Rick Perlstein

Rick Perlstein is the author of Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America and Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus. He is a senior fellow and blogger at the Campaign for America's Future.

Recent Articles

A Liberal Shock Doctrine

History teaches us that presidents have to move quickly to enact progressive reforms before the window of opportunity closes forever. It's a lesson Barack Obama should take to heart.

Progressive political change in American history is rarely incremental. With important exceptions, most of the reforms that have advanced our nation's status as a modern, liberalizing social democracy were pushed through during narrow windows of progressive opportunity -- which subsequently slammed shut with the work not yet complete. The post–Civil War reconstruction of the apartheid South, the Progressive Era remaking of the institutions of democratic deliberation, the New Deal, the Great Society: They were all blunt shocks. Then, before reformers knew what had happened, the seemingly sturdy reform mandate faded and Washington returned to its habits of stasis and reaction. The Oval Office's most effective inhabitants have always understood this. Franklin D. Roosevelt hurled down executive orders and legislative proposals like thunderbolts during his First Hundred Days, hardly slowing down for another four years before his window slammed shut; Lyndon Johnson, aided by John F. Kennedy...

LOUISIANA REPRESENTS.

Some of you might have read about the Democrats' success this past weekend in winning Louisiana's formerly Republican 6th Congressional District. And what kind of district is the Fightin' 6th? I just realized I mention it in passing in NIXONLAND because from 1943 to '66 it was represented by a relative liberal named James H. Morrison who backed LBJ's Great Society, until he was defeated by a conservative named John Rarick , who served for eight years. Rarick won that first election by claiming his opponent was backed by the "Black Power voting bloc," said the election monitors watching over the racially tense Baton Rouge district according to the terms of the 1965 Voting Rights Act were "federal spies," and went on to become congress's spokesman for Americans who believed Communists were secretly poisoning Americans by fluoridating the water supply. I mentioned this particular race as one of the many bellwethers that spelled the beginning of the end for Great Society liberalism in the...

"Then No One Would Be a Democrat Anymore"

In 1970, Richard Nixon, inspired by a spontaneous construction workers' riot, settled on the political strategy that would win him the 1972 election by a landslide and dominate American politics to this day.

Editor's Note : The following is an excerpt of Rick Perstein's Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America , out May 15 from Scribner. Perlstein joins us this week as a contributor on our group blog, TAPPED. That flag: during the Vietnam Moratorium, New York's Mayor Lindsay ordered it flown at half-staff as a memorial to the war dead. An enraged city council member from Queens tramped up to the City Hall roof and pulled the banner back up himself. "Meanwhile," the Washington Post reported on October 16, 1969, "officials of the Patrolmen's Benevolent and Uniformed Firefighters Association claimed almost total success in their campaign to keep firehouse and precinct station flags at full staff." After Kent State, Lindsay ordered city flags lowered again. At noon on Friday, May 8, in a cold Manhattan drizzle, students from across the city gathered at George Washington's statue in front of Federal Hall on Wall Street, where representatives of the thirteen colonies...

A FORGOTTEN LIBERAL ARIA.

Doing my research for Nixonland , I was dismayed to learn to that two of the greatest Democratic speeches are nowhere to be found across the entire howling wilderness of the Internet. The first was delivered by Edmund Muskie on November 2, 1970. Richard Nixon was placing enormous stock for the Republicans in the 1970 congressional elections, and for good reason: the country seemed to be falling into chaos, and both he and Vice President Spiro Agnew had spent all spring, summer, and fall in an apparently successful effort to link the wellsprings of the chaos to the Democratic Party. Come November, however, the Republicans had their asses handed to them. (For instsance, George H.W. Bush , promised that the only way Lloyd Bentsen could outflank him from the right was to "drop off the face of the earth"--and lost.) Why? These things are complicated; they always are. Over two-thirds of Americans disapproved of the President's handling of the economy, as the Democrats were hammering Nixon...

Look Back in Anger

Democrats have their majority in the House, and that's cause for celebration. But as of this writing several House races are still listed as "too close to call." The Senate has also changed hands -- after the Virginia race narrowly escaped a recount, and Republicans came close to challenging the results in Montana and Missouri. Whether Democrats possess enough of a congressional majority to truly put fear into Republicans, and add backbone to Democrats nervous about challenging the president, is still very much in the air. Meanwhile, we are forced to reckon with an uncomfortable question. Republicans cheat. To what extend did their cheating on Election Day keep the will of the people from being fully registered? Just how close did it come to keeping the new majority from arriving? And what does the kind of cheating we saw Tuesday -- and its antecedents in the past and its likely echoes in the future -- portend for the project of turning liberalism once again into the dominant force in...

Pages