The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan
August 5, 2014 5:05 PM   Subscribe

How Ronald Reagan Used An 'Invisible Bridge' To Win Over Americans - "Rick Perlstein's new book describes how Reagan emerged as the leader of a potent political movement during the turbulent mid-'70s. He says the soul of Reagan's appeal was how he made people feel good."

reviews... interviews...
-American Exceptionism
-WeigelCast With Author Rick Perlstein
-Ronald Reagan absolved America almost in a priestly role not to have to contend with sin

previously...
-Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus
-Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America

more rick perlstein...
-The Nation
-twitter

also btw...
Paul Ryan's poverty plan signals an ideological shift - "In his first inaugural address, Ronald Reagan famously declared: 'In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.' Over the next 2 1/2 decades, Republicans and conservatives tended to drop the 'in the present crisis' part. They've treated government as an obstacle to human welfare always and everywhere, instead of a tool that can sometimes be used to improve things."
posted by kliuless (80 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite

 
Nixonland was pretty great--I have this one on hold at the library, and I'm totally looking forward to reading it.
posted by box at 5:14 PM on August 5, 2014


I will read anything by Rick Perlstein. Nixonland and Before the Storm are essential reading for anyone interested in American politics and connecting the historical dots to see how we arrived at our current state of dysfunction. Looking forward to picking this one up.
posted by Atom Eyes at 5:14 PM on August 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


Righting the GOP: "Rather than address the anxieties of the white working class, conservative activists exploited them."

Unrelated fun fact: "Rick Perlstein's first piece for The Baffler (in issue 3, 1992) was an in-depth analysis of Scooby Doo."
posted by kliuless at 5:15 PM on August 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


He says the soul of Reagan's appeal was how he made people feel good."

For me and most of the people I knew in the 1980s, the soul of Reagan's appeal was how he united us in distrust, resentment and political fury. Which can be an appealing thing when you're young.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:21 PM on August 5, 2014 [27 favorites]


Oh man this post missed the lead. Pearlstein is being sued for $25 million for plagiarism throughout the book, and various other criticisms of exaggeration and making things up.

*Rick Perlstein’s ‘The Invisible Bridge’ Draws Criticism

*Twenty Feet Tall
The incredible transformation that happened in and to America in the 1970s is plenty dramatic enough without being finessed and stage-dressed and falsified. The rise of Ronald Reagan is the single most important social and political American phenomenon of the last 50 years—perhaps, ultimately, of all American political history. It deserves a better, more careful, more conscientious, more trustworthy book than it gets here.
posted by stbalbach at 5:23 PM on August 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


> "[Reagan's] ability to preach this liturgy of absolution in the midst of moral chaos ... was the soul of his political appeal,"

Telling people what they want to hear is and always has been a recipe for political success.
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:23 PM on August 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


The incredible transformation that happened in and to America in the 1970s is plenty dramatic enough without being finessed and stage-dressed and falsified. The rise of Ronald Reagan is the single most important social and political American phenomenon of the last 50 years—perhaps, ultimately, of all American political history

Was the author of the first sentence aware of what they were about to write in the second?
posted by one_bean at 5:31 PM on August 5, 2014 [20 favorites]


Should be called the Reagan counter-revolution.
posted by goethean at 5:37 PM on August 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


Some of the complaints, in the Open Letter piece, is that his footnotes were made available online and not in the book, are difficult to work with, they don't follow convention e.g. Chicago, MLA, APA; they often don't verify, or in obscure sources (Billings Montana Gazette), or are taken out of context (parts of a quote removed) etc..in the comments a professor of history says if his undergrad student handed in a paper with notes like it he would have a "long talk" with them. The article has a lot more specific examples that start to strain Perlstein's credibility as a serious author and not a populist, which is a shame as I loved Nixonland, and will probably read this one as well. I'm wondering if his editors and publishers pushed him to make a popular history type of book and not worry about getting the facts right so much. Or they just didn't spend the money on editors and fact checkers and rushed it to market. It will be interesting to see if the lawsuit holds up.
posted by stbalbach at 5:38 PM on August 5, 2014


There's not much to that plagiarism claim, at least from what I read there.

