Discussion: Nixon

Discussion for article #225938

What’s the point - and what’s new? Reagan was a harder, later to national politics and more publicly appealing version of what Nixon represented: the reaction to the bruising of America’s ego in Vietnam, to the Civil Rights Movement and Black rebellion, and the “1960’s culture.” It was the Democrats that greased the way for Reagan’s ascendancy with the nomination of the “born again” religion-espousing, anti-welfare peanut farmer Jimmy Carter. Perlman’s chapter doesn’t offer anything substantially new (if anything new at all). Demagogically playing an outsider to those in power is SOP in American populist-style conservative politics (and capitalist politics generally - it was part of Hitler’s appeal).


Bravo to Rick. Another in his riveting series on modern conservatism in America. As this volume deals with the rise of Reagan, it’s guaranteed to be the target of much vituperation from the right (already begun).


They got just the actor they wanted, and we’re still paying the tab today.


As a child I felt sorry for Nixon. He seemed pathetic, and I was too young to understand the war. He still seems pathetic.
What followed…is God laughing at us? Or perhaps allowing our National Mean Streak to come to its inevitable conclusion to see if humanity will grow up? Or perhaps She’s finally lost patience with us and our time is up.

Anything that helps bring to the public an analysis of the right is necessary. Heck, even NPR is covering it. My good-looking namesake has a great article in Salon:


Nixon’s resignation did not usher in Reagan. Was the writer even alive in those days? Carter, in spite of probably being the most decent person to hold the office of president in the 20th Century, was naive in some ways and was faced with a shitty host of circumstances that would have troubled any presidency - inherited an economy in the toilet, the first oil embargo and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

There was a six year interval between Nixon’s demise and Reagan’s election. Nixon was definitely a Republican of a different stripe who, though a mostly repellent human being, did less damage to the nation domestically in nearly 8 years in office than Reagan did in his first four.

I was mostly right - Perlstein was born in 1969. That would be like me writing a book about how Eisenhower ushered in Nixon. He doesn’t have any idea, really, what the Nixon-Carter-Ford period was like.


Thank you. While this post had some nice views into Reagan Nixon didn’t cause Reagan’s presidency. If it did he would have won the 1976 Republican nomination. It was close, but Ford won it.

What happened is that after Watergate Ford got to the presidency without ever having won an election. He wasn’t on the ticket with Nixon, and he’d only even recently been approved by Congress as VP. People didn’t like him because he was mostly felt as a continuation of the same presidency the public came to despise. He wasn’t ever elected.

The 1976 election was close, but Carter won. Not long into his presidency the economy started circling the toilet with problems mounting from Ford’s incompetency. It’s quite similar to Obama’s situation except Carter never had an entirely incompetent Congress to contend with.

Reagan won because he ran on a platform of optimism, and he was seen as being outside Nixonian politics. The hostage crisis during the election cycle was the nail in the coffin.

You’re completely right that Nixon wasn’t anything like Reagan. The Republican party during Nixon’s presidency was a different beast altogether. They were far more moderate. He understood that humans were adversely affecting the environment and consolidated the mumbo jumbo rats nest of government environmental agencies into a single one. He tried to push for an end to employer-based healthcare that was quite similar to Obamacare today. His downfall is because he was a paranoid sniveling little man. His paranoia caused damage to the country, not his political views per se.

Reagan is vilified because we see him through the prism of the modern Republican party. While his conservative policies did do damage to this country (that Clinton thankfully was able to alleviate some during his presidency) he’s far from as conservative as the Republican party of today. We’re largely feeling the effects of Bush’s damage to this country, not Reagan’s. Bush did far more damage to this country than just about any president in American history, yet we’re here arguing about Reagan.


What would have happened if Gerald Ford had won in 1976, instead of Jimmy Carter?

I think the Democrats would have won in 1980. I doubt the aging Ronald Reagan would have EVER been elected president.


A space filler article lacking any other purpose. Nixon defeated Reagan at the 68 GOP Convention, Reagan lost to Ford in the 76 GOP primary before defeating HW in the 80 primary.

1976 was the first time the GOP had a primary election and Ford beat Reagan 53% to 46%. The actor won out the next time. What did Nixon have to do with anything at this point.

