The Shrinking Borders of Nixonland (Author One-on-One: John Dean)

Rick Perlstein and John Dean on May 15, 2008

Dean_john_300 Rick Perlstein should not be surprised by the reaction of many contemporary conservatives to Nixon (and Nixonland). In his post, he mentions David Frum, the former Bush speechwriter and Canadian champion of all things American and conservative. I discovered when doing my research for Conservatives Without Conscience the sort of reaction that Rick finds striking is, in fact, the nature of the authoritarian personalities who are now the core of the contemporary conservative movement. This is not a pejorative judgment on my part, rather it is fact; it has surfaced from a half-century of social science studies undertaken without a partisan agenda. Authoritarian conservatives have a wonderful facility for denial, justification and rationalization. David Frum is a prefect example of this conservative proclivity. Take David;s boastful pride in developing Bush's militant label for Iran, Iraq and North Korea--"the axis of evil"--as part of his justification for his terroristic war on terrorism. This is the way they think in Nixonland and it does not appear David is interested in traveling beyond its shores. I don't know Ross Douthat's work, who Rick also mentioned, but after eight years of Bush and Cheney, Nixon surely looks better to everyone.

140397741001_mzzzzzzz_ Are we still, as Rick states in his post, living in Nixonland? Since the protagonist of his historical travelogue is not Nixon, rather the warring partisan whom Nixon made his legacy--those who are now described by the news media as red states and blue states--clearly many Americans are still living there. But Nixonland is a state of mind, and as such, it is a shrinking. Republican (and conservative) ranks are dwindling. Ranks of those who call themselves "independents" (voters with no party affiliation) are growing, the conservative movement is fractured, so Nixonland is changing. While Rick's book describes where many Americans have lived, and too many still reside, I left Nixonland many years ago, and I do not miss it. Rick's work reminds why it is good to be away from this place, but for those unfamiliar with Nixonland, I urge you to explore its horrors so your can recognize them if they appear at all appealing from afar.

Speaking of exploring, I am hoping Rick (who is out book promoting) will share a bit about his voyage to Nixonland: What drew him to make the trip?  How did he find his way around? What did he find most striking in his travels? --John Dean

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