Rick Perlstein has established himself as one of our foremost chroniclers of the rise of the modern conservative movement. It's an unexpected niche for a card-carrying liberal. But if he's occasionally tart in his comments about conservatives, he is not entirely unsympathetic either. In fact, he reserves some of his most cutting barbs (and there are many in his well-crafted if slightly over-caffeinated works) for clueless establishment liberals who all too readily dismissed the significance of conservative champions such as Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.
The Invisible Bridge
Mr. Perlstein's first book, "Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus" (2001), chronicled Goldwater's emergence as the tribune of anti-government sentiment, and the deep-sixing of the corporatist consensus of the 1950s. His second, "Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America" (2008), looked at how Nixon cobbled together a coalition—the "silent majority"—built on resentment of the privileged elites. And now, in "The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan," he considers the political and cultural transition that occurred between the end of the Vietnam War in 1973 and the 1976 Republican National Convention in Kansas City. This was the shift from Richard Nixon, who, despite the loathing he inspired on the left, turned out to be one of the most liberal presidents in our history (he implemented wage and price controls, toasted Mao and created the Environmental Protection Agency) and Gerald Ford, a non-ideological, country-club Republican who refused to meet with Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn for fear of offending Moscow, to Ronald Reagan, as committed a conservative as has ever entered the Oval Office, who as a candidate joked, "You know, sometimes I think moderation should be taken in moderation."