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HISTORIA | Christopher Caldwell har läst Rick Perlsteins The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan.

BOOKFORUM SEP-OCT-NOV 2014

I hans recension i Bookforum finns några intressanta reflektioner kring varför Ronald Reagans blev så populär och idag räknas som en av de stora presidenterna i USA. Till och med Barack Obama har erkänt hans betydelse i amerikansk politik.

“He wore a purple plaid suit his staff abhorred and a pinstripe shirt and polka-dot tie and a folded white silk puffing up extravagantly out of his pocket.” This was not some tea-sipping Edwardian dandy. It was Ronald Reagan announcing his presidential candidacy at the National Press Club in November 1975, as described by the historian Rick Perlstein. Back then, Reagan was, to most people, a novelty candidate, with a bit of the fop or eccentric about him. Political affinities and antipathies have since hardened into a useful but wholly unreliable historical “truth” about Reagan’s political career, one that casts him as either a hero or a villain. It requires an effort of the imagination to see him as the voters he addressed did.

[…]

“Reagan’s interpersonal intelligence,” Perlstein writes, “was something to behold.” He saw things no one else saw. His greatest triumphs came on issues that he advanced in the face of unanimous advice to the contrary. He defeated a popular California governor, Pat Brown, by attacking campus radicalism when “the most sophisticated public opinion research that money could buy told him not to touch it,” Perlstein writes. Reagan called for smaller government when other Republican governors were trying to rally the public around “strong land-use planning.” He drove much of the country into a frenzy over the US handover of the Panama Canal, a transition that had been uncontroversially under negotiation for decades. And, alone among Republicans, he refused to hedge his bets about Richard Nixon—he stood squarely by him, even sloughing off Nixon’s ingratitude and contempt. What did Watergate say about America? Nothing, Reagan said. That is what most Americans thought, or wanted to think.

Reagan is a protean personality. In certain lights, he was a Cold War liberal who just had an ear for right-wing dialect. As California governor, he doubled the state budget, passed a strict gun-control law, and signed the most liberal abortion law in the country. Perlstein is struck by “how effortlessly his mind swirled fiction and fantasy into soul-satisfying confections.” But this is the basic work of all democratic politicians, liberal and conservative, and it is wrong to fling around the word lie, as Perlstein often does, to describe such flights. So, for instance, when Reagan claimed that segregation in the military was corrected “in World War II,” he was, yes, three years off—Truman signed the executive order desegregating the armed forces in 1948. But he was also right to identify the war as having brought about a change in ideas about race. When Reagan said welfare could erode national character, his numbers were inaccurate—but the alternative, as voters saw it, was politicians who would deny any evidence to that effect.

In his youthful work as a sportscaster in the Midwest, Reagan stumbled into the perfect formula for democratic leadership: He gained “the company of VIPs [while] maintaining an image as an ordinary guy.”

Tidskriftsomslag: Bookforum, september/oktober/november 2014.

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