May 11, 2008


Nixonland: How The Right Stole Populism

What: Panel and Book Signing

When: Tuesday, May 20
5:30-7:30 PM

Where: National Press Club
529 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20045

Who: Rick Perlstein, Campaign for America's Future
Helen Thomas, Hearst Newspapers
Chris Hayes, The Nation
Ross Douthat, The Atlantic

Moderator: Robert Borosage, Campaign for America's Future

E Pluribus Nixon: A sweeping new social history portrays Richard Nixon as the president his fratricidal country deserved—and perhaps the best we could have hoped for: a review of NIXONLAND: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America By Rick Perlstein (Ross Douthat, Atlantic Monthly)

Seven years ago, Rick Perlstein, a young and decidedly left-wing historian, accomplished a daring feat: he imagined his way into the hearts and minds of the right-wing idealists who made Goldwaterite conservatism one of the most successful mass movements of the 1960s. The result was Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus (Out-of-print, available at E-bay), a richly detailed narrative of the 1964 election, and a dense and dizzying account of a moment when America was teetering on the verge of a nervous breakdown but didn’t know it yet.

Now Perlstein has produced a sequel. If Before the Storm was a near-masterpiece, Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America, which covers the turbulent years from Goldwater’s defeat to Nixon’s 1972 landslide victory, is merely a great success. It labors under handicaps his first book didn’t have: whereas Before the Storm dealt with a circumscribed and neglected moment (who remembers Dr. Fred Schwarz’s Christian Anti-Communism Crusade, or the presidential boomlet for William Warren Scranton?), Nixonland tackles the most obsessed-over era in recent American history. Any book that rolls Woodstock and Watergate, the death of RFK and the Tet Offensive, Jane Fonda and George Wallace, and a cast of thousands more into a mere 800 pages or so is bound to sprawl and sag a bit, to rush too quickly through some topics and linger too long with others.

Even so, Nixonland reads marvelously. Perlstein has the rare gift of being able to weave social, political, and cultural history into a single seamless narrative, linking backroom political negotiations to suburban protests over sex education in schools to the premiere of Bonnie and Clyde. [...]

Nixonland is a historical narrative worth savoring—but one worth ar­guing with as well. Perlstein sets out to challenge what he terms “certain hegemonic narratives” of the ’60s. But, perhaps inevitably, he tends to be tougher on right-wing shibboleths—the notion that all of the era’s violence was left-wing; the idea that the media snatched away victory in Vietnam—than on liberal ones. Nixonland offers a vastly more nuanced account of how the New Deal coalition came apart than the predictable left-liberal story of noble Democrats undone by ruthless, race-baiting Republicans. (I’m looking at you, Paul Krugman.) But while Perlstein criticizes the liberal establishment for its self-satisfaction and naïveté—for believing that “if only Nixon’s people could truly see reason … their prejudices would melt away, their true interests would be recognized”—he still leaves the impression that when it came to public policy, mid-century liberalism almost always did have reason on its side. [...]

[P]erlstein is unsparing in his critique of the political failures of mid-century liberalism; I only wish he had meditated more deeply on liberalism’s policy failures as well, and at least grappled with the possibility that voters rejected liberal governance for pragmatic reasons as well as atavistic ones. But to do so might have required him to give Nixon’s Republican Party—if not Nixon himself—more credit for restoring domestic tranquillity than I imagine he thinks the GOP deserves. Indeed, a minor theme of Perlstein’s book is the extent to which domestic tranquillity has never been restored; Americans, he argues, inhabit “Nixonland” even now.

This argument is one of Perlstein’s weakest—and it’s undercut, time and again, by his own skill as a historian and a writer. The chaotic tapestry he summons up—“hard hats” slugging hippies on the steps of Federal Hall on Wall Street, radical priests hatching bomb plots in the steam tunnels under Washington, D.C., riots consuming city after city, and national leaders going down under assassins’ bullets—is fascinating precisely because it feels so alien to our present political climate. Indeed, the age of Bush, supposedly unrivaled in its rancor, seems like a peaceable kingdom when contrasted with the madhouse in which Richard Nixon rose to power. We have a culture war; they had a war.

