“The Nixon Effect: How Richard Nixon’s Presidency Fundamentally Changed American Politics”

A book by Douglas E. Schoen

No American president has been more maligned than Richard Milhous Nixon, and none has more richly deserved it. Vindictive and paranoid, he is perhaps the most polarizing figure in the history of the office.

Douglas Schoen, a Democratic campaign consultant for more than three decades, isn’t out to defend the man: “For forty years, Richard Nixon has been held up as the symbol of all that is corrupt and wrong about American politics. Despite his substantial accomplishments, Nixon became reviled across the political spectrum.”

But, “Beneath the hatred, however, lies a different reality. The shadow of Watergate obscures one of the most consequential and even salutary American presidencies of the twentieth century.”

Schoen makes a convincing case that Nixon promoted several programs that Republicans wouldn’t and Democrats couldn’t, such as laying the framework for the EPA: “It was Richard Nixon, not any of the Democrats, who first forged a strong environmental record for the White House, and it was Nixon who put in place the framework of the modern environmental regulatory apparatus.”

The Nixon Effect: How Richard Nixon’s Presidency Fundamentally Changed American Politics
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On China: “Nixon … was the president who opened relations with the Communist Chinese, a world-shaping event that gave him leverage with the principal adversary of the United States, the Soviet Union.”

To see long excerpts from “The Nixon Effect” at Google Books, click here.

Nixon even proved flexible on the seemingly peripheral issue of gender discrimination in federally funded educational programs, signing into law Title IX, which paved the way for millions of girls and women in high school and college sports. (In the interest of full disclosure, Schoen includes a generous quote from my own story in The New York Times on the 40th anniversary of Title IX.)

From those positives to the negatives, such as helping to create the Silent Majority and the Southern Strategy, Schoen covers the whole range of Nixon’s influence up to the Nixonization of the Democrats. Both Nixon and Bill Clinton, Schoen writes, “sought the center but came at it from different directions. Nixon found the policy center by supporting and expanding the welfare state constructed by FDR and LBJ, Clinton found the center by putting real substance into politics to lighten the weight of government and the American economy and the American taxpayer. …”

Finally, as our recent presidential campaign raged on, Schoen concludes, “anyone who doubts that Richard Nixon will preside — in spirit only, to be sure — over the 2016 presidential campaign … and much of what follows, simply hasn’t been paying attention to politics in the United States.”

“The Nixon Effect,” scandalously overlooked by political writers on both sides of the spectrum, is essential reading not only for students of presidential history but also for those of us who can’t understand how the Trump presidency happened.

“The Money Cult: Capitalism, Christianity, and the Unmaking of the American Dream” A book by Chris Lehmann

The controlled yet righteous anger of Chris Lehmann’s writing makes most commentary by the political left seem like pap. “The Money Cult” is about the transformation of American religion into moneymaking corporations. The “individual, spiritual entrepreneurs” can be “aspiring political power brokers, in the vein of Pat Robertson or the late Jerry Falwell. They can be garden-variety TV hucksters like Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. They can be purveyors of healing power and off-the-rack success mantras like Benny Hinn or Robert Schuller. Or they can be manic strategists of the megachurch expansion, such as Rick Warren.”

The Money Cult: Capitalism, Christianity, and the Unmaking of the American Dream
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However, “Deriding high-profile preachers as nothing more than hucksters … may satisfy the very broad dictates of left-leaning secular cultural superiority, but it tells us almost nothing about what the followers of the new gospels of wealth actually think and believe. …”

Lehmann, editor-in-chief of The Baffler and a columnist for In These Times, is author of “Rich People Things: Real-Life Secrets of the Predator Class,” which one reviewer correctly described as being about “the ideas, institutions, and individuals he sees as tools for the rich to keep themselves rich — or make themselves richer.” Lehmann picks his targets carefully and shoots to kill. He aims not at Jesus Christ but “the apostles of our money faith [who] go ahead and conscript the figure of Jesus himself into the front ranks of the Money Cult — a ploy revived most recently by the redoubtable Catholic culture warrior Bill O’Reilly, whose mammoth best seller Killing Jesus argues that Jesus was crucified for protesting the Roman system of taxation. (In the great tradition of many predecessor prophets of the money faith, O’Reilly has also claimed a divinely inspired vocation for himself: a direct visitation from the Holy Spirit instructing him to write the book.)”

