tv Rick Perlstein Reaganland CSPAN October 2, 2021 1:56pm-2:43pm EDT
festival i am so glad it is back. it's very weird to come to the book of festival and not be writing where the history books and searching out life magazines and messy old books are my research. it is always a pleasure. you're basically sitting in a dialogue that is been going on for 12 years, i met him when he was making a transition with two of his own books since then. the way i write these books is, they are bounded by chronology this is my fourth book in the series the first covers 50 to 64 this most recent one a series concludes with reagan's election from 1976 to 1980. my theory is that i always
wanted to write books that just encompass everything. american life as it is experience. i'll think we experience these categories and isolation. certainly not culture. culture is a political politics is culture and sociology, and economics. as i was trying to figure out some way to capture the entire era. in this 1976 to 1980. , bunch of trends come together but are very, very important for shaping the political, social and cultural world we know now. i think the biggest binding force for the stuff going on between 1976 and 1980 was all
of the revolutionary radical receipt from a different perspective disruptive or shocking things that happened during the 19 axes really began to work their way to the main stream, right? for example feminism was manifested in the equal rights amendment which came within just a couple states of passing, gay rights was beginning to mask itself and laws that struck down statues and created civil rights for gays and lesbians. in another factor of the 1960s it was a political economy that was roughly speaking based on a certain kind of cooperation between labor unions and capitalists. and an acceptance of corporations of the legitimacy of the regulatory state.
we can talk now about woke capitalism, the capitalism of the 1950s, and 1960s was woke in the sense there is a lot that companies, big corporations owed a debt to the entire society. they were not just round to make the most profit they could make. the latter half of the 1970s is when the main streaming of those impulses kind of began to create a certain kind of exhaustion and the big part of the population. soon it comes to the new right stuff, it follows this dynamic that i have a lot in my books in which one liberal reform seems inevitable, it seems like it's going to become universal that's when liberals are shocked to see american
women are the men of the year or the people of the year. they have this amazing quote about how feminism is not an issue anymore it's not political it's universal. i talk about all these things are selling millions of copies instructing millions of copies. in terms of the corporate saying, what happens in political economy is profits started falling. these converging forces come together the political expression of ronald reagan that's why it's called a reagan land, although one of the sun and fun side plot he did not have it in the back the whole time. all the republicans ran her
president 1980 were all pretty conservative. in fact the business men did not trust ronald reagan they thought he was a lunatic. that's the fun part of the story. but also has major appeal first of all his appeal to the population 1976 when he one the presidency was he was this unsullied figure after the shame of watergate and the loss of vietnam. but his main thrust that basically americans had been living high on the hog and they had to learn to temper that individual which was so much a part of the 60s social expressions. so, even though the political fight to the death between reagan and carter they were profoundly different in many, many ways.
i think the most interesting thing to putting together the book is how they political expressions were put a spirit of the age that was working through, that was generally speaking pushing america to right. >> we are talking mostly about the p-uppercase-letter politics at this point of people like reagan and carter. anyone who has read any of your books that's not all what's in these pages the whole reason i have read all four of your books at this point is because i picked up your books like the first book was a nixon land i'm just going to learn a lot of facts about richard nixon of thousand pages where the facts about richard nixon. you said your books are not about these figures there about america. >> the president on the coverages sells books, flow hustle and got going. >> you're done now, the cat is out of the bag you can let people know.
we've got what's going on the culture was going on in politics if you read your books it's on the same page you will find discussions of ronald reagan, george lucas and star wars what's on the billboard top 40 all of these things woven together in the coherent narrative. let's talk about though what you mentioned at the end about jimmy carter this turn of the democratic party. that is a central piece of the narrative here. reading the book you do not get the sense you are a big fan of mr. carter. i have told you before, my father, jimmy carter was my father's favorite president. he liked the existential reckoning he thought jimmy carter was trying to bring to the united states and it was embodying the aesthetic, or articulation of honesty and politics.
