August 10, 2014
THE ACCIDENTAL HAGIOGRAPHER:
Rick Perlstein: "Ronald Reagan absolved America almost in a priestly role not to have to contend with sin. The consequences are all around us today" : From climate change to foreign affairs, Reagan pushed America toward easy lies, just as reckoning seemed possible (DAVID DAYEN, 7/30/14, Salon)
So this is a book about America's loss of innocence and, simultaneously, America's striving for a return to innocence. How do you reconcile that?Well, that's the narrative of the book, I would say. The story I'm telling is unfolding along that loss of innocence. But the baseline is this moment in 1973 when the Vietnam War ends, and that spring, Watergate breaks wide open, after basically disappearing from the political scene for a while. You have this remarkable thing, where Sam Ervin puts these hearings on television. And day after day the public hears White House officials sounding like Mafia figures. That same spring, you get the energy crisis, and you hear officials say that we're running out of energy when heretofore, nobody knew you could run out. That's a blindsiding blow to the American psyche. And then there's the oil embargo, suddenly a bunch of Arab oil sheiks decide to hold America hostage, and succeed. So the way I characterize that is that we had this idea of America as existing outside of the rules of history, as a country that can't do any wrong. Suddenly we begin to think of ourselves as just another country, not God's chosen nation. I have a quote in the preface to the book by Immanuel Kant, who defined the Enlightenment as "man's emergence from his self-incurred immaturity," basically the process of leaving childhood and becoming a grown-up. And that's what we're seeing in America in the 1970s.This is a remarkable juncture, and you could see it in popular culture. Like "M*A*S*H," and how it takes on militarism. People were insistently following the Watergate hearings, which were enormously complex. And America is really beginning to take on big problems, thinking about what it would mean to conserve energy, to create energy independence. Then everything takes a turn, Reagan is introduced, and he says don't worry about this stuff. America is that shining city on a hill.
We haven't received our review copy, but I have been enjoying the reviews and the controversy over Friend Perlstein's reasearch and attribution methods. As you can see here, the premise of this volume is not only hilarious but inflates Ronald Reagan into a mythical hero far moreso than any of the fawning texts we on the right produce : the gnostic reality, known only to the Left, is that America is nothing special and, for one brief shining moment, in the 70s everyone was about to realize that, but Reagan, through the exercise of little more than his personal will, restores the delusion that America is more important than other states.
If Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh had given Reagan that much credit for reshaping the world around himself, they'd be dismissed as overenthusiastic cultists. But Reagan looms so large in the mind of the Left that Friend Perlstein can't see he's gone far beyond any Reagan fanboy of the right in his claims for the greatness (let's say we use the term in its value neutral sense) of the Gipper.
Posted by Orrin Judd at August 10, 2014 8:38 AM
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