It’s true that the political and cultural divides that opened in the Nixon era are with us even now. But Perlstein wants to make a larger claim than this; he wants to suggest that the violent spirit of that time has endured till now as well.

I'm only in the early stages of reading Friend Perlstein's book but am struck by a potentially fatal flaw in his thesis that's implied in the review above. With his expected honesty, Mr. Perlstein initially identifies Nixonland as the sort of Red America that the Adlai Stevenson eggheads found themselves stuck in ad unable to comprehend in the 50s. That this part of the metaphor endures--is indeed a seemingly innate part of the culture--is reflected not just in his own essays about contemporary politics but in books by his friends and fellow Brights, like Thomas Frank's unintentionally hilarious, What's the Matter with Kansas.

On the other hand, the sort of violent divisiveness that he associates with Nixonland rather conspicuously developed at the exact time that Richard Nixon was not a central part of the national political scene. Inner-city riots, assassinations, student demonstrations, radical Left terrorism--all of these social plagues arose during the Johnson/Great Society years, the pinnacle of the Left's ascendancy. Even the initial violent reactions were led by Democrats--like LBJ sending federal troops into Detroit or Mayor Daley breaking up protests at the 1968 Democratic Convention. If anything, as Mr. Douthat suggests above, the return of Richard Nixon --a liberal Republican--in 1968 might be seen as an attempt by American voters to restore the social calm and consensus of earlier eras. Richard Nixon, at least in his final incarnation, should probably be considered an effect of the social breakdown of the Liberal 60s, rather than a cause of anything much.

Of course, this perspective does tend to undermine the thesis that the consensus was never retrieved, but consider too that Nixon was followed by a Democrat who ran to the Right of where he and Gerald Ford had governed. The only other Democrat elected president since 1964 was likewise an Evangelical Southern governor. And, while Carter and Clinton only won very narrowly, several Republicans since have run up pretty big margins. The problem would seem to be a reluctance on the part of Mr. Perlstein and company to accept that the consensus has been restored but has shifted back to where it was pre-Depression, fairly far to the Right side of moderate. Thus, even when Democrats won back Congress in the 2006 midterm they've ended up governing little differently than Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay did.

It is instructive also to look at where the most divisive point in our politics is today: the racial/tribal divide between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. This is an entirely predictable function of the identity politics that still characterizes much of the Left, although Mr. Obama tried desperately to run as a cipher, lest voters discover his pastor and his politics and, inevitably, reject him as just another Northern liberal too far out of the mainstream to elect president.

At any rate, the book's a rollicking good read and we'll post a full review ASAP.

