Larry Buhl's Reviews > Nixonland: America's Second Civil War and the Divisive Legacy of Richard Nixon 1965-1972
Nixonland: America's Second Civil War and the Divisive Legacy of Richard Nixon 1965-1972
by Rick Perlstein
by Rick Perlstein
Larry Buhl's review
Feb 01, 11
There is a reason searing biographies and movies are made about Nixon and not about, say, Gerald Ford or Dwight Eisenhower, or Carter. Unlike those amiable nice guys, Nixon was a true head case and his deep, deep neuroses were used to his advantage, to carve out the politics of personal grievance that shaped the political landscape for two generations. He was a paranoid borderline sociopath but almost pitiable in how his lifelong feelings of inadequacy were heightened in an arena where he really was at a distinct disadvantage, money-wise and family-wise. It's like great, sickening performance art, watching a man wound himself on purpose. Without putting Nixon on the couch too much, Perlstein does a good job of exploring how Nixon's obsessive, relentless drive combined with his rage/anguish at not having been born into the lucky sperm club (like his nemesis JFK), and how those twisted views not only haunted him and caused his downfall, but were channeled and used to tap into the same latent fears in the common men and women who would become his supporters. "You think you're not getting ahead? You're right. 'Those people' (the liberals, the blacks, the Harvard elite, the gays, the Jews, war protesters, etc.) hate America and they're taking rights away from you, and they hate you AND they're making fun of you hard working people who love America. I understand you, I am one of you, and I hate these people too and I say it's all right to hate them." That's the unspoken, and sometime spoken, heart of Nixon's appeal - reaching out to tap fear and xenophobia (mostly fear) and sadly this politics of personal grievance (versus the politics of issues) been honed to a fine point and ubiquitous today. It was LBJ who said, when he signed the civil rights legislation, that he lost the south for the Democrats for decades. But it was Nixon who exploited that, with his infamous "southern strategy," a strategy that has been used by every R candidate since. (Was it just a coincidence that Reagan kicked off his 1980 campaign in a small Mississippi town known for nothing other than the murder of civil rights workers, calling for "states rights" - a dog whistle to bigots?) But I digress. This book is a fascinating portrait of a man and how he bent politics based on his very damaged psyche, and filled with all sorts of juicy "I never knew that" facts about history. (Did you know that in the aftermath of the Kent State shootings that the majority of Ohioans approved of what the national guard did because the protesters had... gasp, long HAIR?) I did not.
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