As for Reagan, what a misfortune for America and the world. Even George W. Bush didn't seem so fucking delighted with himself in hurting the bad people. Nixon was bastard, but knew he was a bastard. Reagan, god, it's looking into the abyss. I want to read this, but it will be endlessly frustrating.
posted by spaltavian at 5:39 PM on August 5, 2014 [7 favorites]




Paul Krugman on the plagiarism accusations: Sliming Rick Perlstein
posted by Auden at 5:45 PM on August 5, 2014 [10 favorites]


Politically I always considered Reagan a pomade hairdo with ability to milk a dramatic pause and little else. I think history may prove me right...
posted by jim in austin at 5:45 PM on August 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


Reagan was a mostly b-movie actor whose timing was perfect for the role of a certain corny kind of good ole days President. He did a good job with the script he was provided, and very possibly didn't grasp a word of it.

Or as Gil Scott-Heron put it, "Acted like an actor, then he acted like a President."
posted by philip-random at 5:50 PM on August 5, 2014 [7 favorites]


To quote Andrew Bacevich, self-described Catholic Conservative:
Ronald Reagan . . . portrayed himself as conservative but was, in fact, the modern prophet of profligacy—the politician who gave moral sanction to the empire of consumption. Beguiling his fellow citizens with talk of “morning in America,” Reagan added to America’s civic religion two crucial beliefs: credit has no limits, and the bills will never come due. Balance the books, pay as you go, save for a rainy day—Reagan’s abrogation of these ancient bits of folk wisdom did as much to recast America’s moral constitution as did sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
posted by benito.strauss at 5:51 PM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


The Republican Party was in terrible straits. They had an internal pollster named Robert Teeter who later became a Reagan pollster. And he came out with numbers that became public that showed that 18 percent of the public supported or identified with the Republican Party.

And things got absurd when the head of the [Republican National Committee] commissioned a series of TV programs that were meant to be fundraisers called Republicans Are People Too. It was supposed to be a three-part series — ordinary Americans explaining why they stuck with the Republicans.


I would pay good money to see this.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 5:51 PM on August 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


phillip-random, you are, in some dimension out there, my brother. Hollyweird.
posted by benito.strauss at 5:52 PM on August 5, 2014




This "confused old man who did what he was told" meme misses his lifetime of meanness, pettiness and gleeful, self-congratulatory authoritarianism. He named names to HUAC, for Christ's sake!
posted by spaltavian at 5:56 PM on August 5, 2014 [20 favorites]


perfect for the role of a certain corny kind of good ole days President

My general impression too. Without getting too deep, you can see how his Ward Cleaver image is just what the parents and grandparents wanted to stamp out American counter-culture. The hippies were bad enough, but disco, punk, and satanic heavy metal required emergency action to reclaim "family values."
posted by p3t3 at 6:02 PM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]




Also, remember where Reagan launched his campaign.
posted by persona au gratin at 6:18 PM on August 5, 2014 [18 favorites]


The Gonzo Historian (The Atlantic) (apologies if this was already posted--tablet, etc.)
posted by box at 6:18 PM on August 5, 2014


Can't remember this quote, who said it, or how it went exactly, but the gist was that Reagan had a great gift of having his opponents in elections underestimate him. I think it's from before he ran for President in 1980.
posted by thelonius at 6:24 PM on August 5, 2014


Reagan was elected almost thirty-five years ago. For first time voters in 2016 the GOP might as well be worshiping Silent Cal Coolidge.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 6:34 PM on August 5, 2014


That Gonzo Historian is bothered by Perlstein's approach (which I'd be open to hearing an argument about), but lauds the following:
Garry Wills has as little use for Reagan as Perlstein does, but his book Reagan’s America, published in 1987, makes the more nuanced case that this most elusive of American political heroes was “just as simple, and just as mysterious, as our collective dreams and memories.” Thus he seemed the right man “at a time when the nation needed some reassuring.”
It's basically a shrug of the shoulders and "I dunno", wrapped in high-sounds words. What twaddle.
posted by benito.strauss at 6:39 PM on August 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


Oh, man, Coolidge. "You lose," that's a first-ballot presidential-one-liner Hall of Famer.

