Monday, 15 October 2007

Phil Burton

Sometimes you can read a book which is so interesting, that it is difficult to put down. One such book, which I have just finished reading, is "A Rage for Justice" by John Jacobs. It is the story of Phillip Burton a US Congressman from who represented the San Francisco area between 1964 and his early death in 1983.

Burton was a larger than life character, in many ways like Lyndon Johnson - in fact Jacobs reports that "Burton even visited the Johnson ranch and met Lady Bird, who was so taken with him - "he reminds me of my Lyndon," she said - that she loaned him "Lyndon's" bathrobe to wear, which fit."

He was a master of Congressional procedure and managed to get legislation passed that others could never had done. He is best known for his championing of environmental issues. He ran for, but lost by a single vote, the post of Majority Leader, in December 1976.

The book describes a fascinating man, who was both feared and admired. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin said "I spent thirty-two years in elective office, and I only met one absolute political genius. That was Phil Burton."
I would strongly recommend the book to anyone with an interest in US history in the 1960s-80s; congressional practice or Californian politics.

Jacobs, John. A Rage for Justice: The Passion and Politics of Phillip Burton. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995

After his death in 1983 his seat was won by his widow, Sala Burton. On her deathbed Sala asked Nancy Pelosi to succeed her. Phil himself had asked the current Speaker to run for Congress when his own brother stood down from Congress.