-ARCHIVES: Perlstein (Brothers Judd Blog)
-EXCERPT: Preface to Nixonland
-EXCERPT: from Nixonland: "Then No One Would Be a Democrat Anymore": In 1970, Richard Nixon, inspired by a spontaneous construction workers' riot, settled on the political strategy that would win him the 1972 election by a landslide and dominate American politics to this day (Rick Perlstein)
-PROFILE: Sympathy for the Devil: Progressive scribe Rick Perlstein made his reputation finding the good in conservatives. Then they really started screwing up the country. (Harold Henderson, January 24, 2008, Chicago Reader)
-BOOKNOTES: Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus by Rick Perlstein (C-SPAN< June 3, 2001)
-DEBATE: Rick Perlstein and David Frum (, 4/18/08)
-ESSAY: All Aboard the McCain Express (Rick Perlstein, April 21, 2008, The Nation)
-ESSAY: Getting Past the '60s? It's Not Going to Happen. (Rick Perlstein, February 3, 2008, Washington Post)
-REVIEW ESSAY: The Myths of McGovern: Thirty-five years later, what the 1972 campaign can—and can’t—teach liberals today: a review of Why the Democrats Are Blue: How Secular Liberals Hijacked the People's Party By Mark Stricherz and The Liberals' Moment: The McGovern Insurgency and the Identity Crisis of the Democratic Party By Bruce Miroff (Rick Perlstein, Democracy)
-ESSAY: Not in his father's footsteps (Rick Perlstein, February 10, 2008, LA Times)
-ESSAY: Smirk of the Union: A small and beaten man spoke to Congress and the nation last night, convinced in his own mind he's a hero (Rick Perlstein, 1/29/08,
-ESSAY: Chinese Mirrors (Rick Perlstein, June 7, 2007, The Nation)
-ESSAY: Whos Afraid of Peter Boyle? (Rick Perlstein, 2/08/07, In These Times)
-ESSAY: The Best Wars of Their Lives (Rick Perlstein, October 15, 2007, The Nation)
-ESSAY: Will the Progressive Majority Emerge? (Rick Perlstein, July 9, 2007, The Nation)
-ESSAY: Why Democrats can stop the war: Pundits say if the party gets too tough with Bush, it will be blamed for "losing" Iraq. But the real political risk is going too easy on Bush, and losing the trust of war-weary voters. (Rick Perlstein, 1/24/07, Salon)
-ESSAY: Heck-of -a-Job Myers? (Rick Perlstein, January 3, 2007, The Nation)
-ESSAY: Fenced Out: A post–9/11 boom in immigration legislation hasn’t stemmed the border flow, but it has created a flood of new approaches—most with built-in paradoxes. (Rick Perlstein, Jan/Feb 2007, University of Chicago Magazine)
-ESSAY: Look Back in Anger: The Democrats won, but they shouldn't for a second let victory cause them to forget the Republicans' dirty tricks operation (Rick Perlstein, November 10, 2006, American Prospect)
-ESSAY: The Odd Couple: Nixon and Lieberman: Nixon and Lieberman both supported pro-war policies while claiming to be anti-war. (Rick Perlstein, 11/03/06, In These Times)
-ESSAY: Unf***ing the Donkey: Advice for weary, wandering Democrats (Rick Perlstein. July 26th, 2005, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: A Socialist in the Age of Triangulation (Rick Perlstein, 7/06/05, In These Times)
-ESSAY: Party Cannibals (Rick Perlstein, February 7, 2005, The Nation)
-ESSAY: Inauguration 2005: The Eve of Destruction ...:
Four more years to remake the world in his image. (Too bad for us, he already started.). (Rick Perlstein. January 11th, 2005, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: The Case of the Ohio Recount: In the whodunit over who won it, the true villain is slipping away. (Rick Perlstein, December 14th, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: Conviction Politics: One Democratic hero emerged from November 2. His fellow Democrats should study up on why. (Rick Perlstein, November 21, 2004, American Prospect)
-ESSAY: Cast Away: It's the Wealth, Stupid: Right-wing class warfare swung the 2004 election (Rick Perlstein, November 2nd, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: It's Mourning in America: The Ohio debacle and the death of our civic life (Rick Perlstein, October 26th, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: The Reagan legacy: He was a true believer who moved the country divisively to the right. But compared to the current president, Ronald Reagan looks like a moderate (Rick Perlstein, 6/07/04, Salon)
-ESSAY: The Jesus Landing Pad: Bush White House checked with rapture Christians before latest Israel move (Rick Perlstein, May 11th, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: Tribal Warfare in America: A 30-year-old book by a progressive journalist finds that the passions of reformers can sometimes betray a contempt for the common sense of ordinary people. Sound familiar? (Rick Perlstein, November 16, 2004, Columbia Journalism Review)
