Regardless, Nixonland reads like the best novel Norman Mailer or Gore Vidal never wrote. It begins with an unexpected juxtaposition: Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act -- buttressed by the knowledge that he's just won one of the greatest popular landslides in American history -- five days before the first series of Watts riots begins. His ludicrous claim that these were "the most hopeful times since Christ was born in Bethlehem" was the most politically obtuse statement made by this most brutally effective of post-New Deal politicians. Smelling blood, two-time loser and former vice president Richard Nixon began the latest, most personally demeaning, and, ultimately, greatest demonstration of what Garry Wills once called his talent for mobilizing resentment towards those in power. From Perlstein's own afterword:
I have written of the rise, between the years 1965 and 1972, of a nation that had had believed itself to be at consensus instead becoming one of incommensurate visions of apocalypse: two loosely defined congeries of Americans, each convinced that should the other triumph, everything decent and true and worth preserving would end.A bit pretentious, this, especially if we remember that sneaky old Thomas Jefferson undermined his two presidential predecessors by paying surrogates in the press to run smears. But Jefferson never attended conventions as riotous as the '68 and '72 ones hosted by the Democrats. We're all a little more conservative now, so the incendiary language and Dada stunts pulled on the floor of the '72 convention strikes me as submission, as playing to the GOP's worst suspicions. Perlstein's point is that, as residents of Nixonland, we accept the cynicism of modern politics without blinking -- a dubious development to say the least. Let's just say that Tricky Dick might have approved of Obama's FISA bill reversal.