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The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan (2014)

af Rick Perlstein

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4351842,709 (4.27)6
The best-selling author of Nixonland presents a portrait of the United States during the turbulent political and economic upheavals of the 1970s, covering events ranging from the Arab oil embargo and the era of Patty Hearst to the collapse of the South Vietnamese government and the rise of Ronald Reagan.… (mere)
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I've knocked off a half star because of too much cultural history and the often ambiguity of what year a particular event is occurring in -- he sometimes skips around a bit in time. Otherwise, it's another worthy volume in his series on the rise of the right in America.

The events in this volume coincide with most of my college years -- years in which my interests were my studies and my friendships, with current events something to just shake my head at with dismay. So there is a lot about the 1976 presidential campaigns in this book that I hadn't known about at the time. We all thought Ford was a pretty bad president, but herein are the facts of just how bad. It's also very good on tying together the events in Reagan's life with his emerging political "philosophy", if it can be called that. The first Republican president to be rather on the dim side but just so folksy and seemingly harmless, the book shows how right-wing politicos and pundits were brought into his inner circle and kept his schtick going.

I found the book enlightening on the persona of Jimmy Carter. He was a cagey dude who polished a persona that obscured his almost total lack of ability. He had a great organization and his single real talent was pulling the wool over the eyes of the populace. I don't doubt that there are aspects of him that weren't artificial, but I think they were more of a religious nature. He only beat Ford because of almost a total sweep of the Southern states in the election. Maybe they thought he was truly one of them. Maybe he was.

It was a bizarre election year. You could imagine that Rockefeller would have bailed out, or that Birch Bayh would have been the Democratic nominee, or any of several other outcomes. It's all here, the train wreck of the aftermath of Watergate. ( )
  nog | Oct 17, 2020 |
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 was just how contested 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 at the convention 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. ( )
  evil_cyclist | Mar 16, 2020 |
Nobody particularly liked the 70’s when they were living through them, much of the time it felt like the long hangover from the big out of control party that was the 1960’s in America. But now, long after those days have faded from the rearview mirror of history, it can make for compelling reading. Rick Perlstein’s THE INVISIBLE BRIDGE: THE FALL OF NIXON AND THE RISE OF REAGAN is one thick piece of reading, and an exhaustive look back at those times, but if you like a deep dive into American history, then Perlstein’s book is a veritable Marianas Trench. This is the third book of a trilogy that covers roughly a decade in American politics, starting with BEFORE THE STORM, a history of Barry Goldwater’s consequential losing 1964 campaign against Lyndon Johnson; then followed by NIXONLAND, which covered the fracturing of the American political consensus in the late 60’s, the turmoil of Richard Nixon’s first term and his landslide re-election, even as the Watergate scandal begins to fester. In this third book, Perlstein covers the period from late 1972 through the nomination fights and political conventions in the summer of 1976, as a divided country attempts to move on from the deep wounds of the Vietnam War and the scandal of Watergate.

And those were deep wounds, as Perlstein takes time to give the reader a wider picture of the times and the culture. This was the era of Patty Hearst’s kidnapping; when a member of the Manson family attempted to assassinate the President and a mentally ill police informant followed her up with another assassination attempt two weeks later. An Arab oil embargo in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War jacked the price of gasoline at the pumps, and resulted in long lines at stations, making the term “energy crisis” a household word. Out of control inflation ate away at wages, as trips to the grocery store became an exercise in sticker shock. Jobs disappeared, and the sense of economic security a generation of Americans had taken for granted seemed to vanish overnight. “Peace with Honor” went down the drain in Southeast Asia, as South Vietnam collapsed and the Communists rolled into Saigon, leaving Americans to grapple with fact that over 50,000 brave young men had seemingly died for nothing. A hidden history of domestic spying and harassment by the FBI was exposed, while the CIA’s dirty laundry, including plots to assassinate foreign leaders, were dumped before the public at Senate hearings. A crime ridden New York City went broke and needed to be bailed out by the taxpayers. Marijuana, cocaine, and heroin became part of daily life for many. Feminism and Gay Rights movements challenged and upended the social order. Cults and “self help” gurus flourished, as some joined the Moonies, while others checked out EST and Primal Scream theory. The movie AMERICAN GRAFFITI, and the TV show HAPPY DAYS, cashed in on a wave of nostalgia for the supposedly simpler 1950’s. Other films, like JAWS, THE GODFATHER PART 2, CHINATOWN, THE PARALLAX VIEW, and NASHVILLE, expressed the fears, paranoia, suspicions, and divisions of the times. Parents in West Virginia revolted against “pornographic” textbooks, white working class citizens of Boston turned violent when their children were bussed across town to black schools, and a lot of American women took a look at the Equal Rights Amendment, and wanted no part of it, and wanted no part of it in the Constitution. These events are all things Perlstein recounts in his book, often with an ironic eye.