-ESSAY: Sucking Democracy Dry: The End of Democracy: Losing America's birthright, the George Bush way (Rick Perlstein, October 12th, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: Passionate Conservatism: Karl Rove's Republicans swerve right on the way to the middle (Rick Perlstein, August 31st, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: Get Mad. Act Out. Re-Elect George Bush: Protesters risk playing into GOP hands. (Rick Perlstein, August 17th, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: The End of Republican Rule: Righteous populism holds the key to vanquishing Bush forever. (Rick Perlstein. July 27th, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: The Church of Bush: What liberal infidels will never understand about the president (Rick Perlstein. July 13th, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: The Divine Calm of George W. Bush: So Iraq's a mess and half the country hates you. Just keep praying. (Rick Perlstein, April 27th, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: The Jobs of the Future Are a Thing of the Past: Outsourcing and the sad little movement to stop it. by Rick Perlstein, March 23rd, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: Flight of the Bumblebee: Howard Dean May Be Dying, but He Sure Packed a Sting (Rick Perlstein, January 27th, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: Last Copter Out of Baghdad: Bush Flees Iraq Mess On The Campaign Express. (Rick Perlstein, January 6th, 2004, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: Attention, Wal-Mart Voters: Lost Jobs and Military Funerals Haunt Bush in the Heartland (Rick Perlstein, December 2nd, 2003, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: Day of the Spoiler: Inside Joe Lieberman's Kamikaze Campaign (Rick Perlstein, October 21st, 2003, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: Patriot Act?: Wesley Clark says he knew the Iraq War was wrong. So why didn't he say something -- before it was too late? (Rick Perlstein, October 15, 2003, American Prospect)
-ESSAY: Come Out Fighting: Boxing George Bush Into a Corner in 2004 (Rick Perlstein, September 16th, 2003, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: The Fringe on Top: Extremists Help the GOP Muscle In on the Golden State (Rick Perlstein, August 12th, 2003, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: Orange County Anguish: Searching for Someone, Anyone, Who Loves Governor Gray Davis (Rick Perlstein, September 2nd, 2003, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: Howard Dean's Youth Machine: Not since McGovern has a Democratic candidate drawn a youth following the size of Howard Dean's - and that's got some in the party worried. (Rick Perlstein, July 16, 2003, Mother Jones)
-ESSAY: The TV Campaign (Rick Perlstein, November 30, 2002, American Prospect)
-ESSAY: As Reviewed on Amazon (Rick Perlstein, November 30, 2002, American Prospect)
-ESSAY: The 'Safety' Trap: Tuesday's loss gave Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt plenty to ponder: Democrats followed the party's center-seeking presidential hopefuls into an ideological no-man's land. (Rick Perlstein, November 11, 2002, Mother Jones)
-ESSAY: A Surrender to Trust: Richard Nixon taught the nation a painful lesson about secrecy and the White House. How soon we forget. (Rick Perlstein, July/August 2002, Mother Jones)
-ESSAY: The Historical Present: What has superseded the academic culture wars of the 1990s? It's not what you think. (Rick Perlstein, July 14, 2002, American Prospect)
-ESSAY: The Two Faces of Ralph (Rick Perlstein, January 15th, 2002, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: The Media Muzzled: Vietnam and Afghanistan Show why Limiting Press Access to War is Unpatriotic (Rick Perlstein, December 11th, 2001, Village Voice)
-ESSAY: Pundits Who Predict the Future Are Always Wrong (Rick Perlstein, April 23, 2001, The Nation)
-ESSAY: What's the Matter With College? (Rick Perlstein, NY Times Magazine)
-REVIEW: of PRESIDENT NIXON: Alone in the White House By Richard Reeves (Rick Perlstein, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of AMERICAN FASCISTS: The Christian Right and the War on America By Chris Hedges (Rick Perlstein, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of WHAT A PARTY!: My Life Among Democrats: Presidents, Candidates, Donors, Activists, Alligators, and Other Wild Animals. By Terry McAuliffe with Steve Kettmann (Rick Perlstein, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of FOR THE SURVIVAL OF DEMOCRACY: Franklin Roosevelt and the World Crisis of the 1930s By Alonzo L. Hamby (Rick Perlstein, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: Blumenthals First Draft of History: Princeton University Press has published a compilation of articles by Sidney Blumenthal called How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime (Rick Perlstein, In These Times)
-REVIEW: The Flaw of Averages: How polls obscure America's many social patchworks: a review of The Averaged American: Surveys, Citizens, and the Making of a Mass Public By Sarah Igo (Rick Perlstein, Columbia Journalism Review)
-REVIEW: of Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan By Edmund Morris (Rick Perlstein, Village Voice)
-REVIEW: of The Trial of Henry Kissinger By Christopher Hitchens (Rick Perlstein, Village Voice)
-REVIEW: of Views From the South: The Effects of Globalization and the WTO on Third World Countries Food First Books and the International Forum on Globalization and Five Days That Shook The World By Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair (Rick Perlstein, Village Voice)
-REVIEW: of Jane Fonda’s War: A Political Biography of an Anti-war Icon by Mary Hershberger (Rick Perlstein, London Review of Books)
-ARCHIVES: Rick Perlstein (The Nation)
-ARCHIVES: perlstein (Salon)
-ARCHIVES: rick perlstein (Newsweek)
-ARCHIVES: Rick Perlstein (In These Times)
-ARCHIVES: Rick Perlstein (AlterNet)
-ARCHIVES: perlstein (Village Voice)
-ARCHIVES: perlstein (American Prospect)
-ARCHIVES: perlstein (Mother Jones)
-ARCHIVES: "perlstein, rick" (Find Articles)
-Kicking Around Nixon...and more (Alex Beam, 5/06/08, Boston Globe)
-REVIEW: of Nixonland (George F. Will, NY Times Book Review)

