Clear It With Sid!: Sid­ney R. Yates and Fifty Years of Pres­i­dents, Prag­ma­tism, and Pub­lic Service

January 1, 2013

The Jew­ish son of a Lithuan­ian black­smith, Sid­ney R. Yates rose to the pin­na­cle of Wash­ing­ton pow­er and influ­ence. As chair of a House Appro­pri­a­tions Sub­com­mit­tee, and dean of the Jew­ish Cau­cus, Yates was a pre­em­i­nent nation­al fig­ure involved in issues rang­ing from the envi­ron­ment to Israel, and sup­port for the arts. Speak­er Tip O’Neill relied on the savvy Chicagoan in the trench­es and advised any­one with con­tro­ver­sial leg­is­la­tion to first clear it with Sid!” 

Michael C. Dorf and George Van Dusen draw on scores of inter­views and unprece­dent­ed access to pri­vate papers to illu­mi­nate the life of an Illi­nois polit­i­cal icon. Wise, ener­getic, charis­mat­ic, pet­ty, stub­born — Sid Yates pre­sent­ed a com­pli­cat­ed char­ac­ter to con­stituents and col­leagues alike. Yet his get-it-done approach to leg­is­la­tion allowed him to bridge par­ti­san divides in the often-polar­ized House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Fol­low­ing Yates from the cam­paign trail, to the nego­ti­at­ing table, to the House floor, Dorf and Van Dusen offer a rich por­trait of a deal­mak­er extra­or­di­naire and tire­less patri­ot on a fifty-year jour­ney through post­war Amer­i­can politics.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Michael Dorf and George Van Dusen

  1. What is the take­away from the Yates book — why should we care about Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Sid­ney R. Yates? He was just one mem­ber in a bygone era. Why should we care?

  2. Yates was a prime leader on Israel in Con­gress. What was his role as Chair of the unof­fi­cial Jew­ish Cau­cus”? Was there actu­al­ly such a cau­cus? Why was it unof­fi­cial”?

  3. How did the cau­cus work? What was Yates’ rela­tion­ship with Pres­i­dents Carter, Rea­gan, Bush (HW), and Clinton?

  4. Yates was ahead of his time on the envi­ron­ment. How so? How are his achieve­ments and stew­ard­ship of the envi­ron­ment evi­dent today?

  5. What are the over­ar­ch­ing lessons of the book that would be ben­e­fi­cial to us today? What are the dif­fer­ences between Con­gress in Yates’ time and today? Is it pos­si­ble to go back to the so-called good old days?