The main focus of the book is on the politicians who dominated the times: Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and to a lesser extent, Jimmy Carter. None of whom come out of the book unscathed. I thought Perlstein did a good job recounting Nixon’s fall in the Watergate scandal, but what caught my interest more was his writing on the return of the POW’s from North Vietnam, which the Nixon Administration tried to spin into a great American victory narrative. We’d fought and fought, and bombed and bombed, for years, and years, and years, and at long last, our heroes could come home. Never mind anything else. That was the narrative Nixon and his men tried sell to a weary and, sadly, indifferent public. The truth, like it often is, was much more complicated. Gerald Ford is portrayed as a bumbler, in over his head, easily parodied by Chevy Chase on SNL. “Damned if he did, damned if he don’t” is how Perlstein dismisses him. I think history has been much kinder Ford than Perlstein; a man whose basic decency served him and the country well in the long run. I won’t argue with anybody when it comes to the faults and failures of Jimmy Carter’s leadership, but Perlstein, like many of Carter’s critics, appears to have a personal dislike of the man, and the culture he came from. Carter has always been a hard man to like for many, and no doubt Scoop Jackson, Morris Udall, Frank Church, Lloyd Bentsen, or Birch Bayh, all competitors of his for the 1976 Democratic Presidential nomination, would have been more successful as President, but they either ran bad campaigns, or simply lacked a compelling message that resonated with voters. One thing Perlstein does give Carter the proper credit for is that he, and his supporters, outworked every one of his rivals in 1976. Sometimes it is just a matter of wanting it more.

Ronald Reagan, more than anyone else, gets the most attention from Perlstein. The portrait he paints is of a glib and genial fabulist, ever able to project optimism no matter what, no doubt a reaction to a meager and trouble filled childhood spent in the mid west. That Reagan could spin anecdotes and stories, and present then as true, has been well documented elsewhere, but Perlstein does a good job of pointing out just how well Reagan could bend, or break, the truth, and how well that talent served him. I think Perlstein runs into the same problem many of Reagan’s biographers run into: it’s simply impossible to really understand what made him tick. The man was not introspective, like many of his generation, never bothering to look deep, and certainly never bothering to explain himself to the wider world. He expected to be taken as he appeared: honest, sincere, and forthright, which is how his many supporters saw him: a man who had no use for Communists, liberals, protesters, and anyone who had a bad word to say about America. In him they saw a leader who told it like it was, or at least, how it should be. The truth was, of course, more complicated. Betty Ford would be savaged by conservatives for “permissive” views on abortion and sex, but there is little doubt that the First Lady and her husband were far better parents than the distant, and disinterested, Ronnie and Nancy Reagan.

Perlstein does a good job of detailing what at the time was one of the least noticed, certainly by the mainstream media, stories of the mid 70’s: the rise of the right wing political activist. For decades, but especially in the 1960’s, it had been the political Left that had organized, taken to the streets, marched when necessary, stood in the way if that’s what took, on behalf of their causes, be it for better wages and working conditions, equal rights for minorities, or against a war they considered a crime. But those protests against bad textbooks in West Virginia brought together house wives, social conservatives, and evangelical Christians to fight for a common cause. Same for the parents in South Boston, who stood against a Federal judiciary who had taken their neighborhood schools away from them. Then there were the women who were horrified at the prospect of unisex bathrooms, women being drafted into the armed forces, or being compelled to pay alimony if the ERA became the law of the land. Others feared what they saw as a resurgent Soviet Union, and the prospect of America losing the Cold War, while others bristled at the idea of America “giving back” the Panama Canal to a tinhorn dictator. America was changing, and they didn’t like it, and they were going to change it back, if only they could find the right leader. They got organized fast, and often with far more discipline than their compatriots on the Left, quickly building a fundraising apparatus like none before. They took a big chunk of the old Democratic working class and middle class constituency away from the party of FDR and JFK, which now seemed have been taken over by anti war pacifists, affirmative action advocates, and politicians who never met a tax hike they didn’t love. This New Right would be scorned by liberals and progressives as racists, reactionaries and Bible thumpers, and not taken seriously. They heard the laughter and derision on the Left, and it just made them work harder.

Without a doubt, the high point of the decade was the Bicentennial celebration on July 4th of 1976, a day of simple pride and gratitude, where a divided country put their disputes on hold for a short while. But something else of note happened that Bicentennial year, a battle for the Presidential nomination in both parties that were among the all time great political throw downs. In the last section of his book, Perlstein does this epic struggle justice. The Democrats had a huge field of candidates, but it would be Carter, with his anti-Washington message, and promise to restore integrity to government in the wake of Watergate, who quickly jumped to the head of the pack and became the front runner. But it was not a done deal until the last primary in June, as Carter’s fortunes rose and fell from one week to the other, as he won and lost primaries against spirited opponents like the never say die Mo Udall, the late entry candidacies of Senator Church and Governor Jerry Brown of California, not to mention a nearly successful movement to get Hubert Humphrey into the race.

