Thomas Frank: Is anyone nostalgic for the ’70s?
Rick Perlstein: I am. And for the following reason: If you read my preface, I explain that Americans at the level of popular culture, at the level of grassroots politics, were thinking very hard about what it would mean to have a country they didn’t believe was God’s chosen nation. What would it mean to not be the world’s policeman? What would it mean to conserve our resources? What would it mean to not treat our presidents as if they were kings? That was happening! And the tragedy of Ronald Reagan most profoundly wasn’t policy -- although that was tragic enough -- but it was robbing America of that conversation. Every time a politician stands before a microphone and utters this useless, pathetic cliche that America is the greatest country ever to exist, he’s basically wiping away the possibility that we can really think critically about our problems and our prospects. And to me, that’s tragic.
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Sunday, November 16, 2014
Reagan Ended the Conversation
Over at Salon, Thomas Frank interviews Rick Perlstein on the occasion of the publication of his book The Invisible Bridge, the third of his generally fine examinations of postwar Movement Conservatism (so far, he has focused on Goldwater, Nixon, and Reagan). Frank and Perlstein are longtime friends and I had a feeling that they got more out of their conversation than I could: there were too many underelaborated claims that stalled out or swerved away before making complete sense for me -- especially lots of split-second readings of pop culture references I remember a little differently from my own seventies upbringing, and some sweeping even swooping analogies from the Carter years to the Obama years that demanded much more detail. All this was probably due to the fact that they were taking up conversational threads from other times and places we weren't eavesdropping on that made them make sense for Frank and Perlstein themselves. Be all that as it may, I did stick around through to the end of the dialogue and I'm glad I did, because in the very last exchange of the (published) interview Perlstein said very clearly something I must have thought loosely, morosely a million times, and which I agree has been a terribly tragic thing for America: