Just got an email:
Simon and Schuster will publish The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan by Rick Perlstein, author of the 2008 bestseller Nixonland. The book will be published in August 2014 to coincide with the fortieth anniversary of Richard Nixon’s resignation as President of the United States…
The Invisible Bridge will open in January 1973, when President Nixon announced the end of the Vietnam War and prepared for a triumphant second term. But soon the televised Watergate hearings revealed his White House as little better than a mafia den. Following Nixon’s resignation, his successor, Gerald Ford, declared “our long national nightmare is over”—but then congressional investigators exposed the CIA for assassinating foreign leaders. The collapse of the South Vietnamese government rendered moot the sacrifice of some 58,000 American lives. The economy was in tatters. Americans began thinking about their nation in a new way: as one more nation among nations, no more providential than any other. Pundits declared that from now on successful politicians would be the ones who honored this chastened new national mood.
Perlstein’s nuanced portrait of Ronald Reagan will show that the former actor and Governor of California never accepted that vision of America. When Reagan announced his intention to challenge Ford for the 1976 Republication nomination, those same pundits dismissed him—until it began to look as if he just might win. Reagan was inventing the new conservative political culture we now know, which derailed a once-ascendant vision of patriotism rooted in a sense of American limits. Set amidst the tumultuous political and economic times of the 1970s, The Invisible Bridge will pose the question: What does it mean to believe in America?
Looking forward to doing a book chat, come the Fall.
Rick Perlstein has a long, excellent review in The Nation, “Failing upward at the Democratic Leadership Council with Al From”
Al From makes two assertions in his new memoir. The first is announced in its title. The New Democrats and the Return to Power argues that the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), the group he founded in 1985 to push the Democratic Party to the right, has won: the party has been reformed, and there is no going back to the dark days when, according to From, Democratic presidential candidates suffered humiliation after humiliation at the ballot box for the party’s thralldom to protectionism, isolationism, “constituency groups” and the dread leviathan Jesse Leo Jackson.
The second point is that From and friends deserve all of the credit for the Democratic Party’s transformation. Again and again, our hero narrates his arrival, just in the nick of time, to save the day: “My interjection had stopped the headlong dash into social democracy…. Hillary came over to me and said she and Bill had discussed what I had said and had agreed I was right.” And again: “In a cab crossing the Triborough Bridge in New York, I flipped open my cell phone and called the President of the United States…. [W]hen Clinton and I finished our discussion, I was confident that he would sign the bill.” According to Al From, if you favor NAFTA, tougher laws on crime, welfare reform and, above all, an economic policy focused exclusively on “growth” instead of distributional fairness, you can thank Al From.
Yet this memoirist has an imposing problem on his hands. In each and every case, the triumphs he trumpets have made America a worse place—objectively, empirically and on their own terms. But From is among the small minority of people they haven’t hurt. No one in the crowded field of Washington insiders has ever failed upward with such skill and aplomb…
On the subject of fundraising, the author proves defensive: “We did raise a lot of corporate money, but there were never any quid pro quos, implicit or explicit. When creating the structure of the DLC, I had purposely created a firewall between those who gave money and those who made organizational decisions.” But isn’t that precisely the evidence for the indictment? Steinhardt and others gave anyway, and kept giving, trusting that the return on investment would be worth it without any intervention on their part being necessary.
What were they buying? For one thing, a respectable front for the obsession that Jesse Jackson and those whose interests he represented must be destroyed. From was never as blunt as Harry McPherson, the old Democratic hand who complained to The Washington Post after Mondale’s defeat that “blacks own the Democratic Party…White Protestant male Democrats are an endangered species.” From prefers the dog-whistle phrase “constituency groups.” He’s also prone to using unconsciously racially charged language, quoting himself being quoted in The Wall Street Journal at the 1988 convention: “We’ve erased the graffiti from the wall. Now we have to paint the mural.”…
Mr. Charles P. Pierce remembers those days differently:
… One of the worst political events I ever attended was the 1982 Democratic “midterm convention” in Philadelphia, at which the party elders were still cowering from the beating they’d taken in 1980, and you could see it all coming, the rise of the corporate Democrats — the chairman was a banker pal of Jimmy Carter’s named Charles Manatt, who went on to mastermind the presidential campaign of Walter Mondale — and the neocon Democrats, and the National Security Democrats and, basically, the Democrats who were white and well-off. This was the seedbed for Al From and, yes, for Bill Clinton, and for the welfare reform and NAFTA and the complicity in the economic policies that eventually wrecked the economy in 2008. Now, though, there is a serious strain of economic populism pushing back against the legacy of Charlie Manatt and Al From that is being led by Jesse Jackson. If it weren’t for the rockfight that’s erupted within the Republican party, and if it weren’t for the unfathomable fascination on the part of the courtier press with Hillary Clinton’s every thought, you’d be hearing more and more about it. But the pure hilarity of it all is that what economic populism within the Democratic party is aiming at is giving us a center that is actually in the center. Before the Republicans guzzled the supply-side Flavor-Aid, and the Democrats cozied up to the people who also financed the Republicans, the center meant good jobs and good wages and an economic system that didn’t smack of a carnival midway. This is why Senator Professor Warren sounds as appealing as she does. She is the first person to set up shop in the new center.