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.