Book tracks insurgence that propelled Reagan

  • By Michael Hill Associated Press
  • Monday, August 4, 2014 6:06pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

“The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan” (Simon &Schuster), by Rick Perlstein

Even Republicans piled on President Richard Nixon as the Watergate scandal wore on. But not California Gov. Ronald Reagan. He said Watergate was being “blown out of proportion” and was “none of my business.” Rick Perlstein writes that incredulous reporters thought Reagan was acting like a “genial ostrich” ignoring the looming reckoning for American government.

Ostrich or no, Reagan’s point of view resonated with people — or at least some people. “There were two tribes in America now,” Perlstein writes early in the book. And Reagan spoke powerfully to one of those tribes: the ones who were organizing around grievances like forced busing, the ones who had the sense that the orderly America they loved was receding.

“The Invisible Bridge” is the story of “the right-wing insurgency bubbling barely beneath the surface” through the mid ‘70s. And it’s the story of the national rise of the politician who benefited the most from that insurgency.

Perlstein wrote about Sen. Barry Goldwater and the rise of modern American conservatism in “Before the Storm” and continued his political and cultural history with “Nixonland.” This third book ends with Reagan’s narrow loss to President Gerald Ford at the 1976 Republican convention, which served as a marker to how far the conservative movement had come in a generation.

To call this book rich in anecdotes is an understatement. Perlstein adopts a you-are-there narrative that gives the reader a sense of what average Americans took in during the turbulent period from Watergate to the 1976 elections.

Readers learn about Nixon and Reagan, sure, but also about the only-in-the-’70s phenomena like EST workshops, in which people paid $250 to have insults screamed at them. The account of John Dean’s televised Watergate testimony includes both blow-by-blow details and a snippet from the commercial aired during the hearing for Final Net (“So you finally got little Jamie married!”).

Reagan fans looking for a heroic tale will be disappointed. Perlstein’s default mode is irreverence, and his Reagan is a storyteller who does not let the messy complexity of reality get in the way of simple answers. He calls the future president an “athlete of denial.” Democrat Jimmy Carter fares no better here. Perlstein portrays him as an opportunistic candidate happy to tell people what they want to hear.

At more than 800 pages, the narrative bogs down during the Watergate hearings and in some other places. But the mini-biography of Reagan nestled in the pages is a page turner, as is Perlstein’s climactic account of the nail-biter presidential nominating convention in 1976. Ford won the nomination but Reagan won the hearts of many Republicans who wondered if they had just launched the wrong candidate into the general election.

Even Reagan couldn’t please everyone, though.

Perlstein writes that Goldwater, Mr. Conservative himself, complained that Reagan had become “one of those people, the really ideological ones who won’t change.”

———

Online:

http://rickperlstein.org/

More in Life

‘Last Jedi’ is the best ‘Star Wars’ movie since the first one

This instant-classic popcorn movie makes clever references to the past while embracing the new.

Jesse Sykes brings her evolving sounds to Cafe Zippy in Everett

She and Phil Wandscher make a return trip to a club that she values for its intimacy.

Red wine usually costs more, but you can still find bargains

Here are five good-quality reds that won’t drain your grocery budget.

Beer of the Week: Skull Splitter and Blood of My Enemies

Aesir Meadery of Everett and Whiskey Ridge Brewing of Arlington collaborated to make two braggots.

Beer, wine, spirits: Snohomish County booze calendar

Ugly Sweater Party and Canned Food Drive at Whitewall: Marysville’s Whitewall Brewing… Continue reading

Student winners to perform concertos with Mukilteo orchestra

This annual show is a partnership with the Snohomish County Music Teachers Association.

‘Ferdinand’ a modern take on the beloved children’s story

The lovable bull is back in an enjoyable but spotty animated film from the makers of “Ice Age.”

Playwright alleges misconduct by Hoffman when she was 16

A classmate of Dustin Hoffman’s daughter says the actor exposed himself in 1980.

Art mimicks reality in engrosing ‘On the Beach at Night Alone’

The Korean film tells the story of an actress recovering from an affair with a married director.

Most Read