And yeah, that Atlantic thing is timely, but there's not necessarily a whole lot there.
posted by box at 6:42 PM on August 5, 2014


I always saw the Reagans as shrunken apple head puppets. I was a teenager during his presidency and not politically involved. I was always struck by how false he and nancy came across. Two shrunken apple bobble heads.
posted by futz at 6:45 PM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Very excited about this book - all of Perlstein's previous histories have been well written and researched and I don't expect that he's changed his MO any with this book, regardless of where the endnotes appear. Reagan was the first politician I was aware of in any real sense (I was seven when he was elected). I could tell then that he was telling people what they wanted to hear, not what they needed to hear, but I didn't get a full sense of just how disastrous his administration was until I hit high school. He was selling a load of BS, but that's what people wanted to hear, and most of us are the poorer for it.
posted by longdaysjourney at 6:48 PM on August 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


And even back then I knew that Trickle Down meant he was pissing on the little people.
posted by futz at 6:49 PM on August 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


"Perhaps the most expedient way to enable oneself to address the condition of poverty is to superficially espouse the signifiers of conservatism- of objectivism even, so that those who view the disenfranchised and the disadvantaged as a sort of Other may sublimate the desire to eliminate the members of said class into an inadvertently virtuous desire to elimate poverty as a human condition." - Nobody Ever
posted by exit at 7:03 PM on August 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


futz: do you think you were influenced by the Land of Confusion video?
posted by persona au gratin at 7:06 PM on August 5, 2014 [7 favorites]


Reagan did have a pic of CC in the Oval Office.
posted by persona au gratin at 7:12 PM on August 5, 2014


Some of the complaints, in the Open Letter piece, is that his footnotes were made available online and not in the book, are difficult to work with, they don't follow convention e.g. Chicago, MLA, APA; they often don't verify, or in obscure sources (Billings Montana Gazette)

Okay, the last one at least is utter bullshit. The link on Perlstein's website leads to newspapers.com, which (for a fee) shows you the newspaper page containing the cite. This is somehow supposed to be worse than citing to a book or journal that only exists either in an academic library or behind a paywall?
posted by asterix at 7:37 PM on August 5, 2014 [10 favorites]


Also, remember where Reagan launched his campaign.

Holy shit, did Reagan do anything good? I am not asking this facetiously--between his crappy stance on AIDS, his hatred of civil rights, throwing the federal government under the bus, ramping up the drug war while helping the Contras bring more cocaine into the country... he frankly reads as some sort of cartoonish villain. I'm not old enough to remember the actualities of the period, so I don't know if he was actually as monstrous as I believe him to be.
posted by TypographicalError at 7:58 PM on August 5, 2014 [9 favorites]


Reagan, like Bush II, had some really sharp people in his cadre. Great speech writers. And he was an actor, after all....

I also suspect he was in the beginnings of Alzheimer's during those years too. He seemed very spaced out and you could almost see the mental gears slipping if he wasn't on teleprompter or doing a speech....
posted by CrowGoat at 7:59 PM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Can't look up the Land of Confusion video right now. Who was the band and what year?
posted by futz at 8:01 PM on August 5, 2014


Can't look up the Land of Confusion video right now. Who was the band and what year?

Genesis, 1986. Video. Wikipedia.
posted by learnsome at 8:12 PM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Holy shit, did Reagan do anything good?
He kept tax rates low and reduced government spending.*

*not really
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:28 PM on August 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


" ... the soul of Reagan's appeal was how he made people feel good."

