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From Nixon to Reagan:
A Look at the First Right Wing Revolution

2,379 words

Rick Perlstein
The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan
New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014

The Invisible Bridge is a look at the link between Richard Nixon’s reshaping of American politics and the Republican Party and the rise of Ronald Reagan. In the 1970s, Ronald Reagan was considered very far to the Right, indeed. His near-win in the 1976 Republican primary and winning of the 1980 election to the Presidency was as shocking for the American political establishment as Donald Trump’s win was in 2016.

The book takes a look at Nixon’s downfall and Reagan’s rise from Perlstein’s Jewish perspective. So, on the one hand, the book is somewhat detached and objective, and on the other hand, there is a sense that things go unmentioned. For example, the book doesn’t go into any of the problems of the technocratic liberalism of the early 1960s. There is no reason explained in the book as to why the Right worked so hard in the 1970s and made such strides. An explanation of why is lost in a fog of details.

I’ll give some of the why here: The Democratic Party’s technocratic liberalism of the early 1960s, which stretched back to FDR’s New Deal, had the appearance of decency and morality, but the policies created disasters such as the “civil rights” movement, tolerance for crime, and a schizophrenia and paralysis among the elite regarding what to do in Vietnam and the Cold War.

There was a racial angle to this as well. Technocratic liberalism had many Jewish backers and organizers and there were many anti-anti-Communists (often Jews) who viewed the Soviet Union as less of a threat than the Americans wishing to counter Soviet expansion. Those Jews were also deeply hostile to the Anglo-Nordic American ethnic group and radiated metapolitical hostility in the mainstream media and universities that only grew sharper as the Vietnam War rushed to its dismal finale.

Perlstein skips the problem of Leftism that included the Afro-riots, the USSR, and the Great Society, and starts his narrative thrust with President Nixon using the Prisoner of War/Missing-In-Action (POW/MIA) issue to align domestic support for his strategy to end the Vietnam War “with honor.” It was a cynical ploy on Nixon’s part. One columnist would complain that one might think that the North Vietnamese had captured Americans and then the United States had waged a war to free them.

You Are Not Forgotten

This focus on POWs and MIAs also led to a rumor that those missing-in-action, who were often aircrew who had fatally crashed in a spectacular way in a remote location, might be alive somewhere. Those missing men haunted American politics and society for decades.

The POW/MIA flag.

The POW/MIA issue was an enormous cultural force in the United States. Bob Dornan, a California radio host, came up with the idea that citizens should wear a metal bracelet with the name of a POW/MIA until they returned. I recall seeing teenaged girls wearing such bands until the late 1980s/early 1990s. The POW/MIA issue made Ross Perot, James Stockdale, John McCain, and Chuck Norris household names.

Concern for the POWs was an Anglo-Nordic American cultural rallying point. Evangelical Protestants in particular embraced the POWs as their own, although this was a somewhat unrequited love. However, the POW/MIA group had no real focus or foundation. As the Vietnam War increasingly became a thing of the past, the POW/MIA group was overwhelmed by events. Bob Dornan became a US Congressman and was voted out of office by non-whites that hid migrated to his district. It is likely that the early symptoms of Admiral Stockdale’s Alzheimer’s disease contributed to his less-than-fully sharp Vice Presidential debate performance in 1992.

The effectiveness of the POW/MIA issue as a political shield came to a decisive end in 2016, when Donald Trump continued to gain support even after he mocked ex-POW Senator John McCain for “getting caught.” Of course, at issue wasn’t the fact that Senator McCain had been “caught.” The issue was McCain’s continued support for involvement in obvious disasters in Syria, Libya, and the Arab Spring. American politics had moved on from Vietnam.

Some of the POWs returning in 1973 had been captured by the North Vietnamese in 1964. They’d missed seeing the progression of the social revolutions of the 1960s and returned to see the final results. Many returned to discover that their wives had been “swinging” or had divorced them. One POW discovered he was divorced, his wife was pregnant with her new husband’s baby, and his parents had divorced.

