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Nixonland, Essay Example

Pages: 2

Words: 657

Essay

First Part

Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland portrays Richard Nixon as a highly influential and divisive figure whose influence over American politics from the mid-twentieth century to today has been vastly underestimated. Although many people consider the Watergate scandal to represent the core and essence of Nixon’s presidency, Perlstein downplays the Watergate incident and instead concentrates on Nixon’s role as a powerful political operative who deeply influenced the course of the American political party system, particularly in regard to the sustained acrimony that continues to exist between Republicans and  Democrats.

Perlstein’s thesis is supported by a thorough accounting of events and by a thorough investigative process that traces Nixon’s political perspective and ambition back to his days at Whittier College. According to Perlstein, Nixon’s initial exposure to divisive politics originated at Whittier when he became a member of the “Orthogonians” a social club for those who worked their way up from the lower classes to positions of political and social power. As an Orthogonian, Nixon grew to oppose and resent the “Franklins” a social club at Whittier that was comprised of privileged elitists. This may seem like a tragic oversimplification to many readers, but Perlstein remains committed to this idea as an underpinning for Nixon’s political life.

George Will, in his review of the book, comments that “In Perlstein’s mental universe, Nixon is a bit like God — not, Lord knows, because of Nixon’s perfect goodness and infinite mercy, but because Nixon is the explanation for everything” (Will, 1). This criticism is apt in regard to Nixonland and stands as the most succinct and supportable conclusion regarding Perlstein’s thesis. There is no doubt that Perlstein believes more bad than good came from Nixon’s political legacy.  According to Perlstein, Nixon preyed on the economic and social divisions in America to personally concentrate political power. If Perlstein’s vision is historically accurate then Nixon was not only a more influential President than most people belie, but he was an even greater agent of political destruction and enmity.

Second Part

Although Perlstein’s Nixonland deals primarily with political events of the last century, it also describes how the current political climate emerged from turmoil of the nineteen sixties and from Nixon’s particular brand of Presidential politics. Nixon, according to Perlstein, was not only a brilliant political strategist, but a person who tried to understand and harness the social and cultural zeitgeist that was manifested in America during his political career. In this connection, Ross Douthat writes in his article “E Pluribus Nixon” (2008) that Nixon was “The man who harnessed the furies, and found himself destroyed by them.” (Douthat, 2008). One of the ways in which Nixon attempted to control the furies was to gain a foothold not only on back-room party politics but on recognizing and manipulating the new media of his age.

This brings to mind a number of important developments which have happened since the demise of Nixon’s Presidency that play a crucial role in today’s politics. Obviously, while television and radio played enormously important roles in Nixon’s era, the proliferation of new media, such as blogs, twenty-four hour cable news, and the Internet as a whole have transformed the contemporary political landscape in ways that are presently beyond the scope of complete calculation. One key example of this would be the Watergate scandal itself.

In today’s media climate, the Watergate scandal would have played out in a different fashion due to the fact that the media coverage is, itself, based in partisan politics. Therefore, the scandal may have been able to ahve been submerged through relentless “talking points” and propaganda, slipping back under the radar after a couple of weeks when another scandal rose up, perhaps tied to the Democratic party. It may well be that Nixon could have survived the scandal that ended his Presidency if he had been President in the twenty-first century.

Works Cited

Will, George. Bring Us Apart: Nixonland. 5-11-2008; NY Times Online. accessed 11-17-12;http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/11/books/review/Will-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Douthat, Ross. “E Pluribus Nixon.”  5-1-2008; The Atlantic.com. Accessed 11-14-12; http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/05/e-pluribus-nixon/306765/

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