" ... the soul of Reagan's appeal was how he made rich white people feel good."

Fixed that for ya.
posted by Relay at 8:36 PM on August 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


Holy shit, did Reagan do anything good?

He apparently honesty, truly believed we could somehow get rid of nuclear weapons, but wasn't willing to give up SDI.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 8:37 PM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Huh. I was in college by then. I have absolutely no memory of that video. As strange as it may seem, none of my friends had a tv back then. We were album nerds. Genesis wasn't even on my radar. I don't think that I got cable until almost 2002. Anything is possible though.
posted by futz at 8:38 PM on August 5, 2014


Holy shit, did Reagan do anything good?

Yes, he did. And I say that as someone who hated him then, and still finds him pretty loathsome. He was sincerely committed to creating a world with seriously reduced nuclear arsenals. His methods weren't always great, and I think we all got lucky with the set of Soviet leaders he dealt with, but it was a sincere belief, and it managed to accomplish a lot.

But basically he made people feel good by 1) running up deficits like a 17-year who just discovered his parents credit cards, and 2) following the Ledeen Doctrine: "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business."

There might be room for a dispassionate accounting of his pros and cons, but the St. Ronnie movement practiced by many on the right, which is basically lies, means that many people* will never stop pointing out the really crappy stuff he did to counteract those who claim he was perfect an spotless. Which is kind of what has happened in this thread. I find it disappointing as a fan of history, but think it's good as an American citizen.


*myself included
posted by benito.strauss at 8:44 PM on August 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


Reagan, like Bush II, had some really sharp people in his cadre.

Yup, people like Donald Rumsfeld, or Dick Cheney. Really sharp people. Sharp like a knife between your ribs.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:48 PM on August 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


Reagan's campaign committed treason to get him elected for his first term in 1980:
In essence, there were ties sought, and then relationships opened with the Ayatollahs and the revolutionary government of Iran, and the allegation is, in these several books, that basically, contact was made by George Bush and Bill Casey, who later became the next CIA director, and had been in the OSS in World War II; and the point was that the Iranian government was being offered money and arms if they held onto the hostages. In other words, you don’t free the hostages before the election. You hold onto them.
...
But in December of 1992 and January of 1993, the congressional informal investigation had received material from the French and from the Russians that related to the fact that they had observed and noticed that these negotiations were in fact held. A book was later published by Pierre Salinger, who was with ABC news in France at the time, that made mention of these negotiations, and the French intelligence people had helped Bill Casey arrange them. So, there was confirmation from the French. It did not say that George H.W. Bush was involved. The Russians sent back a communication that their intelligence services had in fact observed, and been reported to, that the Republicans talked to the Iranians in Paris, and that both George Bush and Bill Casey were there. An Israeli agent named Ari Ben-Menashe said the same thing in a book, but he was essentially repudiated by the Israeli government. He said he wasn’t anybody, he didn’t know much, and that sort of dragged along. Nobody credited him, but in 1998 an examination came out, the history of the Israeli Mossad, by an English writer, that said basically, he was subject to a disinformation campaign. This did in fact happen. So, there you are. There’s recent material from the French, from the Russians, and from the Israelis, that the odds are much higher that this did in fact take place.

Whether Reagan was compos mentis enough even then to understand what had really gone on there is anybody's guess.
posted by jamjam at 9:11 PM on August 5, 2014 [12 favorites]


Here's a Salon review of Joan Didion's long essay on the Reagans, whom she had being paying close attention to since he was governor of California.

I think it might be the best thing on what made them tick, and how, much like another Californian president, so much of their enterprise was reduced and constrained by the societal strivings and contexts they inhabited.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 9:26 PM on August 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


If anyone's interested, this week's episode of Drunk History is about Hollywood and the final segment takes on Ronald and Nancy Reagan. It pretty much gives her the credit for turning him from a declining actor into a rising politician and posits that it was mostly motivated by her wanting to be famous.
posted by fuse theorem at 9:47 PM on August 5, 2014


Bears repeating any time Reagan's name comes up in any context: his administration oversaw one of the most egregious violations of the Constitution in American history.

In a sane world, any and all Saint Reagan homilies could be derailed by simply intoning the phrase "sold arms illegally to Iran to fund an illegal war in Nicaragua," and then we could all move on to debating the root causes of the Civil War again or something.
posted by gompa at 10:11 PM on August 5, 2014 [12 favorites]


He was a horrible president.
Spitting Image: Bumbledown - The Life and Times of Ronald Reagan
posted by dougzilla at 10:22 PM on August 5, 2014


Imagine four more years of Carter. That is how Reagan happened.
posted by buzzman at 10:33 PM on August 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


It wasn't just the Land of Confusion video. Spitting Image was a big hit in the UK and a number of clips were shown on US network TV, and it even had a very-short-lived US edition. The ugly caricature style was also heavily influenced by the work of Gerald Scarfe and Robbie Conal.

Old, but belongs here: Is This How You Remember Ronald Reagan? (Cartoon) [licensed publication]
posted by dhartung at 11:17 PM on August 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


Spitting Image vs Joshua Tree era U2 ...

Nobody Knows What I'm On About
posted by philip-random at 11:57 PM on August 5, 2014


Holy shit, did Reagan do anything good?

Not one fucking goddamn thing. GWB II might have been the fella that actually broke the country, but the conditions that made it possible for him to do so can be laid entirely to that pickled old shitwad's tenure.
posted by mwhybark at 12:16 AM on August 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


I went to (then West) Germany in 1986 to be an exchange student. I was a pretty naive 18 year old, excited to experience a new country and culture.

I was not prepared to have nearly everyone I came into contact with confront me with the actions of the US government as if I was somehow personally responsible for the choices and policies of Reagan.

It's pretty easy, living within the culture bubble that is the US, to be very ignorant of exactly how the US was (and is) viewed by most of the rest of the world.

Within the US, there is a culture of exceptionalism and a view that the US should, of course, be involved in every country's affairs at all times. Because we are Super Special and that is our role in the world.

In the rest of the world, the US is largely seen as a bully with selfish motives but which has so many resources and so much power that it is impossible to ignore its wishes or to contradict it in any effective way.

This was true in Reagan's time, before Reagan's time, and remains true today. But Reagan did more to further this view of the US than any other president in my lifetime.

That single year living outside of US borders did more to open my eyes to the ACTUAL state of world politics as viewed by people living in other countries (not their governments) than anything else before or since, and it's a lesson I have never forgotten.

It's really hard to express this to people in the US who have never lived outside of US borders. Because the bubble is a pretty mighty construct, and a fish doesn't know about the water it swims in.
posted by hippybear at 1:22 AM on August 6, 2014 [11 favorites]


Also, Reagan and AIDS. Fuck him right in the ear.
posted by hippybear at 1:23 AM on August 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


Four more years of Carter sounds heavenly. James Carter may be one of the best human beings to occupy the oval office.
posted by maxwelton at 2:16 AM on August 6, 2014 [14 favorites]


Reagan v Mondale was the first presidential election I voted in. To this day, even just the mention of Reagan's name makes my fists clench and my right eye twitch. What a disaster he was for this country; the effects are still being felt.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 4:36 AM on August 6, 2014 [5 favorites]


I think we forget sometimes how parts of the professional Left had turned itself into a cartoon villain in the couple of decades leading up to Reagan, and that Reagan was able to turn himself into a cartoon superhero in response.

In the '20s and '30s, workmen would get beat up by Henry Ford's thugs. In the '50s and '60s, it was the unions who hired the thugs and beat up workmen.

