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THURSDAY, AUGUST 14, 2014

On looking into Perlstein’s Nixonland a second time: We recall Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland as a fascinating book. It appeared in 2008.

Truth to tell, you had to skim it. The problem wasn’t the number of pages (748) as much as the number of words on each page (far too many to count).

Truthfully, Nixonland couldn’t be read. But its subject matter, and its themes, made it a very good skim.

Nixonland confronts an important historical question. It asks how we got from the Johnson landslide of 1964 to the equal but opposite Nixon landslide of 1972. It says the events of those years created our modern political divide, which we have described as red versus blue in earlier parts of this century.

That strikes us as a very important topic.

Perlstein was perhaps a bit overwrought about the division he described. This is the way he started the final chunk of his book:
PERLSTEIN (page 746): In this book I have written of the rise of two American identities, two groups of Americans, staring at each other from behind a common divide, each equally convinced of its own righteousness, each equally convinced the other group was defined by its evil. I have written of the moments where, at the extreme, members of those groups killed one another or tried to kill one another, most often in cold blood.
As he continued, Perlstein named some of the people “at the extreme.” He cited “Klansmen killing civil rights marchers” and “Weathermen preparing bombs for a massacre at a servicemen’s dance at Fort Dix.”

Today, we liberals might accuse such a writer of committing the sin of “moral equivalence.” In our view, the righteousness has gotten worse since 2008. We’d say that’s especially true on our side, which has been playing catch-up.

Perlstein has just released The Invisible Bridge (856 pages!), his unreadable sequel to Nixonland. In this report in the New York Times, Alexandra Alter cited two critiques of the new book which led us to look at the older book once again.

For background, see last Saturday’s post.

We were surprised by what we found when we revisited Nixonland. How did we get from Johnson to Nixon? That’s a very important question—and, as Perlstein says, it’s an important question about the poisons of today.

That book was built on a great idea. But we were struck, from its very first pages, by the extent to which Perlstein seemed to be playing with dolls.

We know—you’re tired of that metaphor! But right at the start of Nixonland, Perlstein throws himself, demonologically, onto one side of the nation’s divide. As he does, we’d say he starts creating cartoons about the other side.

We don’t recall being struck by this conduct back in 2008. Six years later, we’ve been struck by the book’s ugly demeanor and lack of obsessive honesty.

The text of Nixonland ends like this. This strikes us as deeply strange:
PERLSTEIN (page 748): Do Americans not hate each other enough to fantasize about killing one another, in cold blood, over political and cultural disagreements? It would be hard to argue that they do not.

How did Nixonland end? It has not ended yet.
“It would be hard to argue that they do not?” Was Perlstein describing all of us? If so, you can count us out.

Was Perlstein perhaps describing himself? At times, we almost get that impression, although we’re certain the impression would be wrong.

At any rate, that’s the way the text of Nixonland ended. In one way, that passage strikes us as very strange—although, in this particular week, that passage may seem to ring bells.

We’ve been studying Nixonland since last weekend. We’ve found it weirdly dishonest.

In Perlstein’s first book, Before the Storm, it seemed to us that he was trying to understand the other side of the nation’s political/cultural divides.

By the start of Nixonland, it seems to us that he’s playing with dolls, creating a set of cartoons. Judged by journalistic standards, the work seems remarkably poor.

The start of the book seems weirdly unpleasant to us, in ways which might be instructive. Tomorrow and Saturday, we’ll try to explain what we mean, although a person could write about Nixonland’s text for weeks.

As Perlstein quite correctly says, Nixonland is still around us—and perhaps inside us. Especially in this particular week, we need to stop “hating each other enough to fantasize about killing one another, in cold blood.”

Even at Salon, we’d say, it’s time to suspend such enjoyments.

33 comments:

  1. Folly of the Dolls

    Wherein the writer of an unreadable blog reviews two unreadable books.

