FDL Book Salon Welcomes Corey Robin, The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin

Welcome Corey Robin (CoreyRobin.com) and Host Rick Perlstein (RollingStone)

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. – bev]

The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin

Cory Robin and I go way back. We were in a political discussion together where the hot topic was the WTO protests in Seattle—the “Occupy” movement of 1998. Since then, I’ve always been a deep admirer of his essays; if he’s saved his emails from the intervening fifteen years, I’m sure he’d find a bunch from me praising his various pieces from the London Review of Books when they came out. I was thrilled to learn he was collecting his pieces into a book. I was even more thrilled when I read it and saw how he was able to link them together into a coherent argument which—well, read my blurb on the book:

“Corey Robin’s extraordinary collection, constantly fresh, continuously sharp, and always clear and eloquent, provides the only satisfactory philosophically coherent account of elite conservatism I have ever read. Then there’s this bonus: his remarkably penetrating side inquiry into the notion of ‘national security’ as a taproot of America’s contemporary abuse of democracy. It’s all great, a model in the exercise of humane letters.”

Humane letters: Corey is a humane writer. I think of a piece that’s not in this book, Lavatory and Liberty: The Secret History of the Bathroom Break, which jumps off a description of how many American workers are denied a right to the most basic of bodily functions while on the job to a deeper examination of the startling fact that for most of its history “the American workplace remained a feudal institution. Not metaphorically, but legally. Workers were governed by statutes originating in the common law of medieval England, with precedents extending as far back as the year 500…judges exclusively administered these statutes treating workers as the literal property of their employers. Not until 1937, when the Supreme Court upheld the Wagner Act, giving workers the right to organize unions, did the judiciary relinquish political control over the workplace to Congress.” [cont’d.] (more…)

FDL Book Salon Welcomes William Kleinknecht, The Man Who Sold the World: Ronald Reagan and the Betrayal of Main Street America

[Welcome author William Kleinknecht, and Host Rick Perlstein]

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread.  – bev]

The Man Who Sold the World: Ronald Reagan and the Betrayal of Main Street America

I’ll never forget my own trip to Dixon, Illinois, Ronald Reagan’s “hometown.” It was late in 2003, and I was sounding out some of the redder parts of Illinois for an article on George Bush’s upcoming reelection campaign for the Village Voice. There was, for one thing, a suffusing atmosphere of fear. I remember talking to two civil servants, a teacher and a park employee, who admitted to not liking Bush, but who begged me not to use their names. The town was run by a Republican machine, and they feared losing their jobs.

I went to the nice local bookstore, which turned out to be the place where all the liberal kids hung out for respite. I met a beautiful young hippie couple who invited me to their home (candles, flowing scarves, no telephone, Coltrane on the stereo) and they told me two stories that they thought exemplified the place. The first was about the young woman’s dad. When she was growing up, he was Dixon, Illinois’s town bookie. And in this supposedly pious, conservative, oh-so-Christian place, he never was arrested once. “Hell, the cops all bet with him!” they said. “He paid [off] everybody. Republicans, Democrats.” (more…)

FDL Book Salon Welcomes John W. Dean, Blind Ambition: The End of the Story

John Dean - Blind Ambition The End of the Story[Welcome John W. Dean, and Host Rick Perlstein.] [  As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. – bev]

Blind Ambition: The End of the Story

Blind Ambition is—if you haven’t read it already—a great book for any member of the Firedoglake community to read. The entire complex of events that ended up with the shorthand name “Watergate” is incredibly convoluted; think of the Plame affair, multiply it by twenty, and extend the drama over twenty-six months—or twenty-six years, because really, the story did not end with Richard Nixon’s resignation on August 8, 1974, and it hasn’t even ended yet, as John’s splendid afterward (which offers the most convincing explanation in print of what the Watergate burglars were looking for in DNC headquarters) makes perfectly clear. And Blind Ambition, John Dean’s memoir of his participation in the events, is the best single volume Watergate book, out of the literally hundreds of them, to get a full and three-dimensional understanding of the whole thing from start to finish, from the warped executive psychology that produced it (in one of the books funnier scenes young Dean is tasked with screening the avant-garde omnisexual drag queen extravaganza Tricia’s Wedding to see if a case can be made to clamp the filmmakers in leg irons, or something) to the most gripping mystery story history has ever given us. (more…)

FDL Book Salon Welcomes Kim Phillips-Fein, Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan

kim-phillips-fein-invisible-hands.thumbnail.jpgI’m very proud to help introduce the work of Kim Phillips-Fein to a wider audience. Way back in the mid-nineties in New York, a bunch of us aspiring professional public intellectuals used to get together for drinks every couple of weeks. Kim was the brightest of the bunch. She demonstrated her exemplary intellectual citizenship in an searching and stylish series of articles and reviews in magazines like The Nation, The American Prospect, and In These Times. And when she won the biggest dissertation prize in the American history field in 2007, none of us who knew her work were surprised.