In Perlstein’s mental universe, Nixon is a bit like God — not, Lord knows, because of Nixon’s perfect goodness and infinite mercy, but because Nixon is the explanation for everything. Or at least for the rise of the right and the decline of almost everything else. This is a subject Perlstein, a talented man of the left, has addressed before.

In 2001, he published the best book yet on the social ferments that produced Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential candidacy. Subtle and conscientious, “Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus” demonstrated Perlstein’s omnivorous appetite for telling tidbits from the news media, like this one: When Goldwater was campaigning in the 1964 New Hampshire primary, The New York Times ran a photograph with the snide caption “Barry Goldwater, aspirant for the Republican presidential nomination, with the widow of Senator Styles Bridges in East Concord. She holds dog.” Oh, the other person must be the conservative presidential candidate. [...]

Now comes the second installment of Perlstein’s meditation on that era’s and, he thinks, our current discontents. “Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America” completes his inquest into the death of the “cult of ‘American consensus’” and the birth of “American cacophony.” Perlstein’s chronicle, which begins with the Watts riot of August 1965, is itself riotous: even at its calmest, his pell-mell narrative calls to mind a Pieter Bruegel painting of tumultuous peasants; at its most fervid, it resembles one of Hieronymus Bosch’s nightmares.

Do we need another waist-deep wallow in the 1960s, ensconcing us cheek by jowl with Frank Rizzo and Eldridge Cleaver, Sam Yorty and Mark Rudd, Lester Maddox and Herbert Marcuse and other long-forgotten bit players in a period drama? Do we need to be reminded of that era’s gaseous juvenophilia, like Time magazine’s celebration of Americans 25 or younger as 1967’s “Man of the Year”: “This is not just a new generation, but a new kind of generation. ... In the omphalocentric process of self-construction and discovery,” today’s youth “stalks love like a wary hunter, but has no time or target — not even the mellowing Communists — for hate.”

