9780743243025

Nixonland : The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America

by
  • ISBN13:

    9780743243025

  • ISBN10:

    0743243021

  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2008-05-13
  • Publisher: Scribner

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Supplemental Materials

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Summary

NIXONLAND begins in the blood and fire of the Watts riots - one week after President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, and nine months after his historic landslide victory over Barry Goldwater seemed to have heralded a permanent liberal consensus. The next year scores of liberals were thrown out of Congress, America was more divided than ever, and a disgraced politician was on his way to a shocking comeback: Richard Nixon. Six years later, President Nixon, harvesting the bitterness and resentment borne of that blood and fire, was re-elected in a landslide even bigger than Johnson's, and the outlines of today's US politics of red-and-blue division became distinct.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. xi
Hell in the City of Angelsp. 3
The Orthogonianp. 20
The Stenchp. 44
Ronald Reaganp. 70
Long, Hot Summerp. 96
School Was in Session ...p. 128
Batting Averagep. 141
The Bombingp. 169
Summer of Lovep. 185
In Which a Cruise Ship Full of Governors Inspires Considerations on the Nature of Old and New Politicsp. 200
Fed-up-niksp. 227
The Sky's the Limitp. 254
Violencep. 274
From Miami to the Siege of Chicagop. 295
Wednesday, August 28, 1968p. 315
Winningp. 328
The First One Hundred Daysp. 357
Trustp. 373
If Gold Rustp. 397
The Presidential Offensivep. 412
The Polarizationp. 445
Tourniquetp. 459
Maydayp. 477
Purityp. 500
Agnew's Electionp. 524
How to Survive the Debaclep. 541
Cruelest Monthp. 551
Ping-Pongp. 569
The Covenp. 585
The Party of Jefferson, Jackson, and George Wallacep. 607
The Spring Offensivep. 635
Celebritiesp. 660
In Which Playboy Bunnies, and Barbarella, and Tanya, Inspire Theoretical Considerations upon the Nature of Democracyp. 686
Not Half Enoughp. 720
Notesp. 749
Selected Bibliographyp. 831
Acknowledgmentsp. 837
Indexp. 841
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.

Excerpts

Preface

In 1964, the Democratic presidential candidate Lyndon B. Johnson won practically the biggest landslide in American history, with 61.05 percent of the popular vote and 486 of 538 electoral college votes. In 1972, the Republican presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon won a strikingly similar landslide -- 60.67 percent and 520 electoral college votes. In the eight years in between, the battle lines that define our culture and politics were forged in blood and fire. This is a book about how that happened, and why.

At the start of 1965, when those eight years began, blood and fire weren't supposed tobea part of American culture and politics. According to the pundits, America was more united and at peace with itself than ever. Five years later, a pretty young Quaker girl from Philadelphia, a winner of a Decency Award from the Kiwanis Club, was cross-examined in the trial of seven Americans charged with conspiring to start a riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

"You practice shooting an M1 yourself, don't you?" the prosecutor asked her.

"Yes, I do," she responded.

"You also practice karate, don't you?"

"Yes, I do."

"That is for the revolution, isn't it?"

"After Chicago I changed from being a pacifist to the realization that we had to defend ourselves. A nonviolent revolution was impossible. I desperately wish it was possible."

And, several months after that, an ordinary Chicago ad salesman would be tellingTimemagazine, "I'm getting to feel like I'd actually enjoy going out and shooting some of these people. I'm just so goddamned mad. They're trying to destroy everything I've worked for -- for myself, my wife, and my children."

This American story is told in four sections, corresponding to four elections: in 1966, 1968, 1970, and 1972. Politicians, always reading the cultural winds, make their life's work convincing 50 percent plus one of their constituency that they understand their fears and hopes, can honor and redeem them, can make them safe and lead them toward their dreams. Studying the process by which a notably successful politician achieves that task, again and again, across changing cultural conditions, is a deep way into an understanding of those fears and dreams -- and especially, how those fears and dreamschange.

The crucial figure in common to all these elections was Richard Nixon -- the brilliant and tormented man struggling to forge a public language that promised mastery of the strange new angers, anxieties, and resentments wracking the nation in the 1960s. His story is the engine of this narrative. Nixon's character -- his own overwhelming angers, anxieties, and resentments in the face of the 1960s chaos -- sparks the combustion. But there was nothing natural or inevitable about how he did it -- nothing inevitable in the idea that a president could come to power byusingthe angers, anxieties, and resentments produced by the cultural chaos of the 1960s. Indeed, he was slow to the realization. He reached it, through the 1966 election, studying others: notably, Ronald Reagan, who won the governorship of California by providing a political outlet for the outrages that, until he came along to articulate them, hadn't seemed likevotingissues at all. If it hadn't been for the shocking defeats of a passel of LBJ liberals blindsided in 1966 by a conservative politics of "law and order," things might have turned out differently: Nixon might have run on a platform not too different from that of the LBJ liberals instead of one that cast them as American villains.

Nixon's win in 1968 was agonizingly close: he began his first term as aminoritypresident. But the way he achieved that narrow victory seemed to point the way toward an entire new political alignment from the one that had been stable since FDR and the Depression. Next, Nixon bet his presidency, in the 1970 congressional elections, on the idea that an "emerging Republican majority" -- rooted in the conservative South and Southwest, seething with rage over the destabilizing movements challenging the Vietnam War, white political power, and virtually every traditional cultural norm -- could give him a governing majority in Congress. But when Republican candidates suffered humiliating defeats in 1970, Nixon blamed the chicanery of his enemies:America'senemies, he had learned to think of them. He grew yet more determined to destroy them, because of what he was convinced was their determination to destroyhim.

Millions of Americans recognized the balance of forces in the exact same way -- that America was engulfed in a pitched battle between the forces of darkness and the forces of light. The only thing was: Americans disagreed radically over which side was which. By 1972, defining that order of battle as one between "people who identified with what Richard Nixon stood for" and "people who despised what Richard Nixon stood for" was as good a description as any other.

Richard Nixon, now, is long dead. But these sides have hardly changed. We now call them "red" or "blue" America, and whether one or the other wins the temporary allegiances of 50 percent plus one of the electorate -- or 40 percent of the electorate, or 60 percent of the electorate -- has been the narrative of every election since. It promises to be thus for another generation. But the size of the constituencies that sort into one or the other of the coalitions will always be temporary.

The main character inNixonlandis not Richard Nixon. Its protagonist, in fact, has no name -- but lives on every page. It is the voter who, in 1964, pulled the lever for the Democrat for president because to do anything else, at least that particular Tuesday in November, seemed to court civilizational chaos, and who, eight years later, pulled the lever for the Republican for exactly the same reason.

Copyright © 2008 by Rick Perlstein


Excerpted from Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America by Rick Perlstein
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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