Nixonland

I recently read Nixonland by Rick Perlstein, and highly recommend it. Rick Perlstein is sometimes billed as a left-wing historian of the right, as his previous book is titled “Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus”. Coming from a politically-liberal perspective, I expected Nixonland to recount the (tawdry, I assumed) rise and fall of Nixon and his political legacy. I noticed right away, by starting from the end, that the 900 pages detail the (indeed tawdry) rise of Nixon, but there’s surprisingly little about Watergate. Instead, one must look all the way to the subtitle to find the real focus of the book: “The rise of a president and the fracturing of America”. Page 46 offers a definition:

Thus a more inclusive definition of Nixonland: it is the America where two separate and irreconcilable sets of apocalyptic fears coexist in the minds of two separate and irreconcilable groups of Americans. … “Nixonland” is what happens when these two groups try to occupy a country together.

It took a while to digest just what he was getting at here, partially due to blinders of political ideology and partly due to lack of familiarity with a non-Nixonland political landscape, but today I stumbled across a couple of videos of people waiting to see McCain and/or Palin at various campaign events which makes clear what Nixonland is, and why it’s a horrible political state of affairs:

The point here, and indeed of the book, is not whether one side’s political arguments are better than the other, but that we live in a political culture in which it is not possible to disagree in a civilized manner. Sad, really. Not to mention dangerous.

(Note that I certainly do think the McCain/Palin supporters here have a horrible form of right-wing verbal diarrhea, and they might want to check that their digestive tract goes from mouth to ass and not the other way around.)

I stumbled across the second video here, where Coates makes a good point that what’s depressing about it is that no one confronts the guy. Of course, after seeing the first video, you might not be be surprised.

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