Perlstein’s effort, the third installment of his series, is an informative and insightful look at the fall of Nixon, as well as the incipient rise of Ronald Reagan. Perlstein manages to gives us that look without just focusing on politics, but including the social issues that dominated the times, and weaving those events into his narrative. That might not be attractive to all, but I liked it, as it brings a fuller picture of what was on the minds of voters as political events unfolded. How political figures leverage those events to make their cases is often times forgotten when we look at the relative success (or failures) of the politicians of the day.
As with both of the prior books there are references that show that some of our politics have not changed much over the years. Are the immigration debates new? I don’t think so.
“President Ford implored, “We can afford to be generous to refugees” as “a matter of principle.” Mayor Daley of Chicago responded, “Charity begins at home.” The Seattle City Council voted seven to one against a pro-settlement resolution. California governor Jerry Brown said Congress’s refugee bill should be amended with a “jobs for Americans first” pledge. Explained Harvard sociologist David Riesman, “The national mood is poisonous and dangerous and this is one symptom—striking out at helpless refugees whose number is infinitesimal.”
Perlstein takes ground on Nixon that we have been over before, but it fits this story. The story evolves into the massive Ford/Reagan battle for the GOP nomination in 1976, with great detail on how that overall race developed. We even get a good peek at the rise of Jimmy Carter on the Democratic side. Perlstein focuses heavily on the GOP, and gives some great insight on how Ronald Reagan had superior political instincts, rejecting the standard advice given by advisors to great, and positive effect. (Reagan never condemned Nixon on Watergate when most of his own people wished he would)
We all know how that Ford/Reagan nomination battle ended, and that is where Perlstein ends this story. Reagan’s loss brought out the Reagan naysayers, who underestimated his political appeal from the very start. After the loss many wrote him off, but his story was just beginning. Perlstein gives, to me, an unvarnished view of how Reagan managed to achieve his success, even in defeat. He gently mocks the left for not understanding Reagan’s appeal, while showing us the “tricks” of Reagan’s trade.
As with the other two books I give this one high ratings, and enjoyed reading it very much. It is over 800 pages so it will not be for everyone, but for those interested in this era it is a great read!