Nixonland: America's Second Civil War and the Divisive Legacy of Richard Nixon 1965-1972 - Rick Perlstein I have long maintained that the most influential president of the 20th century was not FDR or Reagan but Richard Nixon. While Roosevelt may have created more programs and Reagan changed the economic tone of the nation, Nixon changed how we voted and how our politicians campaigned. And that may have the most longstanding effect on 21st century America.

Rick Perlstein traces that change through the tumultuous career of Richard Nixon. He illustrates how Nixon set on the formula of turning the "silent majority" against the "elitists" early on in his career and honed it to an art form in order to become president. While attacking your opponent was certainly nothing new, Nixon was able to create a more dominant and lasting "Us or Them" type of ideology. The idea that only one viewpoint can be truly American still reigns as we divide the states in red and blue and politicians like Michelle Bachman suggest that the congress should be investigated for members that are "unamerican".

Of course, Nixon was not alone. The anti-war left of the 60s played the same game with their black-and-white thought processes. Yet Nixon was the master of the ploy. Rick Perlstein does a outstanding job in detailing how this rift between liberals and conservatives played out. He zooms over Nixon's early days before 1965 but then goes into amazing detail on the events that shaped the politics of the 60s and early 70s. While the focus is on the Nixon presidency, Perlstein also pays close attention to the Democrats and their own civil divide culminating in the 1968 presidential campaign. He also shows now the Nixon campaign through dirty tricks and clever PR forced the Democrats to sabotage their own candidate in 1972.

While Perlstein does tend to display a liberal bent toward the topic, it is important to note that the author is quick to point out flaws on both sides. It is not the political viewpoints but the loss of understanding between the political sides that he regrets. I read this book while the debate over raising the debt ceiling was taking place and the lack of compromise, the lack of respect, and the rigidness of both sides only emphasized the points Perlstein makes and the sad reality about what the Nixon years has wrought. If the United States falls in the abyss as some doomsayers predict, take heed that it will not be liberal politics or conservative politics to blame, but the inability of our leaders, and the people who voted for them, to work together regardless of ideology.