by TED S. McGREGOR JR. & r & & r & Nixonland & r & by Rick Peristein & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & ll you really need to know about Richard Nixon can be found on page 22 of Nixonland. Of course, the remaining 726 pages of Rick Perlstein's new history are great, too -- but it's the nuggets that will haunt you. "Nixon believed an enemy should be pulverized," Perlstein writes. Or, "As usual Nixon... understood the enemy better than they understood themselves." Or the time Richard Nixon advised one of his attorneys, Leonard Garment: "You'll never make it in politics, Len. You just don't know how to lie." And my favorite, from soon-to-be-felon John Ehrlichman: "Politics is the art of polarization."
On page 22, Perlstein explains where such a twisted view of politics comes from. He relates the tale of the young Nixon, freshly enrolled at Whittier College, who finds out the swells of the school are part of the Franklins club. So he establishes the Orthogonians (literally, and presciently, the "right angles"). Nixon was forever driven by that colossal chip on his shoulder.
"He persuaded his fellows that reveling in one's unpolish was a nobility of its own," Perlstein writes. Once Nixon defeated a Franklin for student body president, he learned that "Being hated by the right people was no impediment to political success. The unpolished, after all, were everywhere in the majority."
Nixon was a political genius -- sadly, of the evil variety. Nixonland demonstrates that by cataloging Nixon's crimes, from futile bombing missions over Vietnam to the botched break-in that sank his second term. But while Nixonland claims to say something about this political no-man's land we've been stuck in, Perlstein's conclusions seem to step back from the edge of the obvious.
Nixonland, he writes, is "the America where two separate and irreconcilable sets of apocalyptic fears coexist in the minds of two separate and irreconcilable groups of Americans." Later, Perlstein seems resigned to live in that purgatory of paranoia: "America has always been divided and always will be."
That's where Perlstein seems to shrink into a let's-agree-to-disagree, all-viewpoints-are-valid moment. He shouldn't. Nixonland is a part of the historical process by which, I believe, Nixon will be judged as a lying, petty crook.