Well, this retrospective wallow does increase the public stock of harmless pleasure, as when Perlstein revisits the 1972 Democratic convention that nominated George McGovern and heard 80 nominations for vice president, including Mao Zedong and Archie Bunker. But Perlstein’s high-energy — sometimes too energetic — romp of a book also serves, inadvertently, a serious need: it corrects the cultural hypochondria to which many Americans, including Perlstein, are prone.

Because the baby boomers’ self-absorption is so ample, there already has been no shortage of brooding about those years. We do, however, benefit from the brooding by Perlstein, who is not a boomer, for two reasons. First, he has a novelist’s, or perhaps an anthropologist’s, eye for illuminating details, as in his jaw-dropping reconstruction of the Newark riots of July 1967. Second, his thorough excavation of the cultural detritus of that decade refutes his thesis, which is that now, as then, Americans are at daggers drawn. [...]

Perlstein repeatedly explains Nixon’s or other people’s behavior as arising from an Orthogonian resentment of Franklins, including establishment figures as different as Alger Hiss and Nelson Rockefeller. Nixon “co-opted the liberals’ populism, channeling it into a white middle-class rage at the sophisticates, the well-born, the ‘best circles.’” By stressing the importance of Nixon’s character in shaping events, and the centrality of resentments in shaping Nixon’s character, Perlstein treads a dead-end path blazed by Hofstadter, who seemed not to understand that condescension is not an argument. Postulating a link between “status anxiety” and a “paranoid style” in American politics — especially conservative politics — Hofstadter dismissed the conservative movement’s positions as mere attitudes that did not merit refutation. Perlstein, too, gives these ideas short shrift.

As the pollster Samuel Lubell had already noted before the 1952 election, “the inner dynamics of the Roosevelt coalition have shifted from those of getting to those of keeping.” Perlstein keenly sees that some liberals “developed a distaste” for the social elements they had championed, now that those elements were “less reliably downtrodden” and less content to be passively led by liberal elites.

The masses bought television sets and enjoyed what they watched. But Newton Minow, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (and formerly Adlai Stevenson’s administrative assistant) declared television a “vast wasteland,” thereby implicitly scolding viewers who enjoyed it. When New York was becoming a lawless dystopia, with crime, drugs and homelessness spoiling public spaces, August Heckscher, the patrician commissioner of parks under Mayor John Lindsay, sniffily declared that people clamoring for law and order were “scared by the abundance of life.”

A Newsweek cover story on Louise Day Hicks, who led opposition to forced busing of school children in Boston, described her supporters as “a comic-strip gallery of tipplers and brawlers and their tinseled overdressed dolls ... the men queued up to give Louise their best, unscrewing cigar butts from their chins to buss her noisily on the cheek, or pumping her arm as if it were a jack handle under a truck.”

Perlstein deftly deploys such judgments to illustrate what the resentful resented. Unfortunately, he seems to catch the ’60s disease of rhetorical excess.

-REVIEW: of Nixonland (The Economist)
-REVIEW: of Nixonland (BuzzFlash)
-REVIEW: of Nixonland (Harry Levins, St. Louis POST-DISPATCH)
-REVIEW: of Before the Storm (Mark Greif, Village Voice)
-REVIEW: of David Greenberg. Nixon's Shadow: The History of an Image (Raj Jethwa, H-USA)
-REVIEW: of Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man By Garry Wills (John Leonard, NY Times)

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 11, 2008 8:36 AM

Thus, even when Democrats won back Congress in the 2006 midterm they've ended up governing little differently than Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay did.

Actually, they picked up right where Hastert & co left off: the Dems have shown themselves to be as incompetent, corrupt, venial and petty as the Stupid Party ever was. I think their advantage is that it all comes natural to them, where the GOP had to work at it, and after a decade still couldn't get it right. They were able to pick up as if '94 never happened. The Dems have the perfect Do Nothing Congress, except they ran on a platform of Doing all sorts of things, not that the voters will notice.

Mr. Obama tried desperately to run as a cipher, lest voters discover his pastor and his politics and, inevitably, reject him as just another Northern liberal too far out of the mainstream to elect president.