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Pfft. The pardon pen of Gerald Ford did far more damage, as it told the new young bucks in his admin – Rumsfeld & Cheney – that the penalty for subversion of government, torture, and lies into wars that killed hundreds of thousands of people would be nothing, nothing at all.

At least Nixon had the decency to resign.

Reagan, on the other hand, quipped, “I’d like to harness their youth­ful energy with a strap.” And said he wished Congress would declare war in Vietnam, so “the anti-Vietnam demonstrations and the act of burning draft cards would be treasonable”—which is to say, punishable by death.

Treasonable — like secretly negotiating with the Iranians to persuade them not to release the hostages before the 1980 election?


Thanks for that link. I’m glad Joan mentioned Ted Cruz because I think it goes to @romath 's question.

I’ve read both “Before the Storm” and “Nixonland” and what’s clear is that Goldwater and Nixon were both able to tap into the resentment in the country. Not just white resentment, although that was a big part of their appeal, but resentment in general. That’s the point.

When Ted Cruz goes on television and says over and over again that Obama “granted amnesty to millions of illegals” he knows it’s a lie because he’s a super smart lawyer who knows the difference between deferred action and amnesty. It doesn’t matter because Cruz is mining the resentment that’s always there in one form or another while liberals always follow up with ineffective appeals to logic or better angels.

While Rand Paul is trying to sell a softer, gentler Libertarianism, Ted Cruz is betting on the resentment horse that always finishes in the money.


This is an accurate, succinct, and insightful analysis. Because Americans tend to see events as being distinct and separate, (rather than as part of an ongoing process), Perlstein’s article is invaluable in presenting these two Presidents, and their defining moments, in context. Good job.


On HBO’s RealTime in 2009 (two thousand and nine!) Meghan McCain told Paul Begala that she wasn’t aware that Reagan had blamed Carter for years for the country’s problems because “you know I wasn’t born yet so I wouldn’t know” to which Begala replied “I wasn’t born during the French Revolution but I know about it.”

The point is Rick Perlstein is a historian, it’s not a requirement for him to have been born before these events in order to write authoritatively about them.

I like history books. My copies of Perlstein’s two other books are both dog-eared and full of post it note bookmarks.

I first learned from Rick Perlstein about Goldwater campaign workers locking the door of their campaign office and hiding in the back out of fear after the Kennedy assassination.

I first learned from Rick Perlstein about Hank Arron’s experience at the 1964 Republican National Convention at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. It was more than just a history book, due to Perlstein’s writing, it was a time machine. I felt like I was there and shared Aaron’s disgust.

I haven’t read “The Invisible Bridge” yet but I fully intend to. If it’s anything like his previous books I should go ahead and order the hard cover version and prepare to make notes.

It should be noted that the right wing is already shitting on this book because they don’t like Reagan myth busters.


Current House GOPers should read parts of this book to see what truly impeachable Presidential “overreach” really looks like.

A fat lot of good that would do him in 1973, went conventional wisdom,…and Reagan, at sixty-five, would be eligible for Social Security. “Around the mouth and neck,” George Will of National Review wrote, “he looks like an old man.”

My, how time flys!

Thanks, TPM; I will now purchase both Pearlstein books.

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Rick Perlstein is the author of not one, not two, but THREE interconnected books on the rise of American conservatism. Don’t miss the extraordinary first installment in the trilogy, Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus.

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I see a direct transition where the Nixon GOP went off the rails and wasn’t righted until Reagan took over.

They were both crooks who made Ford and Eisenhower seem like Pericles.

Nixon gave us Watergate. Reagan dismissed it as overblown, conservatives wiped the sweat from their brow and once again thumped chest like real Republicans.

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Yep. You know Rand’s full of shit when his own dad wrote the playbook for GOP outrage grifters.

So you’re saying that historians can only write books about people who share the same lifetime as their own? Gee, tell that to Doris Kearns Goodwin, or Gore Vidal, or even Bill O’Reilly.

My opinion (low) of Reagan as a mere puppet who hadn’t an original thought was re-inforced by his colleague the late James Garner, who sat on the Executive of SAG with Reagan. He said Reagan couldn’t even address the attendees of their meetings without a script in hand, and Garner shuddered at the knowledge of Reagan (and later Awwwwhnold) assuming the Calf. Governorship.

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