    Sounds like a good scam,,,er skim to me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My Name is Paul. I will love to share my testimony to all the people in the forum cos i never thought i will have my girlfriend back and she means so much to me..The girl i want to get marry to left me 4 weeks to our wedding for another man..,When i called her she never picked my calls,She deleted me on her facebook and she changed her facebook status from engage to Single…when i went to her place of work she told her boss she never want to see me..I lost my job as a result of this cos i cant get myself anymore,my life was upside down and everything did not go smooth with my life…I tried all i could do to have her back to all did not work out until i met a Man when i Travel to Africa to execute some business have been developing some years back..I told him my problem and all have passed through in getting her back and how i lost my job…he told me he gonna help me…i don’t believe that in the first place.but he swore he will help me out and he told me the reason why my girlfriend left me and also told me some hidden secrets.i was amazed when i heard that from him..he said he will cast a spell for me and i will see the results in the next couple of days..then i travel back to Germany the following day and i called him when i got home and he said he’s busy casting those spells and he has bought all the materials needed for the spells,he said am gonna see positive results in the next 2 days that is Thursday.My girlfriend called me at exactly 12:35pm on Thursday and apologies for all she had done ..she said,she never knew what she’s doing and her sudden behavior was not intentional and she promised not to do that again.it was like am dreaming when i heard that from her and when we ended the call,i called the man and told him my my girl friend called and he said i haven’t seen anything yet… he said i will also get my job back in 3 days time..and when its Sunday,they called me at my place of work that i should resume work on Monday and they gonna compensate me for the time limit i have spent at home without working..My life is back into shape,i have my girlfriend back and we are happily married now with a baby boy and i have my job back too.This man is really powerful..if we have up to 20 people like him in the world,the world would have been a better place..he has also helped many of my friends to solve many problems and they are all happy now..Am posting this to the forum for anybody that is interested in meeting the man for help.you can mail him to
      priest_gbenga.magic_temple@priest.com, I cant give out his number cos he told me he don’t want to be disturbed by many people across the world..he said his email is okay. You can also visit him on his website www.priestgbengamagicpalace.webs.com
      PAUL MULLER

      Delete
  2. Much as I fear and dread Amazon, I'm an excellent customer, and because of books like "Nixonland" much more a Kindle enthusiast than other grumpy old Luddites of my generation.

    Publishers -- to their eternal regret, I'm sure -- use smaller and smaller fonts and less and less ink when it comes to tomes like Perlstein's ream-thick installments. Go to the Morgan Library in New York (ha-HAH, another reference) and see what quality publishing used to look like in the good old days of the robber barons. Enough ink was used to make the each jet black letter seem to jump out from the page. Such contrast makes reading an ease and a pleasure.

    The best way to get that quality of printing nowadays is with a Kindle. Forget traditional publishing. Oh, iBooks is nice, too; but by comparison, iPads are heavy, cumbersome, and unwieldy.

    Was that OK, Mr. Bezos? Can I have my dog back?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love my kindle too and buy too many books. History books are meant to be exhaustive records and analysis of the past so that makes them unreadable unless you like history as a genre or field. When a book is described as readable you have to start worrying about how good it is as history.

      Delete
  3. He cited “Klansmen killing civil rights marchers” and “Weathermen preparing bombs for a massacre at a servicemen’s dance at Fort Dix.”

    These are both examples of Democrats committing terrorist acts. Well, the Weathermen were far to the left of the Dems, so it may not be fair to call them Democrats. They certainly weren't Republicans. The KKK were indeed Democrats, much as current-day Democrats would want to disown them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nixon's "Southern strategy" took care of all that. That"s when the segregationists jumped ship, became Republicans and went to war against "New Democrats" such as Bill Clinton.

      Delete
    2. David in Cal, you really think that current-day Democrats need to answer for the KKK? I'd be willing to talk about how southern Democrats of earlier generations (like my grandmother) shouldn't all be painted with the same broad brush (e.g., my grandmother, b. 1890's, was, as a white southerner, a Democrat as a reflex for most of her life; she also despised the KKK).

      But there are things like time, change, historical realignments. (Did you study any of those things at Chicago?) To act as if certain Democrats and LIBERAL Republicans didn't bring about the civil rights legislation that led to reactions -- and something called the Republicans' "Southern Strategy"; to forget that the likes of Strom Thurmond changed from the Democratic to the Republican party.... I mean, how is anyone supposed to take you seriously?

      You're right about one thing: the Weathermen would sooner have died than be thought of as Democrats. And no Democratic elected officials or pundits came close to supporting them (in contrast to today's "respectable" Republicans, who refuse to distance themselves from right-wing crazies).

      Delete
    3. It's amazing how one can see the politics shift on a dime, or at least a single election cycle. In '52 and again in '56 the deep South chose the northern liberal over the war hero General. And in '60 the Irish Catholic Massachusetts liberal, all by generally wide to comfortable margins.

      In '64 with landmark anti-segregation legislation in the works, they bucked the national trend by going for GOP anti-civil rights act voting Goldwater over fellow southerner LBJ. Johnson was reported as to have confided at the time that the south would be lost to the Democrats for a generation. A good book that describes the era, including the beginnings of the GOP "Southern Strategy" is the George Wallace bio "Politics of Rage" by Dan Carter.

      http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/washington/2005-07-14-GOP-racial-politics_x.htm

      A fine book that describes

      Delete
    4. "These are both examples of Democrats committing terrorist acts."

