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Editor's Choice

Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow; Crown, 275 pages ($25). In one sense, it wouldn't have mattered at all what the subject was of Rachel Maddow's first book -- the history of the zipper, the influence of Dom DeLuise on current American political debate, whatever. In her shameless intelligence and pitiless clarity, Maddow is a character so unusual in TV's current blunderbuss opinioneering that she is all but singular. If ever there were a TV pundit with an eager and natural constituency, it's Maddow.

On the very first page, she dedicates it to recent heart transplant recipient Dick Cheney and asks in sincere italics "oh, please let me interview you."

Cheney's life epitomizes her subject which is both simple and not simple at all. "National security is a real imperative for our country -- for any country." But "our national security policy isn't much related to its stated justification anymore. To whatever extent we do argue and debate what defense and intelligence policy ought to be, that debate -- our political process -- doesn't actually determine what we do. We're not directing that policy. It just follows its own course. Which means we've effectively lost control of a big part of who we are as a country. And we've broken faith with some of the best advice the founders ever gave us."

In the meantime, Cheney's Halliburtons, etc., in this world are happy. So are defense suppliers and contractors everywhere. Our drift toward perpetual war that isn't openly declared by Congress is our way of life. And, says Maddow, it's draining our resources.

So Maddow argues for a "small C conservatism to return to our constitutional roots" for a course correction, while giving the subject a smart and thorough shakedown. (Among those blurbing this book, by the way, is Roger Ailes, the evil genius of Fox News.)

"Being at war," she says, "should be painful for the entire country" and not the covert business practice of a semi-secret oligarchy doing what they always do. The woman simply doesn't know how to be anything but provocative and -- perhaps uniquely these days -- useful.

-- Jeff Simon