In the '30s, people could clearly see Veblen's point that capitalists were sabotaging the production system [PDF] because they couldn't make a profit; in the '70s, many folks felt that unions were doing the same for their own benefit, to the detriment of everybody else.

Unions supported Reagan in the 1980 election, but when he broke the air traffic controller's strike in 1981, "the public sided with the government and exhibited little sympathy for individuals whose earnings were already well above the national average."

The same thing happened for Margaret Thatcher in the 1984 miner's strike.

Most people at the time thought it was clear that unions had gotten awfully selfish and needed a lesson taught to them. Where we made our mistake as a society was in thinking that business owners and managers were any less selfish, and that freeing them from the heavy hand of government would lead us to the promised land that shone out from Reagan's optimistic smile.
posted by clawsoon at 5:34 AM on August 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


Reagan's popularity went up and down over his eight years. During 82/83, he typically had net disapproval ratings. Disapproval blipped up slightly during Iran-Contra as well. Reagan's approval ratings recovered during 84, just in time for the elections, but the real "golden age" of Reagan was only during 84, 85, part of 86--the period between "morning in America" and Iran-Contra.

Interesting to compare Bush Senior, who had the opposite luck--great approval ratings until election time came around. Or Clinton, who had some rocky going around 1994, but was otherwise pretty solidly popular.
posted by gimonca at 5:38 AM on August 6, 2014


buzzman: Imagine four more years of Carter. That is how Reagan happened.

Okay sure. He presides over a strong economic recovery in 1984, gets the credit and is fondly remembered as a Clinton-like figure who helped the economy after the stagflation of the Ford years.

Perception is a funny thing. The narrative you're counting on us understanding is based upon timing and the relative success of competing political operatives.

Want to remember Carter has a strong, determined commander-in-chief? Have that helicopter not crash in the Iranian desert. Suddenly, Carter is a bad ass. Do you think the success of Desert One really had anything to do with Carter himself? The broad strokes of history is made of trends and systems, but the fine detail is contingency. Carter would have been a prefectly fine president in 1981-85.
posted by spaltavian at 5:56 AM on August 6, 2014 [12 favorites]


Carter was a good man, and it could be that good men don't make good presidents. He genuinely listened to the American people -- his so-called malaise speech was a direct response to a intensive program to understand and respond to American concerns. It could be that people who trust democracy do not make good presidents. He brokered peace, and it could be that peacemakers don't make good presidents. He pushed for reasonable and competent government, and it could be that neither reasonable nor competent are qualities we look for in a president. He pushed for a sustainable energy future, and it could be that looking out for future generations is not something we want from our presidents. He honored the Constitution and the law, and it may be that we do not want presidents who care about such things. He pushed for health care and education reforms, and we may not want health and education to be a priority.

Reagan, who was none of these things, has a hagiography. Carter, who was all of them, is treated as a punch line. We get the president we deserve, but I just wish we could be the country that deserved presidents like Carter.
posted by maxsparber at 6:36 AM on August 6, 2014 [31 favorites]


re: The Gonzo Historian

Perlstein's gift for energetic caricature and his taste for bizarre incidents have overpowered his impulse to sift through the ideas and beliefs that animate his subjects, and to grapple seriously with a politics rooted in authentic if not always coherent dissent... An insistent vulgarity has overtaken Perlstein's prose, and it implies contempt...

i would dispute the 'authenticity of dissent' and hence the characterization of 'caricature'; which party has become more 'vulgar' and deserving of contempt?

