Here’s a provocative review of Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland from RS’s stonezone blog:
A new book by Rick Perlstein traces the period between Lyndon Johnson’s triumphant 1964 victory in the near universal belief that there was a national Liberal consensus, through the tumult and upheaval of the ’60’s to the remarkable comeback of Richard Nixon. Perlstein’s book is not a biography, but more importantly, a correct analysis that the purposeful polarization of the American electorate in 1968 which later elected Ronald Reagan and defeated Jimmy Carter, as well as electing George H. W. Bush and the current President. Perlstein makes a persuasive argument that these cleavages exist and affect our politics today.
Nixon understood that politics was about addition in that you had to galvanize those who shared your values, resentments and anger to reach a governing majority by winning an election.
But Nixon also understood the human psychology that makes it easier to get people to vote against something than for something, which means politics is also about division. It’s us again them, the Elites, the Government, the privileged, the Ivy Leaguers, Liberals on the US Supreme Court, those to the manor born who inherit. Nixon rallied the strivers, the small business men who was getting screwed by the big corporations, the little people who paid their taxes, served in the military, belonged to the Rotary and didn’t burn their draft card.
It is the politics of resentment. Sadly lost in the ashes of Watergate is the incredible cunning and political skill with which Nixon understood these currents of upheaval and successfully navigated them. The urban race riots, dissatisfaction with the Vietnam War and suburban resentment of the excesses of liberal government social programs and a sense that the courts were more concerned about the rights of criminals than victims coupled with the murders of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. created a unique atmosphere which opened the door to Nixon’s comeback.
From Nixon’s defeat in the 1962 race for Governor of California and his valedictory outburst at the press that you “won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore” to his inauguration as President in1969 is a period of only six years. It is Nixon’s savvy reading and manipulation of events that make this account all the more interesting.
Perlstein has a historian’s eye for colorful detail and little known facts. The characters of the era, Angela Davis, Ronald Reagan, Eldridge Cleaver, Sam Yorty, Hubert Humphrey and H. Rap Brown do literally come alive in Perlstein’s telling.
As someone who has read every existing biography of Nixon in the English language, I can assure you that this book is not biography, yet no one can truly understand Nixon without reading it.