Bob Schmitz's Reviews > Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America

Nixonland by Rick Perlstein
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's review
Mar 31, 2012

really liked it
Read in March, 2012

I loved this book. As a 59yo I was in junior high school and high school during this period and remember superficially most of the things described in the book.Much of my memories had been sanitized and simplified. Also, I did not understand the things going on in the background nor the overall patterns and flow of history.

At Whittier Nixon felt resentment towards the "Franklins," a select student club filled with the wealthy, most connected, best looking men, the BMC's. He organized a counter club called the Orthogoians where the he and other outsiders gathered. Interestingly the were many athletes in his club but they were the linemen not the quarterbacks. Perrlstein carries this chasm between the elite Franklins and the striving, resentful Orthogonians throughout the book. Nixon discovered the power of speaking to resentments and fears of the "Silent Majority" to build his political power base and the resurgence of the Republican party in middle class America especially in the South. There are huge racist overtones in his playing to the fears of these groups about black unrest, the inner city race riots of the late 60's with his theme of "law and order." It was a shock to me to read what prominent politicians and other throughout the country said publically about race, A city counsel in IL I think refusing to change the name of "Niggerhead Mountain and Lake because "they were logging terms and not racist." Or Wallace speaking in the North about blacks complaining life was unfair because "they didn't get enough watermelons" as a kids." We have made some progress there.

The book is incredibly researched, made easier by the Watergate tapes so that Perlstein can describe what was said in a newspaper at 8AM, what he and Haldeman said in private at nine and then what Nixon spoke about at 10. The deceitfulness, callousness, and illegalities of Nixon's regime are described in grotesque detail. His conduct of the Vietnam war was only for domestic political consumption aimed at getting him reelected. He and Kissinger blocked any success in Paris so as to prolong the war. And to think that Kissinger got the Nobel Peace Prize. Johnson does not fair well in this regard either.

One of the main takeaways for me was the authors explanation of the ideas and emotions of the two side of the great divide in American politics between Franklins (right wing Republicans) and the Orthogonians (liberal Democrates) that remains today where each side cannot fathom the beliefs of the other and feels that allowing power to the other side will lead to the destruction of our country. Each side is experiencing their lives and the world in very different ways.

This is a great read especially for folks in my age group who remember all this stuff.
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