Our country, it seems, is fast becoming two separate nations. Each has its own political party, its own cable-news sermonizers; its own digital oracles, scandal-mongers, and data miners; its own billionaire donors and advocacy groups; its own economists and corps of scientific experts.

which brings to mind another noahpinion tweet: "The word 'privilege' means 'private law'. Matt Taibbi's new book is about how rich Americans live under private law."

oh and speaking of divides, ideological blindness and anti-empiricism...
-California and Minnesota appear to be outpacing Wisconsin and Kansas [in private employment]
-Kansas was supposed to be the GOP's tax-cut paradise. Now it can barely pay its bills.
-States That Raised Minimum Wage See Faster Job Growth, Report Says
-State's job growth defies predictions after tax increases
posted by kliuless at 6:39 AM on August 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


I can't get over an ad that runs incessantly on CNBC for reverse mortgages, "based on a notion signed into law by President Reagan." I guess this nice, folksy invocation of Saint Ronny's memory still plays well to the target demographic.
posted by malocchio at 7:40 AM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


Reagan represented a crucial turning point in our history: The ascendance of the well-connected hucksters. It should have been obvious to everyone he was as much a snake-oil salesmen as the high-profile TV evangelists he resembled. But it can be hard to tell the difference between genuine visionaries and salesmen. Reagan was the latter, playing a classic confidence game in emphasizing self-reliance and reassuring people that they didn't need help from any government programs or welfare state to make America great. It really is the classic confidence game when you look at the basic premise of Reagan conservatism more critically: all you need is to believe in yourself and everything will work out for the best. And if what we're selling doesn't seem to be working out for you, maybe you're just doing it wrong and deserve what you get--at the very least, don't bring everybody else down by complaining like an ingrate.

It's so fitting that the notion of "lifting yourself up by your own bootstraps"--a metaphor that aggressively ignores real-world physics in favor of magical thinking and "Will to Power" philosophical woo--became a rallying point for the movement Reagan advanced. It was always a movement that proceeded from absurd and patently impossible premises (just as it is and has always been literally impossible to pick yourself up by your own bootstraps), but it offered the public the implicit, romantic promise that sufficient force of will, determination and grit could overcome even the laws of physics and make the absurd possible. It was a movement with magical thinking and counter-factual beliefs at its core from the very start, a movement that in domestic policy put more faith in romantic fantasy and miracles than in cold hard reality, despite the gleefully ruthless and sleazy realpolitik of Reagan's foreign policy.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:04 AM on August 6, 2014 [8 favorites]


Instead, he and his publisher decided to move the end notes entirely out of the book and put them on a website, rickperlstein.net, where as many citations as possible will be linked directly to the books and documents from which they’re drawn. (from stbalbach's second link)

Sounds like a typical bad corporation committee decision. Those dinosaurs who like to sit in a chair with a book and read it will hate this.
posted by bukvich at 8:06 AM on August 6, 2014


Reagan did have a pic of CC in the Oval Office.
posted by persona au gratin


Clarence Carter?

I'll show myself out.
posted by COBRA! at 8:17 AM on August 6, 2014


Bonzo went to Bitburg.
posted by e1c at 8:19 AM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


He apparently honesty, truly believed we could somehow get rid of nuclear weapons,

Yes. Reagan was the last president to publicly advocate for and make an effort towards nuclear disarmament until Barack Obama. Strange but true. The funny thing was that it was other Republicans-- the ones who would populate the Bush I and Bush II administrations -- who were strongly opposed to the nuclear reduction treaties under Reagan.

I was 6 when Reagan was elected, so he is more or less the first president I really "remember". And I just didnt "get" him and still don't. His supposed charisma doesn't resonate with me. It's like my personal being isn't able to connect with the resonant frequency that Reagan was communicating with. Part of it was possibly the era-- I don't remember the 70s, and wasn't there for whatever Reagan was offering relief from.

But even to this day there are things about "charismatic" public figures I don't "get." I am a huge Obama fan, but part of his appeal is that I intellectually recognize him as "this is a person who speaks in a way that appeals to the public" rather than presents an appeal that resonates with me, personally. (By contrast, Bill connects with me on an emotional level)

I really think that Reagan is a "you had to be there" politician. No one under 30 is going to "get" him. But that was his success, wasn't it? He was a person who provided what people wanted at a certain time and place.
posted by deanc at 8:42 AM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


this thread has been interesting in a good way. I'm almost thinking it should be required reading for all high school age children of the western world, lest they fall for all the Reagan hagiography bullshit that's still circulating out there.