it's going to be cute to change in richard nixon obvious it's a morally upstanding guy had impure thoughts about his wife. >> is not about his wife are. >> that's not about his wife. [laughter] but as you just mention the central server carter is the adoption of the mindset, he is not as the vicious attacker against a working-class living standards for example in corporate profits. he is someone who embodies a lot of what became right wing common sense the american people have it too good. they are too high on the hog. the contemporary democratic party, there's a fight about with the democratic party is going to look like. that mindset is still with us in many of the most prominent
figures in the democratic party today, right? >> one of the things, i think it is important in history, in writing history to render judgment. will shine a light on what seems silly, but democrats coming out of the 1970s is not very strange we should reconsider what they have been doing. the fact of the matter is the democrats did run candidate since fdr 1972 he lost going into the late 70s, his old
political economy is a temporary aberration people are in the market in terms of politics and policy. the thing about jimmy carter is, i will give you one of my favorite quotes from jimmy carter. he starts tearing up the economy. i make the point he did something remarkable. he began scolding americans. we was something to be done about problems except when it we favorite sacrifice of others covers which abolished tax loopholes and less with our loopholes, walter lippmann in 1935 were recorded the same thing from walter lippmann he love this quote is that the nation prepares for war.
as a foreign wartime now. the great he took the great things for granted name asserting them again it's written for every right you cherish you have a duty which must fulfill. for every hope that you entertain, was a task you must perform for every good you wish to happen, you will sacrifice your comfort and ease. there's nothing for nothing any longer c7 like your dad who would appreciate the stringent call evidence against interest in the law like roane reckon i'm going to give you a tax cut will give unicorns and flowers, right? the striking thing about jimmy carter's that's not how he ran for president. he was very vague when it came to policy. we talked about economics he did so very traditional terms. he said, one of his most
repeated campaign promises in fact was that he would never intentionally induce a recession or increase unemployment in order to fight inflation. which was a traditional right-wing solution when the economy gets overheated and that's exactly what he did, he he appointed paul he passed laws make it harder for people to use their credit cards we intentionally slow down the economy because he suddenly saw inflation is the biggest problem for the striking thing about jimmy carter is, is most repeated slogan if you do not vote for me. systolic he got elected by saying i'm going to demand sacrifice. he kind of like, he got elected then he started demanding sacrifice.
it was not a very good way to get reelected of course. he loses to the guy who basically promises miracles of loaves and fishes. jimmy carter is a curious figure. i'm a big essay coming out about him next month in the nation in the issue which you can read more about it. but the striking thing about jimmy carter was, he really was morally training. he wanted to be seen as a good person, right? and, how do you react when you hear that? >> personally i see it and i'm swayed by some of it. he also very clearly, that's how margaret thatcher wanted to ask was her greatest accomplishment as prime minister of the uk and she said you labor, which was the right word turns of the labour
party that she forced her political opponents in her direction, click on tempered terrain. that is clearly true of carter. >> one of the striking things about carter is, kind of tragic because every generation democrats releases jimmy carter by the way, cliff stevenson won the presidency in the 50s departed within the first guy to do this. he was against things like socialized medicine he is pretty far to the right on policy in those very popular among liberals but every population of democratic presidents, says i'm going to balance the budget. i'm going to turn my back on the freespending democratic ways they have to do it again, again, and again because they never get credit for. milk clinton and the famous 1995 or 96 i think it was 95 newt gingrich congress and state of the union he famously
said the arab big government is over. jimmy carter's and on this exact same thing in 1978. obama try to make a grand bargain on social security. it is not like republicans say oh, we won a convert and jimmy carter for they still despise jimmy carter as much as anyone. it is kind of bad policy and bad politics. >> that's a world again we are still living in. the democratic party succeeds the arguments of the right. thinking it will save them and stop the vicious attacks. >> joe biden it's having a democratic president is 80 years old humorous all the old stuff. he remember how well it works. and he's kind of going back to it because, i make kind of a snarky joke about the fact he's a catholic is about to meet his maker and he wants to
get to the right place. he wants to spend $3.5 trillion on healthcare and free community college, right? i think the democratic party has at least somewhat, now or something in the situation were the outliers are crying into the wilderness and getting rejected by the powers that be are the people like joe manchin who are using remarkable power as the deciding vote to say we should not spend all this money and every other democrat is like shut up, joe is not fashionable anymore. >> what produce that? >> activision. >> left the surge? including the resurgence of socialism in america and "big brother" socialism a strong welfare state, which by the way had to say about you, it's
for part of the discussion, you are not a socialist yourself. >> maybe i am. >> we are friends or socialists is that accurate? >> i made a new year's resolution this year on new year's eve to increase the operational trust and unity and love between liberals and socialists. i really do not see a contradiction. we could get into the theory but we probably shouldn't. [laughter] we could mention a lot of names and old 19th century theorists. basically, i think that when you see someone who agrees with you on a lot of things you could see it as an opportunity to get them to agree with you on more things. i think that is what i would say socialist predators say to liberals, everything that really has made life better for ordinary americans has
come from these prophetic voices, right? who were laughed at, and said crazy things we should have a progressive income tax. we share free public education who said that? that's the communist manifesto, right? i have no trouble -- i'm a certain kind of socialist but i think i'm a marxist socialist. you can look it up. i think i'm definitely a social democrat. i think americans should have two months of paid vacation. michael and i know we basically in the near firm share pretty much the same policy goals. i once interviewed an israelite public official when i was doing an article through the george bush administration about apocalyptic doomsday christians who received white house meetings in order to negotiate over what american israel policy was.
