Nixon’s America was a land of rebellion and reaction.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Drew | WaPo | Sunday, June 1, 2008; BW05
The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America
By Rick Perlstein
Scribner. 881 pp. $37.50
There is so much literature about various aspects of Richard Nixon — his foreign policy, his domestic policy, his rise to power, his time in power, his fall from power, his comeback, his relationship with Vice President Spiro Agnew, his trip to China — that it would seem difficult to find an original approach to the man. But, in Nixonland, Rick Perlstein has come up with the novel and important idea of exploring the relationship between Nixon and the 1960s counterculture, a rebellion of mostly young people against society’s conventions and authority in general. Perlstein is quite right in identifying this rebellion — and the reaction against it — as critical to Nixon’s rise and his strange hold on the American people. One might even consider Perlstein’s book to be primarily about the counterculture and only secondarily about Nixon, since he devotes nearly half of it to a brilliant evocation of the ’60s.
The decade had begun quiescently, with a general acceptance of the conventional mores of the ’50s and the Cold War. But midway through came upheaval: hippies, yippies, be-ins, the drug culture, the Weather Underground, the “summer of love.” Then the traumas of 1968: the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, campus unrest, urban riots. And, of course, Vietnam. A nation unhinged.
Perlstein astutely follows the reaction against all of this by a large part of the American people, whose deep resentments and fear Nixon shrewdly observed and exploited. In the 1968 election campaign, he offered America peace and quiet, law and order. But once in office, he delivered mass arrests of peaceful protesters against the war; his allies in the construction unions beat up demonstrators on Wall Street. Perlstein’s Nixonland is a land of rebellion and reaction, each faction stirring up the other. Continue reading ‘Angry Man’