Didn’t Everybody Love Reagan?Roundup
Rick Perlstein’s 856-page tome is not just about history. Rather The Invisible Bridge is a multi-leveled lament about America’s majority not embracing the Great Society—and not rejecting Ronald Reagan and conservatism. Perlstein focuses on a narrow window in time, running from the aftermath of Richard Nixon’s 1972 reelection until the 1976 election of Jimmy Carter and everything in between. He writes at length about the end of the Vietnam War and the plight of the returning soldiers, and he effectively captures moments of societal change and unrest. But one thing he does not do is look at America with a benign gaze.
Perlstein’s book is a dissent and a critique. It is his attempt to settle his own score with the recent past. From the get-go, Perlstein complains of “America the Innocent, always searching for totems of a unity it can never quite achieve—even, or especially, when its crises of disunity are most pressing.” Presenting the Nixon-Ford era as a time of fracture leading to more under Reagan, he refuses to acknowledge that consensus and bipartisanship were in fact more alive 40 years ago than they are today.
It is almost as though Perlstein forgot that even as Nixon’s impeachment was looming large, Gerald Ford and then-House Majority Leader Tip O’Neil remained golfing buddies, colleagues as well as key players in a constitutional crisis. Unlike President Obama’s outing on the links with House Speaker John Boehner, Ford and O’Neil’s time together was not staged.
Indeed, the reality was that Nixon’s reelection and his impeachment both reflected the national will and a consensus. Americans—Democrat, Republican, and independent alike—were open to argument and persuasion. Religion was still religion, and politics was still politics, though the two would eventually bleed into each other. (Perlstein captures that occurring in the rise of the religious right and Jimmy Carter’s continuous references to his evangelical faith as he marched to the White House.)
For the record, in 1972 Nixon had won reelection in a popular landslide, with two-thirds of the white vote, better than one-sixth of the African-American vote, and more than a third of the Latino vote. Nixon even ran ahead of his Democratic rival, George McGovern, among Americans under 30—a feat a Republican presidential candidate, George H.W. Bush, would repeat for the last time in 1988...
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