I'm waiting to see how they react when it is finally revealed that he's just another corrupt part of the Chicago/Daley machine. I can't see him running on promising to bring competence back into Democratic government corruption.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at May 10, 2008 2:14 PM

Quick thought on Orrin's quick thought: it is indeed true, as he says, that the disorders I write about began under liberal hegemony. I'll even grant, to some degree, that this disorder was greater than it could have been due to flaws in the liberalism and left of the postwar era.

But my point is not the Nixon started this fire. No, my point is that his innovation (actually, he was aping Reagan) was to USE this disorder to aggrandize his own and his party's power. He is voluminously on the record explaining that this is his own understanding of what he is doing; for example, when he would receive a memo that there would be lots of campus uprisings in the fall of 1969, he wrote on the memo: "Good."

Posted by: Rick Perlstein at May 10, 2008 2:36 PM

Exactly. Nixon benefited from the Left's disorders. You're calling your movement's suicide a murder though.

Posted by: oj at May 10, 2008 2:47 PM

Corruption in Congress is trivial. All that matters is policy. The Democrats--tax cuts, war funding, etc.--have followed conservative policy prescriptions.

Posted by: oj at May 10, 2008 2:48 PM

Orrin, your archives are legendary.

Posted by: Eugene S. at May 10, 2008 3:03 PM

Nixon wasn't a liberal Republican, he was a liberal in Republican clothing.

Having lived through that time as a functioning adult, I can attest to the utter disgrace of the left. If they believed in their rants, why didn't they just tell voters what they believed in and ask for their support instead of trying to turn the U.S. on its head? Of course, if they had done so, the public would have turned on them a lot sooner and many millions would not have lost their lives in the futile attempt to inflict socialism on the world.

It's so amusing that while Ayers is unrepentant and wishes he had done more mischief, he and many others even worse than he (Angela Davis comes to mind) are now "respected academics" while Nixon, the poor fool, continues to be the object of hate that is so profound as to be almost demonic.

BTW - Although I actively supported Goldwater, I only voted for Nixon once -- against Kennedy whom I correctly perceived to be the far greater danger. The next two elections, I voted for the numbskulls Humphrey and McGovern who were so inept, I reasoned they couldn't do too much harm if elected.

This quote is quite the shocker, "But, perhaps inevitably, he tends to be tougher on right-wing shibboleths—" Ya think?

Posted by: erp at May 10, 2008 3:09 PM

He was anti-Communist, which made him Republican.

Posted by: oj at May 10, 2008 4:23 PM

I don't think Nixon was a liberal. He was just very bored by domestic policy and preferred to follow the path of least resistance.

Posted by: Ali Choudhury at May 10, 2008 4:30 PM

Having read Perlstein's Goldwater book and a fgew of his articles, I know enough to spare myself further waste of my time.

The ad hominem error pervades every this this man touches. By this way of thinking, an idea, say of Nixon, is wrong because Nixon was held it, and Nixon was a bad man. Or even more puerile, Perlstein employs a kind of indirect ad hominem attack, as to say, this idea of Goldwater's is wrong because Goldwater was for it, and X,Y and Z were for Goldwater, and X,Y,and Z were bad men.

Following Perlstein looking for this kind of fallacious thinking recalls what W.F. Buckley said in a similar vein about Eleanor Roosevelt: it is like folowing a burmnig fuse looking for an explosion.

Posted by: Lou Gots at May 10, 2008 7:05 PM

Who: Rick Perlstein, Campaign for America's Future
Helen Thomas, Hearst Newspapers
Chris Hayes, The Nation
Ross Douthat, The Atlantic

Moderator: Robert Borosage, Campaign for America's Future


Helen Thomas!!!


Posted by: Benny at May 10, 2008 7:30 PM


Regarding the extreme Left, I'd say turning the U.S. on its head was their platform. They felt that they were some of the most brilliant and virtuous people in history and stuff like elections and due process just got in their way.