But it would be the Republican battle that would be the most hard fought, and consequential. Try as he might, the beleaguered Gerald Ford could not please a restive right wing in the Republican Party, who didn’t like his wife, Betty, not to mention détente, and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Reagan was their man, and initially, it looked like the former movie star and ex California Governor would unseat a sitting President seeking the nomination of his own party. But Ford had some real talent working for him, namely a young Dick Cheney, and they managed to defeat the insurgent in a string of early primaries, starting with New Hampshire. Within a matter of weeks, Reagan’s campaign was on the ropes and out of money. The situation was so bad, even Nancy was urging him to drop out. But Reagan rolled the dice, and made a last stand in North Carolina in late March. Hitting Ford hard on the issue of détente (appeasement to conservatives), and the Panama Canal, while getting a lot of help from Senator Jesse Helms’s New Right organization, Reagan won in what turned out to one of the most decisive Presidential primaries ever, going on the win in Texas, and a string of other states. With this new momentum, Reagan was able to pull even with Ford in the delegate count, and take the fight all the way to the Republican Convention in Kansas City in August. Some reviewers have complained that Perlstein’s book is slow and dull in the final hundred pages, as it winds through ancient arcane political history: the ill-fated Richard Schweiker Vice Presidential choice by Reagan, the hardball politics of the fight for Rule 16-C, the battle to squeeze delegates out of the uncommitted Mississippi delegation, the near chaos on the convention floor as Reagan and Ford delegates tried to outdo each other in demonstrations whenever the First Lady or Nancy Reagan entered the hall, to the writing of the platform, where the Republican Party came out squarely against the ERA, gun control, and legalized abortion for the first time. If any of this had gone differently, American history as we experienced it in the ensuing decades would not have happened.

Like I said, Perlstein’s book is thick and deep, it’s not a casual read, and many would think by just covering the years of 1973 to 1976, only half the story is being told, but he makes the case well the events of these years made not only the 1980’s possible, but likely inevitable. This book is the story of how the conservatives who got bloodied in the disastrous Goldwater campaign, endured the calamities of the Nixon years, began to build a national political machine that would take control of the Republican Party, and make it a political juggernaut in the decade ahead. It’s one if the best short histories of Reagan the man, the sportscaster from the Mid West, who became a likable Hollywood leading man before discovering his true calling as a politician. The GE spokesman, and later California Governor, who gave speeches extolling free enterprise, denouncing the evils of big government and Communism, and most of all, expressing his undying faith in the goodness of America no matter what, and to millions in this country who felt it had lost its way, he was the man who would lead it back to the greatness of bygone times. Even for someone like me, who does not consider themselves a conservative, this is a good story, and an essential one in understanding the times we live in.

THE INVISIBLE BRIDGE ends on the last day of the 1976 Republican convention, with Ford nominated, Reagan vanquished, and at the ancient age of 65, seemingly too old to mount another campaign in the future. Around that time, an episode of ALL IN THE FAMILY had a defiant Archie Bunker shout, “You’re getting Reagan in 1980.” We know who laughed last, and it makes wonder if Rick Perlstein doesn’t have another book in him. ( )
1 stem wb4ever1 | Dec 20, 2019 |
A page turner for history or politics junkies (it actually gains from being read as an audiobook). A bit dense and long, but I was willing to forgive since Perlstein is such a good writer and the mid-70's were such a weird time. After Caro, probably the greatest living popular historian. ( )
  Robert_Musil | Dec 15, 2019 |
This isn't quite the achievement that Nixonland is, and it's overly long -- seriously, I am the target audience for this book and even I grew impatient when I realized that its 800 pages only covered the years from late 1973 through the summer of 1976.

Still, Perlstein is very good on Jimmy Carter and especially on Ronald Reagan's primary challenge to Gerald Ford; his coverage of the 1976 Republican convention reads like a battle in Game of Thrones, albeit with microphones and dancing First Ladies instead of swords and dragons. (Perlstein doesn't connect the dots to contemporary American politics, but it's impossible not to notice parallels.) If you have a strong interest in late twentieth-century politics and a high degree of patience, you'll likely enjoy this book; if discussions of delegate counts make your eyes glaze over, it might not be the book for you. ( )
  GaylaBassham | May 27, 2018 |
Viser 1-5 af 18 (næste | vis alle)
The incredible transformation that happened in and to America in the 1970s is plenty dramatic enough without being finessed and stage-dressed and falsified. The rise of Ronald Reagan is the single most important social and political American phenomenon of the last 50 years—perhaps, ultimately, of all American political history. It deserves a better, more careful, more conscientious, more trustworthy book than it gets here.
 
a book that is both enjoyable as kaleidoscopic popular history of the old Mark Sullivan-Frederick Lewis Allen school and telling about our own historical moment.
tilføjet af Stbalbach | RedigerNew York Times, Frank Rich (Jul 31, 2014)
 
The Invisible Bridge chronicles the events in the latter part of the Vietnam War. The author, Rick Perlstein, author of New York Times Bestseller Nixonland highlights the difficult economic conditions of the 70s in America, the devastation in Vietnam, and a detailed account of returning soldiers who were not welcomed by all.
tilføjet af nfreviews | RedigerNonFiction Reviews, Prasanna (Jul 16, 2014)
 
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The best-selling author of Nixonland presents a portrait of the United States during the turbulent political and economic upheavals of the 1970s, covering events ranging from the Arab oil embargo and the era of Patty Hearst to the collapse of the South Vietnamese government and the rise of Ronald Reagan.

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