HISTORY

Reaganland: America’s Right Turn 1976–1980

S. & S Aug. . 2020. 1120. ISBN 9781476793054. $40. BIOG
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In this latest work, Perlstein (Nixonland) focuses on the four up-and-down years of the Jimmy Carter administration and how that period birthed much of the conservative politics still alive and well today. Told in chronological order from Carter’s inauguration in 1977 to Ronald Reagan’s in 1981, Perlstein details the issues Carter faced: administration scandals, an energy crisis, culture wars, inflation, and a treaty for the Panama Canal. The author argues that Carter failed to engage the Democratic base, responding to the energy crisis and and inflation, for example, with austere measures that pushed many voters toward Republican candidates. Modern conservatism, Perlstein contends, is good at drawing stark narratives and fostering a hunger for “simpler” days. Ronald Reagan stepped into the political void, giving interviews and writing op-eds to solidify an expanded base of voters responding to his brand of social conservatism. He spent four years running to be President, and when the 1980 election came, he won by a landslide. One comes away from this book with a better understanding of how Carter was so thoroughly defeated.
VERDICT Perlstein casts a broad net, riffing on everything from Ted Bundy to New York Mayor Ed Koch, but that is part of the package here; by the end readers have more insight on the rising tide of conservative politics.

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