Thursday, May 7, 2009

The fuel of power

Another book that has caught my eye is Nixonland. I have yet to bring myself to read a biography of Nixon, other than Chris Matthews book, Kennedy and Nixon. Nixonland appears to put Tricky Dick within the context of his time, as noted in this review,





Mr Perlstein's biggest contribution to his subject is to set Nixon's private resentments in the context of a broader culture of resentment. (sound familiar) “Nixonland” is a study of how the consensus of the early 1960s turned into the cacophony of the late 1960s, when “regular” white Americans found everything they held dear thrown into question: threatened by black activists, looked down upon by pointy-headed intellectuals, vilified by student radicals, corroded by a rising tide of lawlessness and vulgarity and fatally challenged not just by the anti-war movement but also by America's failure to achieve its aims in Vietnam. As far as Nixon's supporters were concerned, the swinging sixties were the seething sixties. Mr Perlstein rightly points out that many people supported Nixon not in spite of his boiling rage but precisely because of it.

25 comments:

  1. I heard him interviewed on Chris Matthews, I think, and he did make Nixon sound interesting, I must admit.

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  2. Just want to say I love the This Day in History also.I looked at Team of Rivals at HBC tonight but 944 pages is a bit much for me.

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  3. It's about 700 or so, if that helps..... (the rest is footnotes). And so far it's easy reading.

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  4. Well, I sprung for an inexpensive first edition at abebooks. I saw that I had Reeves' President Nixon, but I liked the reviews for Nixonland, so figured what the hell.

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  5. okay.... I found one too. Turns out he's working on a third as part of a trilogy on the history of modern conservatism. The first was on Goldwater:

    http://www.amazon.com/Before-Storm-Goldwater-Unmaking-Consensus/dp/1568584121/

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  6. I've read the first three chapters and I have to say I enjoy the narrative very much. Perlstein doesn't conceal his contempt for Nixon. In fact, he treats him pretty much the way he treated others. It was interesting to read that "Nixonland" came from a campaign pitch Galbraith wrote for Stevenson on the 56 campaign trail.

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  7. If I weren't deep into Goodwin, I'd probably be reading along with you, Gintaras. It's an interesting period of time -- one in which I was becoming increasingly politically aware of the world around me. I was living in Southern California during the Watts riots and some of the other events he talks about.

    When I was taking classes, I took the usual pre- and post-1865 graduate seminars. In one, we focused a lot on the 50s and 60s, which was ancient history to those in class, including the instructor who was fresh from Yale. They were amazed that I participated in some of the events we read about, particularly the anti-war movement. I kept insisting it wasn't history. It was just my life! But still you could see they viewed me with some sort of venerable respect. Who would have thought?

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  8. I'm reading it because ToR has yet to pitch up. I've finished the first part of the book taking Tricky Dick up to 1966 when he managed to make it look like he aided 40+ Republicans in winning Congressional seats during the midterm. But, as Perlstein noted he made it his job to determine the Republicans most likely to win and pitch up during their election campaigns. I guess this made up for all those other midterm elections where he wasn't able to muster much support for the Republicans he backed.

    Another good back of that era is Patterson's Grand Expectations,

    http://www.amazon.com/Grand-Expectations-United-1945-1974-History/dp/0195117972/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1243508453&sr=1-4

    He shares a similar disdain for all things Nixonian.

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  9. I'm not quite ready to read too much "history" about a period in which I was alive. Doesn't seem right somehow.....

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  10. I was too young to make any heads or tails of the 60s and early 70s so it is nice to go back and read more on the subject. Perlstein is even younger than I am, so I guess he felt the same need.

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  11. I don't think I had a clue either -- it's just the principle of the thing!

    I say that, but the war loomed over everything in those days, with older friends and family members being drafted. The war in particular kept politics front and center. Even for those of us in high school.

    I was also lucky to be a part of an alternative music scene where people like Jackson Browne and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band got their start (and Steve Martin and Pat Paulson). Many of us have recently reunited and have been talking about how race was such a huge issue during that period and yet we all hung out with people like Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry and Jose Feliciano and never really gave race or ethnicity any thought. I also hung out with Big Mama Thornton's band members -- "old" black guys from L.A. and it never occurred to my little teenage brain that there might be something socially unacceptable with that.

    I think Nixon spoke for a generation of men (and I think they were mostly men from my limited experience) who were opposed to all of that, from draft dodging to the casual intermixing of the races.

    Okay -- maybe I should read some more.

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  12. Perlstein repeatedly refers to Nixon's Octogonian Club in this regard.

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  13. Ortho -- as in orthodox?

    I guess this will be my next book:

    Nixon presided over a country that followed a course his supporters despised.