The dissertation was called “Top Down Revolution: Businessmen, Intellectuals and Politicians Against the New Deal,” and its unique contribution was revealed in the first two works of the title. Much recent scholarly work on the conservative ascendancy has been influenced by the post-1960s principle that the stories of social movements are best told from the “bottom up”—from the perspective of ordinary people, not elites. That makes sense when the subject is a union organizing drive. It doesn’t always make sense when the subject is political shifts that—as we all know—colossally advantage the wealthy and powerful.

Thus the story Kim tells, Invisible Hands, is the book version. That title is significant here too. It’s a pun, of course, on Adam Smith’s description of how a laissez-faire economy is supposed to work; where when each individual directs his “industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he in this [is] led by an invisible hand to promote an end which has no part of his intention.” The hand is invisible because there is literally no hand directing anything from above; just unconnected individual decisions collectively producing well-being and prosperity.

Well, the figures Kim writes about are a hell of a lot more pushy than that. (more…)

FDL Book Salon Welcomes Tom Geoghegan

< 41c106tp7l_aa240_.thumbnail.jpg(Please welcome in the comments Tom Geoghegan, author of See You in Court: How the Right Made America a Lawsuit Nation and host Rick Perlstein — jh)

We all know conservatism killed something. It’s just hard for us to put our finger on exactly what. We smell it, we feel it, we taste it—how the elementary particles of civilization, the very molecules that join together our social life, have been breaking down. But, not being molecular physicists, we somehow can’t describe it, can’t name it. You have to be really, really smart, pay extraordinary attention to the tiniest details, to do that.

Tom Geoghegan? He’s our molecular physicist. In his daily work as a lawyer for people screwed by the new American order—employees fired for joining a union, losing their pensions, replaced by younger workers that companies can pay less; working mothers whose daily life is monopolized by harassment from collection agencies; retirees sued for debts they didn’t even know they owed—he’s gathered the evidence to make sense of all that does not make sense.

So read Tom Geoghegan. For those who haven’t had time for See You in Court—let alone his other masterpieces, Which Side Are You On? (1991), The Secret Lives of Citizens, and In America’s Court (2002)—I’m pleased to provide Cliff Notes. Goggle this. I’ll wait.

Back yet? Good. You’re hooked.

So what’s the argument?

(more…)

FDL Book Salon Welcomes Linda Perlstein

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(Please welcome author Linda Perlstein, author of Tested: One American School Struggles To Make the Grade and her fabulous brother Rick Perlstein to chat with us in the comments today — JH)

I’ve been a proud member of the FDL extended family for a couple of years now. (“Kobe is a big Rick Perlstein fan”, dammit!). Today, I’m proud to introduce you to a member of my immediate family: my little sis, Linda Perlstein.

For years, Linda was at the Washington Post as an education reporter. I used to love visiting her there, where I got to schmooze with the likes of David Broder (I kid you not!), even watch a superannuated Herblock shuffle past to sharpen his pencils (again: I kid you not). But I didn’t really get to see Linda in action. Like all great reporters—and Linda’s a great reporter—she did her most important work in the field. And for Linda, wherever possible, that meant in the classroom. You’d be surprised, or maybe not, at how many people who claim to speak as experts about our educational system spend little or no time in the classroom.

Linda’s deeply unsatisified with that fact. For her first book, Not Much Just (more…)

FDL Book Salon Welcomes Linda Perlstein

fc0805080821.JPG

(Please welcome author Linda Perlstein, author of Tested: One American School Struggles To Make the Grade and her fabulous brother Rick Perlstein to chat with us in the comments today — JH)

I’ve been a proud member of the FDL extended family for a couple of years now. (“Kobe is a big Rick Perlstein fan”, dammit!). Today, I’m proud to introduce you to a member of my immediate family: my little sis, Linda Perlstein.

For years, Linda was at the Washington Post as an education reporter. I used to love visiting her there, where I got to schmooze with the likes of David Broder (I kid you not!), even watch a superannuated Herblock shuffle past to sharpen his pencils (again: I kid you not). But I didn’t really get to see Linda in action. Like all great reporters—and Linda’s a great reporter—she did her most important work in the field. And for Linda, wherever possible, that meant in the classroom. You’d be surprised, or maybe not, at how many people who claim to speak as experts about our educational system spend little or no time in the classroom.

