Recommended Reading: Nixonland

This summer I’ve been reading Rick Perlstein’s excellent book Nixonland. The book is about not just Richard Nixon, but the evolution of American political culture from 1965 to 1972 (which reshaped the political landscape in ways that continue to define American political culture today) as well as the forces, events ,and personalities that contributed that contributed to that evolution. It’s must reading for anyone who wants to understand our current political climate. It’s also an incredibly well-written and engaging read. I particularly recommend it for anyone engaged in education policy and politics today: Perlstein describes how a 1964 “liberal consensus” on civil rights and domestic policy issues rapidly disintegrated in the following years, in large part because liberal reform proponents were too convinced of both their own obvious moral rightness and the inevitable progress of their policy goals to recognize or engage the emotions and interests that might lead their fellow citizens to resist such “progress.” Both the attitudes of 1960s-era liberal reformers and the results of those attitudes offer a sobering cautionary tale to contemporary education reformers who frequently evidence similar tendencies—and have been similarly blindsided by recent backlash against their agenda. Studying the history of this tumultuous period in American political life may help today’s reform advocates—not just in education but a range of policy issues—not only avoid mistakes of their predecessors but also chart a wiser course forward.

Perlstein has a new book, The Invisible Bridge: the Rise of Nixon and the Fall of Ronald Reagan, coming out in August. I’m looking forward to reading it.

–Sara Mead

One Response to “Recommended Reading: Nixonland”

  1. anon Says:

    “in large part because liberal reform proponents were too convinced of both their own obvious moral rightness and the inevitable progress of their policy goals to recognize or engage the emotions and interests that might lead their fellow citizens to resist such “progress.””
    One could argue that they strayed from God.
    Dr. King had it right.
    Here are his thoughts after the murder attempt on his family and himself:

    DR. KING (“Stride Toward Freedom”, page 138): I could not go to sleep. While I lay in that quiet front bedroom, with a distant street lamp throwing a reassuring glow through the curtained window, I began to think of the viciousness of people who would bomb my home. I could feel the anger rising when I realized that my wife and baby could have been killed. I thought about the city commissioners and all the statements that they had made about me and the Negro generally. I was once more on the verge of corroding anger. And once more I caught myself and said: “You must not allow yourself to become bitter.”

    I tried to put myself in the place of the police commissioners. I said to myself these are not bad men. They are misguided. They have fine reputations in the community. In their dealings with white people they are respectful and gentlemanly. They probably think they are right in their methods of dealing with Negroes. They say the things they say about us and treat us as they do because they have been taught these things. From the cradle to the grave, it is instilled in them that the Negro is inferior. Their parents probably taught them that; the schools they attended taught them that; the books they read, even their churches and ministers, often taught them that; and above all the very concept of segregation teaches them that. The whole cultural traditional under which they have grown—a tradition blighted with more than 250 years of slavery and more than 90 years of segregation—teaches them that Negroes do not deserve certain things. So these men are merely the children of their culture. When they seek to preserve segregation they are seeking to preserve only what their local folkways have taught them was right.

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