Rick Perlstein: Politician, punch line, president, and the land he left us





Rick Perlstein could have called his book "Paranoia."

If Perlstein's history of the 1960s and early '70s in America has a throughline, it's mistrust. Parents don't trust their children. Enlisted men don't trust their officers. Blacks don't trust whites, Southerners don't trust Northerners, the Silent Majority doesn't trust the Intellectual Establishment, and -- soon enough -- nobody trusts the government.

And in the midst of it all was Richard Nixon: Red-baiter, former vice president, failed gubernatorial nominee, punch line, political strategist and president, a master at playing both sides to maintain his hold on power. In doing so, he provided a roadmap for his successors.

Hence Perlstein's actual title: "Nixonland" (Scribner).

"I'm fascinated with how Americans fight with each other," says Perlstein, 39, who was born the year Nixon took office. "And the '60s is the best, the most -- besides the Civil War, I can't think of a more dramatic canvas. And Nixon fits in as the guy who exploited these tensions to create a new kind of politics that we're still living with now."...


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