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

Conviction Politics

It may be a bit much to begin my remarks by putting pressure, like a deconstructionist, on a single word -- a word that may have been just a throwaway -- but I'll take the risk. Near the beginning of his thoughtful essay, Alan Brinkley writes, “[I]t's not hard to imagine centrist Democrats winning presidential elections in the future, even in four years.” The word that stuck out for me is “centrist.” I do find it hard to imagine a Democrat who counts “centrism” as among his defining features winning a presidential election in the future. I'm not proposing liberal purity in centrism's stead; there are still lessons to be learned from some Democrats' earlier failures to frame themselves within the cultural mainstream. But this easy, a priori assumption that centrism solves all the problems that liberalism throws up needs to be seriously re-examined in light of this year's presidential election results. In The New Republic , Jonathan Chait recently argued that “New Democrat–style...

Patriot Act?

Earlier this month, Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark gave the keynote address at the second annual convention of Military Reporters and Editors (MRE), the professional organization for journalists who cover the military. In his speech, Clark threw in his lot with those who believe that President Bush misled the nation in order to lay the groundwork for the Iraq War. Clark insisted, in his most striking formulation, that the war was "fundamentally elective, fundamentally our choice," and a distraction from the work of fighting terrorism at home. The timing of these sentiments didn't sit well with some reporters. In his new book, Winning Modern Wars , Clark wrote how as early as November 2001, a senior military staff officer confirmed to him that an Iraq invasion would go forward on the pretext, in the wake of September 11, that Saddam Hussein's regime was a dangerous state sponsor of terrorism. What's more, his source told him -- "with reproach" and "with disbelief,...

The Historical Present

T he phone call made me nervous. I'd never been offered an all-expense-paid press junket before. Wasn't this the sort of thing you'd expect from a petroleum conglomerate, sponsoring a conference on debunking global warming? Instead, a humble scholarly organization, the Historical Society (THS), was proposing to fly me to Atlanta, Georgia, for its annual meeting. What's more, the group wanted to put me up in a nice hotel, where it would pay all the tabs I cared to charge them. What could these people possibly be up to? The Historical Society's executive director, Louis Ferleger, a fast talker, attempted to put me at ease. Of course I could write anything I cared to, in any publication; or, if things didn't work out, in no publication at all.I asked him where the money was coming from. Following his own political instincts, said Ferleger, he had first approached liberal funders, but right-wing foundations were the only ones that ponied up. Then he practically leaped through the phone...

As Reviewed on Amazon

I first delved into the reviews posted by readers on Amazon.com for utilitarian reasons. I will soon be publishing a serious nonfiction book; I wanted to know what kind of attention such a book could expect to get from this particular sample of the reading public. My case study, I decided, would be Susan Faludi's Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man . I came, I clicked, I read. Stiffed , as of this writing, has been reviewed by 75 Amazon.com users. Quite a few pieces were thoughtful and well-turned, often outstripping in quality the capsule reviews that run in outlets like Booklist and Library Journal . I began availing myself of the feature that lets you see all the other pieces a particular reviewer has posted, and a brief autobiography. There was the man who has devoted his retirement to the study and practice of social criticism; the "graying engineer" who recommended Stiffed to his fellow Promise Keepers; the environmental science student at Rice University whose searching...

The TV Campaign

T he morning after the first televised debate between Al Gore and George W. Bush, I awoke to the voice of an earnestly boyish reporter on National Public Radio proclaiming that at long last America has been allowed to hear its candidates "without the filter of the news media." At which, in wearied frustration, I promptly fell back asleep. I dreamed about an uncanny universe whose logic is slightly askew from our own. Its two most ostentatious planets orbit each other in binary symbiosis, but curiously, the astronomical charts call them adversarial entities. I awoke. And suddenly I understood the relationship between the presidential candidates and the media that "cover" them. Over the past six weeks, I have spent a portion of nearly every evening flipping among the three networks' nightly news shows, watching their campaign coverage. It didn't take long, just two or three minutes most nights. (It would have been longer had NBC not given...

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