and basically the bush administration convince him it's okay for israel to give up the gaza strip because there were any important biblical prophecies it had to do with the gaza strip. i interviewed in israeli official, so why do you give so much political salience to these american evangelical christians who after all are only interested in israel because they believe that's where the messiah is going to come back and through all the 40000 jews into the lake of fire. and he said well, you know, when that happens we have our ideas about what is going to happen and they have their ideas about what is going to happen. but in the meantime we can work together, right? >> i am the american evangelical right here. >> i don't know which is which. [laughter] i mean look, i don't
necessarily want to see a revolution that ends private property in america. i don't think that senses are the most productive thing. in the near term i would love to see every american to be able to go to a doctor for free. [laughter] >> gotten a little field from late 70s america. there's a whole narrative about jimmy carter in here. the real reason people come for the books is the tale of the rights for the different strands that weave together. >> it's gravy. >> exactly. it culminates in the new right coalition, as we mentioned before the right wing evangelicals, the newly emboldened corporate power, and then sort of woven together through things like these culture war issues are very essential to these narrative and all of your
books. so, talk about those highlights of this rise and how it sort of reaches from that period of your first book about barry goldwater to now and reagan. >> one of the reasons i think my books can be fun to read, this is where you give some love to the radicals. they don't have that kind of nigh have a tape. the liberals can be so silly and so naïve. one of the ways they are naïve is believing the american consensus we will always show decency in the end. whenever one of these right wing character shows up and begins to make their hay on the public scene, or any particular reactionary movement is always very easy for liberals to dismiss it as a basically this neanderthal vestige of this bygone world,
right? in the first book before the storm, or barry goldwater loses the biggest defeat in history after voting with the civil rights act and coming out against social security and the pundits say conservatism is a dead letter in american politics. i had to quote them all saying the republicans purge the conservatives are not going to be republican party. and the nixon land two years later all these republicans win in all these backlash issues that barry goldwater would bring to the floor 1964. that's the racial backlash issues. one of the things they find most incredible in 1966, is the idea this crazy actor from california who sold soap was on a cowboy show could ever win the governorship of california. he wins the nomination esquire magazine said they might as well nominate lassie the dog.
in the same thing happens in 1980. literally, one of carter's speech writers told me in more than one interview they are so convinced all they had to do was to get nixon next to ragan or carter and reagan on a stage in a debate stage, and people would understand as a memo that i quoted a chapter title card are than reagan. they didn't notice reagan had never lost a debate in his life including against robert f kennedy. one of the things that goes on in this rise from this sees the conservative president elect of goldwater's platform and a conservative is elected as it happens almost completely under the radar. none of the issues will be so dominant over the years to come the era, abortion, the stagnation of the economy, are
discussed in 1976. suddenly, i 1978 all these reagan like right wing candidates are winning. kind of seeing how they do it and how quite frankly antidemocratic tactics are a part of story. so what happens is basically to telescope it, the conservatives who lost with barry goldwater, his whole calling card he's going to say exactly what conservatives want to do. he doesn't care if it's unpopular. social security, selling the privatizing the public power system, confronting the soviet union even at the risk of nuclear war. it literally says that we should do this. america is losing the cold war because of the craven fear of death has crept into the american consciousness.