Linda’s deeply unsatisified with that fact. For her first book, Not Much Just (more…)

FDL Book Salon: The Trap: Selling Out to Stay Afloat In Winner-Take-All America

imagedbcgi.jpgPlease welcome author Daniel Brook and reviewer Rick Perlstein for our book chat, and keep the conversation on topic. Thanks! Other open discussion can go on for the fresh topic thread just below this one. The original version of this review ran here: be sure to bookmark Rick’s blog! Also, to buy the book, one option for you is here.

Brook’s got guts. Because frankly, his topic – the fate of the best and brightest graduates of our top-flight universities – sounds like a subject for whiners. Who cares about them, right? They’ll do fine on their own. What do the lifestyle and career choices they make after college have to do with the well-being, moral and material, of the rest of us?

A whole lot, Brook has me convinced. Their plight is a window onto the fate of nothing less than American liberty itself – and how the right has run it into the ground.

The book begins, provocatively enough, by quoting Barry Goldwater’s 1964 nomination speech – the one in which he proclaimed, “extremism in defense of liberty is no vice.” What he also said was, “The tide has been running against freedom…. In our vision of a good and decent future, free and peaceful, there must be room for the liberation of the energy and talent of the individual… Equality, rightly understood, as our founding fathers understood it, leads to liberty and to the emancipation of creative differences. Wrongly understood, as it has been so tragically in our own time, it leads first to conformity and then to despotism.” (more…)

FDL Book Salon: The Trap: Selling Out to Stay Afloat In Winner-Take-All America

imagedbcgi.jpgPlease welcome author Daniel Brook and reviewer Rick Perlstein for our book chat, and keep the conversation on topic. Thanks! Other open discussion can go on for the fresh topic thread just below this one. The original version of this review ran here: be sure to bookmark Rick’s blog! Also, to buy the book, one option for you is here.

Brook’s got guts. Because frankly, his topic – the fate of the best and brightest graduates of our top-flight universities – sounds like a subject for whiners. Who cares about them, right? They’ll do fine on their own. What do the lifestyle and career choices they make after college have to do with the well-being, moral and material, of the rest of us?

A whole lot, Brook has me convinced. Their plight is a window onto the fate of nothing less than American liberty itself – and how the right has run it into the ground.

The book begins, provocatively enough, by quoting Barry Goldwater’s 1964 nomination speech – the one in which he proclaimed, “extremism in defense of liberty is no vice.” What he also said was, “The tide has been running against freedom…. In our vision of a good and decent future, free and peaceful, there must be room for the liberation of the energy and talent of the individual… Equality, rightly understood, as our founding fathers understood it, leads to liberty and to the emancipation of creative differences. Wrongly understood, as it has been so tragically in our own time, it leads first to conformity and then to despotism.” (more…)

FDL Book Salon: How Bush Rules, Week 1

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Some of you might have noticed, or not, that Sidney Blumenthal’s book is published by Princeton University Press. One of the nice things about buying a book from a university press is that you’re almost guaranteed that the manuscript has been read by several experts in the field who certify that it is more or less bullshit-free–and that, if it is overly apportioned with bullshit, the manuscript is sent back to the author for further revision and another round of bullshit detection. This process they call "peer review." For Blumenthal’s How Bush Rules, I was chosen by Princeton UP as one of the peers. 

This was overly flattering. I am no peer to Sidney Blumenthal. He had been, in the past, one of the nation’s most distinguished campaign journalists (his book Pledging Allegiance: The Last Campaign of the Cold War–about how the two less-than-heavyweights contending for the presidency in 1988 punted on the chance to shape a novel politics responsive to the radical geopolitical changes then electrifying the world–well displays what made his work in this field special: literary sophistication, historical erudition, and thematic depth).  Then, he was the distinguished White House correspondent for the New Yorker. He jumped ship in 1997 — it was quite controversial at the time; it’s something the Firedoglakers might want to ask him about next week — and joined the Clinton White House. His ringside seat for the ensuing Clinton wars lent a special sharpness to his book called, well, The Clinton Wars. Among other things, Sidney Blumenthal brought to bear an unflinching understanding of the malignant sociology of the modern right wing. (He wrote a book about that too, by the way: 1988’s Rise of the Counter Establishment: From Conservative Ideology to Political Power.) 

(more…)