      Tell me again what the definition of a troll is.

      Delete
    5. Troll

      A troll is a supernatural being in Norse mythology and Scandinavian folklore.

      Delete
  4. P's picture captions in the new book are pretty absurd. It makes me lose faith in his judgment.

    One refers to Billy Carter as having been "a sort of national symbol."

    Hardly.

    Another makes it look like Squeaky Fromme was a huge watershed event for the United States. He spends a ton of time on her in fact.

    On what planet?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Isn't Lynette about Bob's age?

      Delete
    2. I do remember Billy Beer, so he must have been some kind of icon.

      Delete
    3. "Sort of" @ 1:04. Only "sort of." Count on captions to capture the essence of the author. Sort of.

      Delete
  5. "We know—you’re tired of that metaphor!"

    Can we talk Tom Turkey for a Manhattan moment? We understand addiction. You are addicted to Rachel just as many of us are addicted to you, big fella! She gets under your skin and you itch all over, start touching yourself, pleasuring yourself until you cream then, voila, you start to sound just like her.

    It happens to many a commenter here. I wish I could explain it, but I don't know squat from squadoosh about the origins of the affliction much less the cure.

    ReplyDelete

  6. Interesting Blog Piece, its always fantastic to read about stuff like this.
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  7. Great read, reminds me a bit of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. You can pick it up, turn to any page and get lost in it. It's dense, but in a way in which every "skim" reveals something new.

    I predict Somerby's criticism of the beginning of the book refers to Perlstein's psychological assessment of sorts that describes Nixon's greatest political skill as the ability to identify and stoke resentment. That conclusion rings true. Out of that Roger Ailes, by way of Rush Limbaugh, gave us political talk radio as we now know it, which is all about stoking resentment and has been hugely influential.

    ReplyDelete
  8. To my skimming 77% of the book is very solid. You can count on it. The other 23% can probably be explained by a number of factors but nobody knows for sure what to control for. Anyway it is misleading to call it a great book, and it hasn't gotten any better since it came out six years ago.

    But look at those liberal media types making angry Missourri black people (whose children they don't care about) look like Clive Bundy's followers in Nevada. And themselves like Momma's boys. Which, based on their age, they propbably are!

    ReplyDelete
  9. I read Nixonland and it had an impact on me. It was the book that actually made me realize how selective our memories are when we are witnesses to history. Coming of Age in the 60's I must have been thrilled by the turmoil. My later memories were of great fondness and loss of a magical time. After Nixonland I realized what they mean by rose colored glasses.

    I am half through Perlstein's latest and am enjoying it. Books that are this size seem to make grown men want to cherry pick sections and say "That's just awful!". And yes, the "toy" analogy to everything could be put back in the closet.

    To say the book is a phony read because it has a point of view, is like saying the Daily Howler is a phony blog because it has a point of view.

    A view of history is not just a bunch of random facts. Regardless of our personal views, the only way we can have a sense of time and place is to put events into a context. And like any publication, the facts you highlight and evaluate are a value judgement.

    I will take Mr. Sommerby's concerns under advisement, but I doubt they will detract from my reading. What I get from Mr. Perlstein's works is how every social and political movement can have a counter balancing backlash.

    ReplyDelete
  10. My Name is Paul. I will love to share my testimony to all the people in the forum cos i never thought i will have my girlfriend back and she means so much to me..The girl i want to get marry to left me 4 weeks to our wedding for another man..,When i called her she never picked my calls,She deleted me on her facebook and she changed her facebook status from engage to Single…when i went to her place of work she told her boss she never want to see me..I lost my job as a result of this cos i cant get myself anymore,my life was upside down and everything did not go smooth with my life…I tried all i could do to have her back to all did not work out until i met a Man when i Travel to Africa to execute some business have been developing some years back..I told him my problem and all have passed through in getting her back and how i lost my job…he told me he gonna help me…i don’t believe that in the first place.but he swore he will help me out and he told me the reason why my girlfriend left me and also told me some hidden secrets.i was amazed when i heard that from him..he said he will cast a spell for me and i will see the results in the next couple of days..then i travel back to Germany the following day and i called him when i got home and he said he’s busy casting those spells and he has bought all the materials needed for the spells,he said am gonna see positive results in the next 2 days that is Thursday.My girlfriend called me at exactly 12:35pm on Thursday and apologies for all she had done ..she said,she never knew what she’s doing and her sudden behavior was not intentional and she promised not to do that again.it was like am dreaming when i heard that from her and when we ended the call,i called the man and told him my my girl friend called and he said i haven’t seen anything yet… he said i will also get my job back in 3 days time..and when its Sunday,they called me at my place of work that i should resume work on Monday and they gonna compensate me for the time limit i have spent at home without working..My life is back into shape,i have my girlfriend back and we are happily married now with a baby boy and i have my job back too.This man is really powerful..if we have up to 20 people like him in the world,the world would have been a better place..he has also helped many of my friends to solve many problems and they are all happy now..Am posting this to the forum for anybody that is interested in meeting the man for help.you can mail him to
    priest_gbenga.magic_temple@priest.com, I cant give out his number cos he told me he don’t want to be disturbed by many people across the world..he said his email is okay. You can also visit him on his website www.priestgbengamagicpalace.webs.com
    PAUL MULLER