when you have a weapons that can end all life on earth maybe we should be a little scared of death. but not barry goldwater. the ones that follow him in the 70s who basically come out of the nixon defeat should say the nixon resignation, they have a completely different although a lot of the same people, they have an entirely new organizing tactic. that's basically the take things people are angry about and use them as leverage to get them into the conservative coalition. it is very much a process. a lot of these issues are the 1960s social liberation issues. one of the guys said it's the achilles heel of the liberal democrats but he means gay rights, he means abortion, pornography, people in the grassroots in middle america really angry about the stuff. they don't really think of
them as political issues. we are going to politicize them, we are going to organize a route them. it's a huge part of occult organizing discontent how they build a coalition that can basically do what goldwater failed to do but succeeded in 1980. >> now, people like me, i am a millennial socialist. a lot of us, people in the democratic socialists of america for example, sometimes read your books especially the early ones like the goldwater book, and the whole sweep of the four books is a tale of taking these hard right ideas which are not popular in american society and bring them from the margins to the mainstream. being willing about their ideas. goldwater was willing to lose an enormously not compromise on principles and gets vindicated. we aren't ragan land which is
also kind of goldwater land of the 1980s. are we wrong to read these books -- obviously funnies politics abhorrent. this book in particular the culture war stuff is just a reminder of how disgustingly phobic. >> literal people going around brag about beating up gay people on the campaign trail, right? >> we find that abhorrent. they've got to respect the hustle here. >> the strategic action. >> to bring us up into the mainstream when american liberals all assumed society was going in a more progressive direction. they sow they could tap into this thing and they've been dominating american politics for decades ever since. are we rights, and i write to read in that way? obvious of the right has very unlimited resources carry out these pains eccentric section. >> or a willingness to discipline themselves. >> yes exactly for.
>> yes, it's not only radicals. my first book before the storm came out in 2001, it did well. they got great reviews. it did not sell fantastically well. they told me too go to certain publishing company because it will keep it in print forever. low and behold the ruthlessness of modern capitalism happened is taking up too much space in the warehouse they let it go out of print. >> will never let it go out of print print. >> thank you allow you it's okay if you left for the moral of the story is, then in 2003. , when this new generation of liberal activists were gathering behind the candidacies of howard dean and general wesley clark, i think it's wesley clark, they took
inspiration from what the republicans had done, the conservatives had done to take over the republican party wasn't moderate part of the head liberal elements of the ground and then for ideological conservatism. they were buying before the storm as a guide book. it immediately went out of print. you could not get a hardcover he could get it for $10200. i than the nation put it back into print. so, that is basically the idea that politics is a long-term struggle that takes a generation to achieve. that is 1000% correct. conservatives are definitely role model for that. there's an article from the cato institute called the leninist strategy to defeat social security. you get a foothold on me and gaining ground, gaining ground, and gain ground.
i don't think there's anything particularly unique about radicals, liberals do this too. we all have our tactical deficiencies. but what conservatives have understood is basically this is a world of politics as one with millennial fix. if you are a christian conservative, literally the fate of humanity itself, right? and so that has made them willing to -- there is a quote from the publisher of national review before the storm is name was william rusher, after goldwater loses if the catacombs were good enough for the christians. we are willing to stay underground for us while, as long as it takes. i completely endorse that and democrats do, democrats and institutions. there check but the activists they see the world into your increments. they have studied obsessively
except for the polls that count the ones that say raising taxes on the rich vestibular popular, right? there's far too much tactics and not enough strategy when it comes the democrat party. i've talked about these ideas that every generation of democrats should create a massive entitlement program is still supporting almost 100 years later. in the case of medicare, 50 years later. may be in the case of biden's a spending program with things like free community college and free pre-k education, maybe delivered democrats for the 50 years. they always tend to think of how can we win 15% plus one in every election? just in that election instead
of creating a democratic identity. >> you're getting at the question about what it is i guess. sounds like one of the constituent parts of it. you just finish these four books. >> and yet they never invite me to the meetings in washington. [laughter] >> did you have obama reading nixon land? >> yes he did not write well. [laughter] >> aside from the telling of the story, what was your project but what do you want people like obama or rankin files progressive liberals people in america to take for your books? what is the program that you are implicitly proposing for your writing? >> i think the biggest program, the biggest thing i want people to take away from my writing is that you should never consider as a paramount
goal in politics the achievement of consensus and unity. because america is just not a place amenable to consensus. it is to brawling and contentious a place. the story really to me, prospective founding of the nation and before founding of the nation's longing to paper over intellectual conflicts rooted in racial conflicts. really, delay the reckoning that always comes. the 1830s, 1840s, 1850s were clinical compromises that were celebrated at the time. that contributed to the delaying of the reckoning that ended up in the civil war with