What's interesting is that Perlstein is scandalized that the GOP would take advantage of this. As Mr. Douthat noted, the insane political wars of those years seem mostly alien to us now, which is because the radicals overreached and wrecked themselves as a political force. Who wouldn't want to hasten that day? Why shouldn't the Republicans have enjoyed watching these goofballs self-detonate?

Posted by: Matt Murphy at May 10, 2008 9:27 PM

Nixon was such a faithful leftist, you'd think he'd get more respect from the Left.

Posted by: Mike Morley at May 11, 2008 8:18 AM

"He was anti-communist, which made him a Republican"

So was JFK and he was a Democrat.

Posted by: h-man at May 11, 2008 8:35 AM

Not really. That's how he beat Nixon, got to his Right.

Posted by: oj at May 11, 2008 10:22 AM

channeling it into a white middle-class rage at the sophisticates,


ah, yes, once again the great unwashed masses/bourgeoise cannot see our our far superior intelligence/wisdom and submit.


how European.

Posted by: Sandy P at May 11, 2008 1:31 PM

channeling it into a white middle-class rage at the sophisticates,


ah, yes, once again the great unwashed masses/bourgeoise cannot see our our far superior intelligence/wisdom and submit.


how European.

Posted by: Sandy P at May 11, 2008 1:32 PM

Nixon was anti-Soviet, not anti-Communist. He was an old time socialist. It's a good thing he was such an unpleasant character or he could have done a lot more damage and it goes to show that the left wasn't just interested in socialism, but wanted the Soviets to be in charge.

Posted by: erp at May 11, 2008 2:33 PM

Matt, if only we had known that they would self-destruct, it would have been entertaining. Alas, we were scared to death they would succeed.

Posted by: erp at May 11, 2008 3:58 PM

"Nixon was such a faithful leftist, you'd think he'd get more respect from the Left."

Mike, Nixon, although a socialist, was anti-Soviet and the left couldn't forgive him for it.

Posted by: erp at May 11, 2008 4:13 PM

Opposite. He didn't care about the Soviets but hated the Hisses of the world, with good cause.

Posted by: oj at May 11, 2008 4:15 PM

We did know they'd self-destruct, we just lacked faith.

Posted by: oj at May 11, 2008 7:03 PM

As Mr. Perlstein's comment suggests, his books are really about Reagan. He can forgive a conservative everything except winning.

Posted by: Ibid at May 11, 2008 8:17 PM


I'm sure that they caused substantial damage in various ways. At the time of these events, however, did you feel substantial anxiety that a large portion of the adult public would sign on with these guys? Were you concerned that many normal, everyday voters would react positively to campus riots?

I'm not trying to be argumentative, but I just find that hard to envision. But obviously I wasn't there.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at May 11, 2008 11:52 PM

Matt. Actually yes. Most of us did think they would prevail. Don't forget that was before Rush, before the internet, before even CSPAN when anything you didn't see in front of your own eyes or hear with your own ears, was filtered through the media.

It was very scary. Crazies were running through the streets, bombing buildings and the president of Yale was meeting with them. My husband and other pencil pushers were patrolling the roof tops looking for fires.

It wasn't all tie-dye and old VW buses full of pretty girls.

oj, You were a teenager in 1968 and how does Nixon hating Hiss preclude him from also hating the Soviets?

Posted by: erp at May 12, 2008 5:09 PM

Our entire foreign policy--of containment--was premised on their failing. But Nixon/Kissinger & company blinked. Recall that Ike kept the U2 flying just so he could observe how backward they were.

He could have hated the Soviet Union, he just didn't. They hadn't done anything to him and for him it was all personal. That's why--like FDR & LBJ--he was a bad president. No hater has ever been a good president, though Clinton comes close.

Posted by: oj at May 12, 2008 8:04 PM
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