of the elected officials named tend to be for more purple states or blue dog democrats you mentioned d john bro your budget balancing governor i don't think so, is no question there is a left majority i perceive that i hope i'm wrong biden got the
nomination against the odds compared to his center like he was, it is what isolated him away a bit. i am concerned about taking a strong turn to the left just like the republicans along to the right pulling more away t from the center.wn change up and down, yes and no type of government. that is not going to unite us. we do not need another 911 to the cycle. that is not what is required for.
>> howard term limits are the solution? no, no i don't think so and i supported them don't agree out the duplicate that. >> could you contrastt president biden with with president biden you started with any similars or differences? we sat at the table together was caucus luncheons, with ted kennedy and barbara boxer, i was the gang and they were in the yen if you will, something like that. i was most out of place with
my part of politics. that did not matter. they could get together, we could talk about things from time to time we would be together on issues. joe biden came up and said i will be brief. it broke up in laughter, i do not know how long it took to set it back down in our seats. empathy for people and concern and has always been there. my hair is still my hair it is wider now. he still joe biden i hope i am
to get her going she would say that is not funny. we walked into the room and i said something derogatory about the russians and she pointed to the camera she is convinced in the television. she's telling others about it. with husbands, wives, spouses, senators, i was seated in the hall of famer he and i became quite good friends prettyot talked a lot about baseball and whole bunch of other things. i said, and trent was there to seven going to pull a trick on diane tonight. let's get a waiter to sign something on a sheet of paper saying in european, please
tell your husband we are not give you a minute or two to sign and looked at it said that is good. but the room number on it. they slide it under the door after everybody is in bed.hi about two or 3:00 a.m. in the morning i heard something coming under the door i sleep so it sounds she doesn't sleep soundly at all she heard't it. i hurt her get up, grab, run to the bathroom, turn on the light in their and then come back and jumping to goo with her flashlight saying read this, this was not funny, this wasn't funny, look at it. the next morning we all said got to you, she was a trooper a lot of spouses would have been very upset he had a fast
ball and was a picture nobody had a better sense of humor when you had a good relationship with him. she forgave me that said please don't do that again. >> the next time i see your bride on a flight and we are boarding i'm going to pass her a note and say thank you, potomac books o of nebraska, the death of the senate, thank you for sharing this book with us and thank you for spending this hour with this. >> thank you very much. it was a fun experience if you ever want to dot it again let me know. >> thank you. >> after words is available as a podcast. to listen visit cspan.org/podcast. court c-span after words on your app watch this and all
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