millions and millions of americans slaughter each other. the period of the 1950s, american census the eisenhower idea america was at peace for itself and all of these questions was practically a >> religion. annette was allowed in the 1950s to say. what comes next? the 1960s and social conflicts if anything are more brittle and more ugly precisely because you are not acknowledging the wounds that are part of society. i talk about the metaphor of a marriage. if a couple is not writing that is not necessarily mean their marriage is good. it can mean that basically there were pressing conflicts that talk about the return of
the oppressed for that is what neurosis is. when you don't deal with ugly things as they come up, they explode. that's one of the great, think it's lorraine what happens to a dream deferred? it explodes. >> before return of your questions, that sounds to me like a sort of bleak view of american politics and we are sort of doomed. >> that is life. it is like, that's just being an adult for that's being a grown-up. when america was doing things like looking into the crimes of the cia, looking at the crimes of the president and watergate and they began thinking about ending america's role as a policeman that happened in the mid- 70s we did a pretty decent job of doing it until he got mixed up in the war in iraq and screwed everything up, that is just being a grown-up,
right? invisible ridge my third book i quote saying enlightenment is humanity entering a self-imposed immaturity. this infantile idea the biggest problem with trump's he ended some sort of notional american unity. the biggest problem with trump on the republican party it's an authoritarian fascist that's destroying all decency and values. achieve unity with the fascist. i don't see it as bleak, i see it as realistic. >> is a group of individuals are telling the truth and that's the goal. >> and fighting the injustices we see with joy and love and come rotary and you have comradeship, you know? >> give time for maybe two or
three questions maybe will take them all if anyone was to get up and ask a question. maybe we have a mic over here you can come too. >> is it on? okay i will just speak. went to the back to ace at the beginning. at a certain point in the reagan era, the capitalist change. they started looking more for the profits. what caused that or maybe the real question is why was it constrained before them but not constrained after words? >> you can definitely come up with a very logical, simple, material explanation for that. which is basically, partially because the rest of the world, europe and large parts of asia are britain smoking ruins after world war ii. and that america was able to achieve this remarkable prosperity that was able to be shared because it was so
dynamic. another thing is the price of oil between 1945 in 1972 actually declined in real terms. world demand increase, civilization built themselves are on a commodity that not even think of it as a factor. by the middle of the 1970s, largely because the third world decided it would not act like a colony control their commodities for their societies own interests, a lot of that steady profitability for companies that did a great job of spreading prosperity was declining. a lot of it was just basically they were fighting for what they saw was there do the time they were losing their due. a lot of it was basically
having to do with personalities very forcefully made that argument people like ronald reagan had the charisma and charm to do it. and, once they gave up that commitment he began to see things like union elections been contested with a fierceness you had not seen the second half of the 70s. he began to see ad hoc coalitions of corporate lobbyists coming together to fight individual bills to fight a consumer agency that represented whereas before lobbyists had kind of been -- who have put in the book is corporations. so a big part of the reason was, then that's another big part of the reason was the american economy, partially because of hubris was not functioning as it was once
functioning for the old tools become kind of a bicycle chain kind of slipping the gears and it wasn't working anymore. it's not a complicated story. trying to destroy justice a lot of it has to do with simple greed you could call. the tragedy of it was, when, for all their flaws, american capitalists did kind of recognize unions. recognize regulation, recognize larger social role for themselves. it was great for the society. in the period between the 1830s and the 1930s there were hundreds and hundreds of people who died in labor massacres. and that goes to zero. right? this is an amazing speech the head of the steelworkers gives a 1939, right when this period of labor strife is ending. he says look guys, we have one like $5 million for new races for our self in a sitdown
strikes. that's our gift to the country. we are buying all the stuff we are producing. there is this virtuous circle that no longer spun in the same way by the error of reagan. and the consequences are all-around in the inequality and the lack of creative and society and the hate and the strife. >> is only touched on a couple of the many strands that are included in this book. >> any talk about star wars. >> i feel every inch of you have heard you give about this book everybody asks about star wars is like a reaganite movie. do you want give 20 seconds on star wars? if you buy this book, reagan land, you will get not just a boring old discussion of superman discussion of star wars. if you want to know why star wars is you have to buy this.
there are a million strands that are extremely rich discussion unfortunately weak front no time to keep mining this thing. the book is an incredible achievement in the recent history of american letters the four-part series is astounding. >> alt 26 of those american letters. >> it's really an astonishing achievement and one i find hard to believe every time i dig into it that one man's brain produce this wild series telling and retelling of american history. the book is very much worth your time. and long may it prosper. >> thank you very much. [applause]