    But as Perlstein shows, Nixon did not want to restore order. Instead, he stoked the fires of discontent to shape an enduring conservative majority. He needed polarization and disruption, so long as liberals would keep taking the fall. Nixon succeeded brilliantly in blaming the Democrats for just about everything unpopular. Liberals took the heat for school busing. When white voters rallied against programs like affirmative action, which the Nixon Administration implemented, the White House pointed its finger at the Democrats, who were not about to abandon a civil rights program even if it was not of their making. And when the Senate rejected right-wing segregationist Supreme Court nominee G. Harrold Carswell, Nixon took the occasion of a nationally televised speech to upbraid liberals and openly empathize with "the bitter feelings of millions of Americans who live in the South about the action of regional discrimination that took place in the Senate yesterday." Nixon even cheered the 1970 protests in New York where construction workers brutally attacked peace protesters. "Thank God for the hard hats!"

    http://www.thenation.com/doc/20080901/sugrue

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  15. Yea, that should be Orthogonian Club, as in right angles, straight lace, as opposed to the Franklins, the club for "swells," which he couldn't get into at Whittier College. So he created his right angle club for all the "regular people" on campus, and eventually rose to be student body president, just like in "Revenge of the Nerds." Now that I think about it, the Robert Carradine character in Nerds did look a little bit like a young Nixon.

    After his collegiate experience, Nixon apparently viewed the world as Orthogonians and Franklins, and was determined to get back at all the Franklins in the world. With FDR no longer around (the ultimate Franklin), he had to set his sights on Truman, who I think would qualify as Orthogonian himself.

    The amazing thing to me is how a smarmy little guy like Tricky Dick would come to shape politics the way he did. He was truly a despicable man, especially those years he sat on HUAC, which he later tried to distance himself from.

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  16. I have never understood how he became president, so I guess I do need to start reading "history" from that period.

    Did you see the Kristof column yesterday about liberals and conservatives?

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/28/opinion/28kristof.html

    He cites evidence that conservatives have some sort of inate need to respect authority. It's no wonder they went a little berzerk during the 1960s.

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  17. Seems to me that conservatives have an innate authoritarian streak. Not so much to follow others, but make others follow them. In order to do this, they play on weaknesses in persons and in society.

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  18. Hmmm. Interesting. I'll have to think about that. Which comes first, the desire to respect authority or the desire to impose authority on others?

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  19. avrds, it was interesting to read Perlstein note how the movie Bonnie and Clyde polarized society at the time, with the rebelious youth identifying itself with B&C, while conservatives took great exception to the film. Not surprisingly, the NYT panned the film,

    "This blending of farce with brutal killings is as pointless as it is lacking in taste, since it makes no valid commentary upon the already travestied truth. And it leaves an astonished critic wondering just what purpose Mr. Penn and Mr. Beatty think they serve with this strangely antique, sentimental claptrap, which opened yesterday at the Forum and the Murray Hill."

    http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=EE05E7DF173CE361BC4C52DFB266838C679EDE

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  20. Wow. That's telling it like it is -- I guess.

    In response to something RMD said, I was thinking about how we got where we are today, or were until very recently, with working people voting republican. The Nixon era certainly has to be one of the pieces of the puzzle.

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  21. Perlstein does a good job of illustrating how Nixon fed off the social unrest of the time, but was rather late in pitching his "law and order" message. I don't think B&C factored into this, but Perlstein noted how many militant leaders were referring to B&C in their speeches in 1967.

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  22. I definitely will read this one next. Who would have thought I would be interested in this? But you have me hooked.

    Krugman wrote today about Reagan's impact on the financial crisis. But my guess is the seeds are back there with Nixon.

    You have to get them to vote against their financial interests before you can steal their money.

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  23. In all fairness, Nixon didn't inherit the most thriving economy. Unfortunately, he made an even bigger mess while Prez, but still felt that regulations were necessary. Reagan, on the other hand, ushered in the new era of deregulation and supply-side economics. I would go with Krugman on that one.

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  24. More revelations from Nixonland:

    http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/06/23/new-nixon-tapes-and-files-released/

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  25. I was truly astonished at the different tapes that were chosen by 2 local tv stations in covering that story--one played some of the more egregious ones (like in a conversation at time of Roe v. Wade in which he opined thatsometimes abortions might be necessary, like when a black and white...) while the other played a couple of more innocuous ones...like they felt they needed to cover the story because others were doing so, but they didn't want to---I don't know what and am still scratching my head over that.

    I recall a conversation with a friend early last year on the subject of the grim political scene, and I related a flip comment I'd heard somewhere (extra points for anyone who knows source) "I never thought I'd miss Nixon." Friend fixed me with gaze most baleful and said "I don't miss Nixon" in a tone indicating he thought the very idea heretical.

    Can you imagine if there had been blogs in Nixon's day?

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