Friday, December 12, 2008

Anger is an energy

Nixonland, by Rick Perlstein, is my favorite book of the year by far. It is a lengthy, detailed, yet entertainingly written account of the rise of Richard Nixon and his relationship with the "Silent Majority." Perlstein argues that Nixon recognized that many in the U.S feared the impact of black anger, changing sexual mores and the rejection of much of American culture by young Americans. Nixon stoked these fears and spoke to them. The Democrats tended to exacerbate these fears rather, playing into Nixon's hands.

One of the most interesting aspects is the intense anger that people on both sides felt and the alarming level of, and celebration of, violence as an extension of politics. Perlstein shows the frightening reaction to the Kent State and My Lai killings. As the word came in as to what really happened, many letter writers applauded the actions of the soldiers.

On the other side, the Yippies called for the murder of parents and at least one prominent leftist cheered the Tate murders, as the victim was merely a pig. Political enemies were viewed as essentially inhuman and not only should one not be sad that they died, but in fact they should be happy. While the demonization of political opponents is a problem that continues down to our day, we have nothing remotely similar to the broad acceptance of violence in today's political culture.

Be sure read to read Ross Douthat's conservative critique of the book. Here is author Rick Perlstein speaking with David Frum about the book on

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