Lehmann artfully traces the evolution of American Protestantism, as it shed its links to the Old World and reinterpreted the New Testament as “the founder of modern business,” down to the creation of “a free-standing, well-financed evangelical subculture dedicated to promulgating the message that the end might well be at hand.”

To see long excerpts from “The Money Cult” at Google Books, click here.

“Money Cult” isn’t just about religious pitchmen but “rather, just how America’s once-austere and communal version of dissenting Protestantism developed into such a ripe recruiting ground for the sanctified capitalism of our financialized, upward-skewing, and uniquely destructive market order.”

Though the book was written before the presidential campaign of 2016 got underway, Lehmann provides the clearest answer yet as to why evangelical Christians would support a twice-divorced candidate who made his fortune from gambling casinos.

“Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy” A book by David Daley

The two asterisks in “Ratf**ked” are u and c — spell it out for yourself — and although the term has been around in one form or another for nearly 100 years, the current usage of the word comes from the definition of political sabotage in “All The President’s Men” by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Here it stands for the ingenious way in which the Republican Party — particularly strategist Chris Jankowski with an able assist by Karl Rove — redistricted the political map, traditionally known as gerrymandering. In 2010 the Republicans literally made gerrymandering into a science. Their plan, REDMAP — Redistricting Majority Project — redrew congressional districts, especially in battleground states, in their party’s favor. “Control redistricting,” Daley writes, “Rove understood, and you could control Congress.”

Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy Purchase

The best parts of “Ratf**ked” are the details illustrating the treasure trove the Republicans bought for the mere $30 million that REDMAP cost. For instance, “A commanding 65-42 Democratic advantage in Michigan’s House was wiped out with REDMAP’s help. Republicans spent another $1,000,000 in alliance with the Michigan Republican Party and the Michigan House Republican Campaign Committee, which paid off with 20 seats and new GOP leadership.” And “Alabama turned its state house red for the first time in 136 years with $1.5 million from REDMAP.”

According to David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report, “the maps have become so tilted that to retake the House of Representatives, ‘Democrats would need to win the national popular vote by between six and seven points in order to win the barest possible House majority.’ As Rolling Stone observed, that would require 100 Democrat voters to turn out for every 84 Republicans.”

This is a great subject, one that shows how a relative minority of a political party can defeat a party with more voters. But “Ratf**ked” asks not so much why the Republicans did it, as why the Democrats weren’t prepared for it.

To see long excerpts from “Ratf**ked” at Google Books, click here.

Daley cites several things the Democrats could do to reverse the process. For instance, “Brian Beutler, the astute New Republic analyst, has suggested that Democrats can flip enough chambers in 2020 to play a bigger role in redistricting … [and] should offer a permanent gerrymandering disarmament plan. ‘Neither party would be allowed to draw districts that structurally favor one party over the other for the sole purpose of partisan gain.’”Further, Daley writes, “Redistricting reform and anti-gerrymandering measures are politically popular. When they hit the ballot, as they have this decade in Arizona, California, Florida and Ohio, they win with bipartisan support and double-digit margins in red, blue, and purple states alike.”

Hmmm. It isn’t clear to me how a party as sleepy-headed and unfocused as the Democrats, the party that let Trump get elected, is suddenly going to come alive and convince voters that a bipartisan effort is going to improve their lot. And does anyone seriously think that after the massacre in this election the Republicans are going to accept any Democrat proposal that would make the process fairer?

Finally, “Maybe, as a first step towards compromise, both parties could admit that Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama are right. The House of Representatives was designed to be the chamber most responsive to the will of the people. Instead it has become impervious and insulated from it. … We allow partisans of either side to continue controlling this hidden but essential function at our own peril.”

Well, good luck with that compromise stuff. My experience with conservative Republicans is that they regard their will as “the will of the people” and that their definition of partisan is the other side of the political spectrum. It seems to me that given the lethargy of the Democratic Party, we’re likely to be ratf**ked for some time.

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