Nixonland by Rick Perlstein
Summary: This is a look at roughly 1965-1972 focusing primarily on Nixon but bringing in the other political figures of the time and the cultural revolution to examine the landscape of American politics that exists even today in what Perlstein calls Nixonland.
(Warning: partisan political thoughts ahead)
I don't think this is so much a review as it is me just talking about the random thoughts that ran through my mind while reading this.
First, a joke: How could you tell when Richard Nixon was lying?
His mouth was moving.
Now I actually somewhat like Nixon but, especially, as 1972 approaches that is just so true. He was resentful, paranoid, and IMO approaching crazy (he seems to have believed that America would end if he wasn't reelected). His team sabotages the various Democratic candidates and plays political games with American lives in Vietnam. He exploited and injected anger and resentments as his main tactic for elections.
I liked Nixon as someone who wasn't good-looking, didn't give the best speeches, wasn't privileged unlike some other presidents who I don't feel were particularly qualified (*coughKennedyReagancough*) but got the job anyway. He had to work hard and accept cruddy jobs as the attacker for Ike or a punching bag for the Republicans.
I don't like Nixon as someone who convinces middle-class whites that they are oppressed (um what?) and takes advantage of our worse selves. I, naive little me, prefer the uplifting candidate who makes me want to be better. I don't like that he surrounded himself with creeps; I was going to say crooks but I felt the former word worked better :-) I don't like how he seemed to think that Nixon=America or how his team put the message out that disagreeing with the president was hurtful to America (Hmm, familiar?) I don't like his shifting "principles" (not entirely sure he had any)
One quote that particularly struck me was on page 47 (of the hardback): "The DNC was right: an amazingly large segment of the population disliked and mistrusted Richard Nixon instinctively. What they did not acknowledge was that an amazingly large segment of the population also trusted him as their savior." Basically you can substitute Obama or Palin for Nixon and you've got 2008. Similarly the last page talks about how "Nixon left behind the very terms of our national self-image: a notion that there are two kinds of Americans." It's been 30/40 years and we still interact in the terms laid out by Nixon.
One thing I didn't like about this book was Perlstein's repeated use of the phrase "slow, soiling humiliation." You know how some people hate the word moist? That's what this phrase did me, especially because it was used so frequently about Nixon. This book also turned me on John Wayne; I've never been a big fan of westerns (there usually aren't any female characters) but I've tried to watch some since he was the biggest movie star in America but now I don't feel guilty that I don't like his stupid movies and I'm going to avoid watching any more.
I finished Nixonland (which I'm rating a 3.5 because it was awfully long and sometimes boring but it was on my FITG list so I wanted to finish it) and I am currently reading three other books. I hope to finish them shortly.