CBR13Bingo: People (check out Barry G on this cover)
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;”
So this is a 2001 history of the Republican Party starting in about 1955 or so and moving through election night (and a tiny bit thereafter) in 1964. If you’ve read Richard Hofstadter’s “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” you already know a lot about the feel of the feeling of conservatism around this time. In addition, another oddly positioned book The Day of the Jackal, stands as a good reminder of the fear and concern that right wing extremism used to actually cause in people. Conservatism as a movement was kooky. It still is, of course, but it’s been normalized to ridiculous degrees. As I read more of Rick Perlstein’s books I will of course be apprised of just how that came to be but it’s important to recall (and I am talking about myself here — born in 1981) that for many of us, we were born into the aftermath of 1964 so it’s often hard to know what was before. And I have to say that even in reading this book, I don’t think I could adequately explain how politics was in 1955. What I mean is: if I had to spell out why someone was a Democrat, unless they were a Southern White or a hesitant/pragmatic Black, I am not certain I could. To understand why and how Wilson gave way to Roosevelt and then to Kennedy, I could not really make it make sense. This book doesn’t either. I am not sure if this is a gap in the book, or in my understanding of things. In addition, it’s truly strange, growing up in Reagan’s American to explain what it means when someone describes Nixon and Eisenhower as “liberal Republicans” and then Goldwater as Conservative. So beginning this book with a few things: one, explaining who you would be to become a Goldwater-ite (or more broadly a Conservative) and then how a spark led to a revolution, and how the very very very resounding defeat in 1964 led to the complete shifting of American politics is incredibly effective, and terrifying.
“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”
What becomes clear in this book is that the old allegiances are dead. This is of course implied pretty clearly in the subtitle of this book “the Unmaking of the American Consensus”. We are living in a world in which what it means to see reality is deeply in question, this book highlights a period in which the very notion of what government should be and how it should function ceased to be. We’re still sold on this old notion, that politics is basically the argument about how resources are spent, but it’s clearly more about how power is held and wielded. What also becomes clear in this book is that people who very simply want the world to function in a more or less just way, and who probably outnumber their opponents, are really at a zeal disadvantage to the right-wing operatives. We still think Nixon was bad, and he was, but the craze informing the actors here (and who thought Nixon was soft and maybe a Communist) are frightening.
“Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight:”
So is the Second Coming Barry Goldwater? Maybe? He’s clearly a figurehead, but in the book he comes across as a man of principle (deeply screwed up and fundamentally selfish and childish ones) but of actual belief. He’s not a good person certainly, but he’s one of personal integrity. It’s also clear that he would have been jettisoned at an instance if he become a traitor to the cause. He seems to be kept because he was already positioned to be used. He slightly reminds me of John McCain (and that’s an obvious comparison, I realize) in 2008.
“somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”
So I want to say the sands here are a reference to Arizona, but worse, they’re Orange County, CA. We’re still waiting on Reagan, the true Second Coming. In the meantime, we have to deal with Nixon, who is a part cog, and will deliver a kind of victory (but not entirely a conservative one) in 1968. In addition, these are the sands of Yale, where National Review was born, and the kinds of nonsense conservatism we’ve all been dealing with for the last 60 years. The rough beast? I mean, probably the answer is George W Bush, but recent history certainly suggests a few more rough beasts to go.