I must say to you that the state of our Union is not good — President Gerald Ford
The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan by Rick Perlstein is a political history of the United States from the late 1960s to the Republican Convention in 1976. Perlstein holds a BA in history for the University of Chicago and did graduate work at the University of Michigan in American Studies. His previous books include Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus and Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America.
This is a book that covered most of my childhood and brought back a flood of memories. It not only covered the politics but the culture too. Vietnam, Patty Hearst, POWs, Legionnaires disease, horse meat, Dirty tricks, Berkeley student protests, changing sexual ideas, ERA, bicentennial, The Exorcist, Henry Aaron, The Freedom Train, streaking, Evel Knievel, textbook wars, WIN, Born Again, Weather Underground, and Saturday Night Live are all included in this troubled period. From Nixon’s disgrace, to Ford’s healing America, to a Georgia peanut farmer all give rise to a man from California, Ronald Reagan. “People wanted to believe. Ronald Reagan was able to make them believe.” Perlstein captures not only the history but also the spirit of the times.
Perlstein gives detailed biographies of Reagan and Betty Ford. Betty Ford was quite progressive for her time and made quite a stir with her opinions. That was part of the history I did not remember. President Ford, I remembered mostly for his pardoning of Nixon and Chevy Chase’s impersonations on Saturday Night Live. Ford, not Carter, was the “nice guy” president. Ford wanted to heal the nation and return the nation to prosperity. His efforts at times almost seem comical, WIN -Whip Inflation Now was one of the better known programs. My take is, that more than anything, Ford was the bridge that allowed the healing.
In the background are the other players. Kissinger maintains a large role and smaller roles by still familiar names like Pat Buchanan, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson start the beginnings of the Moral Majority and the Christian Right. With Jimmy Carter, Billy Carter is also brought forward and rival Scoop Jackson.
Another revelation for me just how contested the the Republican primary of 1976 turned out to be. Ford nearly became the first sitting president not to win his party’s nomination since Cester A. Arthur. The Republican party was deeply divided between Ford and Reagan. It took the floor vote to nominate Ford before the result was known for sure. Ford came very close to losing and may have loss if it wasn’t for Reagans choice of running mate — Senator Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania.
What makes The Invisible Bridge a great book is the writing. I knew the history before reading the book. History records that it was Ford and Dole in 1976 and not Reagan and Schweiker, but reading the book creates a sense of suspense. There are several situations where history may have been very different, and I just never realized how close things came to being very different. Perlstein writes a history book that wants to be read and keeps the reader’s interest through to the end. An outstanding modern history.
Book Review: The Pinata Pages: Commentary on Our Times
The Pinata Pages: Commentary on Our Times by Rachel Gladstone-Gelman is a collection of articles from the author’s former blog. Gladstone-Gelman earned an MA in Teaching ESOL and has previously published a poetry collection and two chapbooks. She is described as being fiercely political and a strong advocate of voter’s rights, the environment, animal rights, gun control, and other social concerns. She now lives with her family in Canada and can be found at pinatapoet.com
Many of us have a politician or political event that makes us examine our own lives or sets our path. My parents raved over JFK and for my grandmother it was FDR. For me, it was Ronald Reagan. My enchantment with politics didn’t last. By the time I earned my MA in International Relations, I was completely fed up with mainstream American politics. Glastone-Gelman’s moment came with the election of Stephan Harper as Canadian Prime Minister and she deleted her blog. From what I have gathered ,from the few Canadians I have talked to, Harper is an evil super-villain created by right wing American Republicans from the collective DNA of the George W. Bush Administration; I exaggerate, but, well, politics is hyperbole.
“However, those who will not be swayed are liable to kill a law that can save lives. When you wake up under hybrid governance, you don’t see Stalin or Mao, only fearful Americans bent on invoking those ghosts.”
The Pinata Pages covers a wide range of social issues and at times the hypocrisy that accompanies them. No one likes high taxes but complaining about taxes, and at the same time taking full advantage of all the tax payer funded services is a bit ‘hypocritical. Taking care of our planet is covered: “Fracking is goading Earth to crack and shake more often, and only the ethically challenged would see it as no big deal.” Airport security: Gladstone-Gelman gives America’s own TSA a working over when she compares it to Ben Gurion Airport or even Greyhound. Most importantly, it all seems to be money and how it is used.
Many political blogs make their stand with axes and torches slashing and burning not only what stands against their cause but anything in the area. Gladstone-Gelman takes on the issues with a laser. No matter the issue, she addresses in a straight forward manner and genuinely believes in what she is writing. She takes a strong stand and shows no hypocrisy.
Books (and blogs) like The Pinata Pages are important and necessary. Many Americans think of Canada as a liberal paradise (or hell, depending on your political posture). Canada is neither extreme leftist nor a product of conservative America evil doers. However, Gladstone-Gelman, along with many others, do not like to see middle or lower middle class electing governments that work against their interests. The word needs to get out, and The Pinata Pages does this in a very educated, level headed, way:
“When I look back at the ’70s and then at what civilization has accomplished/done until now, all I can say is that civilization took some really cool ideas and has been using them, mostly, the wrong way.”
I couldn’t agree more. Excellent read for both Americans and Canadians. As political commentary, it rates four and a half stars.
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