    ReplyDelete

  11. BE CAREFUL HERE NOBODY CAN HELP YOU HERE OR EVEN SUGGEST HOW YOU CAN GET YOUR EX OR LOVE BACK,ANY TESTIMONIES OF MOST SPELL CASTER HERE MUST BE IGNORE.BECAUSE MOST OF THEM ARE SCAM I MEAN REAL SCAM WHICH I WAS A VICTIM AND I GOT RIPPED OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS BECAUSE I WAS SO ANXIOUS TO GET MY WIFE BACK AFTER SHE LEFT ME FOR OVER 2 YEARS WITH MY 7 YEARS OLD SON JERRY,I HAVE APPLIED TO 7 DIFFERENT SPELL CASTER HERE AND ALL TO NO AVAIL THEY ALL ASK FOR SAME THING SEND YOUR NAME YOUR EX NAME ADDRESS AND PICTURE PHONE NUMBER ETC WHICH I DID OVER AND OVER AGAIN AND MOST OF THEM WERE FROM WEST AFRICA UNTIL ISAW A POST ABOUT MAMA ANITA SPELL AND I DECIDED TO GAVE HER MY LAST TRAIL.SHE ASK ME FOUR THINGS MY REAL NAME,MY EX AND MY EX MOTHER NAME AND $180 AND SAID MY EX WILL COME BACK IN 24HOURS, I HAVE PAID OVER $3000 ON SPELL CASTING AND COURIER AND NOTHING HAVE WORK FOR ME AFTER 3 DAYS I WAS THINKING ABOUT HOW MUCH I HAVE LOST SO FAR SO I SAID LET ME GIVE HER A TRY SO I CALLED HER AGAIN AND SEND MY REAL NAME,MY EX AND MY EX MOTHER NAME AND THE $180 BECAUSE I SWEAR IT WAS MY LAST TRY SO I WAS WAITING AS SHE TOLD ME TO WAIT TILL NEXT DAY AND I COULD NOT SLEEP THAT NIGHT BECAUSE I REALLY LOVE MY WIFE AND WANT HER BACK AT 9PM THAT DAY I SAW MY WIFE ON LINE ON FACE BOOK AND SHE SAID HI AT FIRST I WAS SHOCK BECAUSE SHE NEVER TALK WITH ME FOR THE PAST A YEAR AND 9 MONTH NOW I DID NOT REPLY AGAIN SHE SAID ARE YOU THERE? I QUICKLY REPLY YES AND SHE SAID CAN WE SEE TOMORROW I SAID YES AND SHE WENT OFF-LINE I WAS CONFUSED I TRY TO CHAT HER AGAIN BUT SHE WAS NO MORE ON LINE I COULD NOT SLEEP THAT NIGHT AS I WAS WONDERING WHAT SHE IS GOING TO SAY, BY 7.AM THE NEXT MORNING SHE GAVE ME A MISS CALL I DECIDED NOT TO CALL BACK AS I WAS STILL ON SHOCK AGAIN SHE CALL AND I PICK SHE SAID CAN WE SEE AFTER WORK TODAY I SAID YES SO SHE END THE CALL IMMEDIATELY I GOT OFF WORK SHE CALL ME AND WE MEET AND NOW WE ARE BACK AGAIN I CALL MAMA ANITA THE NEXT DAY THANKING HER FOR WHAT SHE HAS DONE IN FACT I STILL CALL HER AND THANK HER AS MY LIFE WAS NOT COMPLETE WITHOUT MY WIFE PLEASE BE CAREFUL HERE I HAVE BEEN SCAM THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS IF YOU WANT A TRUE LOVE SPELL THEN CONTACT MAMA ANITA (mama.anitatruelovespell@gmail.com)

    ReplyDelete
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