I mean, isn't anybody going to speak up for the ole Gipper?
posted by philip-random at 9:25 AM on August 6, 2014


Aw, even Ayn Rand hated him:

"What do I think of President Reagan? The best answer to give would be: But I don't think of him - and the more I see, the less I think. I did not vote for Reagan (or for anyone else) and events seem to justify me. The appalling disgrace of Reagan's administration is his connection with the so-called "Moral Majority" and sundry other TV religionists, who are struggling - apparently with his approval - to take us back to the Middle Ages, via the unconstitutional union of religion and politics. The threat to the future of capitalism is the fact that Reagan might fail so badly that he will become another ghost, like Herbert Hoover, to be invoked as an example of capitalism's failure for another 50 years." (video)
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:30 AM on August 6, 2014 [6 favorites]


George Gipp? Hell of a football player for Notre Dame. Unfortunate early death.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 9:31 AM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


C'mon. Even the idea of Reagan agitates me. Now I have to find out I'm in agreement with Ayn Rand??!! Ouch.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 10:16 AM on August 6, 2014 [5 favorites]


Hm. I don't agree with her poor hating policy, but I do approve of her Reagan hating policy...
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:26 AM on August 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


Imagine four more years of Carter. That is how Reagan happened.
posted by buzzman at 10:33 PM on August 5 [2 favorites −] Favorite added! [!]


Yep. People HATED Carter - they saw him as weak, intellectual, effeminate, and a poor leader. Plus, he told people news they didn't want to hear, like urging them to conserve energy.

Didn't Reagan rip out all the solar panels on White House property that Jimmy Carter had installed? It was one of the first things he did when he got into office, and people liked that.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 12:28 PM on August 6, 2014


Some more info. about Reagan's legacy (I searched for mental health) from Salon.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 12:32 PM on August 6, 2014


even Ayn Rand hated him

Ayn Rand hated everyone who wasn't Ayn Rand.
posted by asterix at 12:57 PM on August 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


Ingrates! If it wasn't for him, you'd be typing all your snark in Grenadian!
posted by Chitownfats at 2:59 PM on August 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


Most people at the time thought it was clear that unions had gotten awfully selfish and needed a lesson taught to them.

This is sufficiently sweeping for me to call bullshit. There was certainly an ascendant counter-union propaganda campaign, one that has largely succeeded in changing the terms of discourse such that unions in the US have a hell of a hard row to hoe to get back to where we as a society need them to be.

But I dispute vigorously your contention that that mindset represented a majority view among either the general or voting populace. Among media elites? Well, I think there is a case to be made that the decsion-makers in US media held pretty much exactly your stated view and worked their asses off to make sure it was the best represented viewpoint in media at large at the time.
posted by mwhybark at 5:06 PM on August 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


Didn't Reagan rip out all the solar panels on White House property that Jimmy Carter had installed? It was one of the first things he did when he got into office, and people Big Oil liked that.

ftfy
posted by mwhybark at 5:07 PM on August 6, 2014


Reagan and the Great Man in history
Something of the opposite problem is found on the left. I haven’t read Perlstein yet, but a lot of the discussion is based on an implicit or explicit assumption that the shift to the right in the US since the 1970s can be explained by the successful organizing efforts of movement conservatism, culminating in Reagan’s 1980 election victory. That’s an explanation with a lot of contingency attached. Suppose, for example, that the attempted rescue of the Iranian embassy hostages in April 1980 had been a success. That, along with some fortuitous good economic news, might have been enough to propel Carter to victory. By 1984, Reagan would have been too old to run as a challenger, and Bush senior would probably have been nominated.
On Reaganolatry
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:11 PM on August 8, 2014


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