The story of America’s Right Turn – and President Ronald Reagan

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The story of America’s Right Turn – and President Ronald Reagan

Reaganland: America’s Right Turn by Rick Perlstein, Simon & Schuster, Pp 1120, $40.00 August 2020, ISBN 978-1476793054

The revolutionary and radical sixties changed the American culture and politics and America looked moving to the left for a long time to come. But that was not to be. The Right – especially the Christian Right – rebounded with vengeance. The New Right pulled America back to conservatism in the first half of the 1970s. America’s right turn was complete by the time the 1976 elections were held. The 1976 elections sent in a new bumper crop of conservatives to Washington from the Midwest and West. Senator Malcolm Wallop was elected from Wyoming, Indianapolis elected Richard Lugar. Oklahoma elected Republican Mickey Edwards. Dan Quayle defeated his Democratic rival in Indiana. The long list of Republican winners included Bob Dornan, Harrison “jack” Schmitt and S. I. Hayakawa. They were the New Right. The term “New Right” was coined in 1974 by the writer and former Nixon justice Department official Kevin Phillips who had explained the New Right as the “radicals working to overturn the present power structure in this country.”

The New Right was not simply conservatives. In Reaganland, Rick Perlstein explains how the New Right differed with the traditional Right on critical issues. He says that the New Right believed that Barry Goldwater was by then too much a member of the American establishment to retain their respect. This made the outsider Orrin Hatch a much more acceptable candidate for them. Perlstein says that the New Right presented conservatism as an ideology for working people as some of its leaders did come from the working class. Explaining the difference between the Left and the New Right, Rick Perlstein says that the Left looked upon the employers as exploiters while the New Right believed that the true exploiters were the federal bureaucrats who grasped for their tax dollars and the media elites who shoved1960s liberalism down Middle America’s throats. The New Right focused on social issues such as crime, government intrusion into family life, sexual mores, the right to own a gun.

Perlstein says that the New Right’s issues were the issues of popular resentment. As the movements for liberal issues such as gay rights, popular resentments pushed America to the Right – not necessarily towards the New Right. In 1976, Reagan was dismissed as a politician without a political future. Reagan was unwilling to give up and continued to crusade for his nomination – not only against the democratic Party but also against his own party’s leaders like Gerald Ford — that came in 1980. The emergence of the New Right — and later Reagan — was a direct result of and reaction to new changing social realities. How Reagan and his team — media team — ran the election campaign played an extremely crucial role in his final victory. The media campaign was run by an extremely shrewd media manipulator named Robert Gray who succeeded in created the impression that Carter would even sell out America’s security in order to win. They were able to spread the impression that Carter was mean.

The rise of the right in the United States in the 1970s, preceded by radical sixties, still weighs upon the American politics. In 1970s, Ronald Reagan was the unlikeliest candidate to lead the right in the 1980s, but he not only successfully led the American right but has also left his undelible marks on the history. Reaganland is the story of the rise of the right – and Ronald Reagan – in America. The meticulously researched book is a detailed and authentic account of how Reagan used the rising New Right and a better election strategy to win the 1980 presidential elections and to lead the right. Rick Perlstein is an accomplished historian and authors Nixonland and The Invisible Bridge. Reaganlnd is the continuation of his previous work. It is a must read to understand current American history.

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