Meanwhile, the economy went into a nosedive due to the Arab oil boycott caused by America’s support for its “Greatest Ally” Israel. (Perlstein, to his great credit, flat out states that America’s support for Zionism caused the boycott.) Meat prices soared with the price of oil, and the Watergate scandal took root and unraveled Nixon’s presidency. Perlstein goes in-depth into the ins and outs of the Watergate hearings as well as the cultural works of the time that emphasized the stress.

Throughout Watergate, Ronald Reagan continued to support President Nixon. Reagan’s political star rose as Nixon’s situation deteriorated.

“Dutch” Reagan of Dixon, Illinois

Ronald “Dutch” Reagan was born in Tampico, Illinois to an alcoholic father and a religious mother. His father was of Irish ancestry and his mother was of English and Scottish blood. Dutch grew up in Dixon, Illinois. He learned how to create a sense of optimism in the face of an often chaotic upbringing. He was an athlete and played football at Eureka College.

Reagan enjoyed acting, and like so many other Midwesterners, he migrated to Southern California. He eventually reached the lower tier of the A-List Hollywood actors before his movie career peaked. As Reagan’s Hollywood movie career stalled, he became increasingly politically active. He was eventually divorced by Jane Wyman, his first wife, around the same time he got involved in the fight against the Communists in Hollywood in the 1940s/50s.

Perlstein describes this fight in-depth, and he argues that Reagan was seeing things in black and white. Perlstein makes the case that the Communist problem in Hollywood was a more nuanced affair. For example, during World War II, the Soviet Union was an American ally and many people honestly felt supporting the Soviets was helping America. (Perlstein doesn’t say that America became involved in World War II in the first place because of Jewish pressure groups.) In the late 1940s, there was a large pro-Soviet network left over from the war in Hollywood that had members who ran along a spectrum of hard Communists and Soviet supporters to liberal “Useful Idiots.”

Due in no small part to Reagan’s activism, Hollywood was eventually captured by the anti-Communists. Reagan then became the host of the TV show General Electric Theater in 1952 and started to educate the public regarding his conservative views. When the Berkeley Free Speech movement took off in the early 1960s, Reagan opposed it and in doing so gained so great a following he was elected Governor of California in 1966.

Anti-Communism and the JQ

Before proceeding further, one must say that Ronald Reagan was not anti-Jewish in an overt sense at all. His main ideas were strong anti-Communism, he sought to beat back the excesses of FDR’s New Deal, and he wanted to reduce taxes. However, there are shades of the Yankees vs. Jews ethnic conflict in his career.

Ronald Reagan was not a Yankee in the strictest sense. His ancestors arrived in the United States in the earlier half of the nineteenth century and he was only partially English. However, he was from the part of Illinois that contained many settlers whose roots stretched back to the New England Colonies, and Dutch Reagan fit into this culture well. Reagan was also deeply influenced by the book That Printer of Udell’s [1]. It was written by the Disciples of Christ minister Harold Bell Wright, who was of Yankee origins. His First Lady, Nancy Reagan, had some New England ancestry also.

Meanwhile, Reagan’s political foes tended to be Jewish or have Jewish supporters. For example, the Hollywood Communist set [2] tended to be mostly Jews. This includes a large number of the blacklisted “Hollywood 10.” The Berkeley “Free Speech” Movement and the student activism of the 1960s more generally were led by Jews such as Bettina Aptheker. As president, Reagan was beset by criticism from ethno-nationalist Jews for giving a speech at the Bitburg Cemetery in 1985. The conflict was unstated, under the surface, and polite. . . but it was there.

On the left is a map of Ronald Reagan’s boyhood home in relation to a variant of Colin Woodward’s 11 Nations of North America [3] concept, used for educational purposes. Reagan grew up in the Midwest extension of New England. On the right is one of the Berkeley “Free Speech” advocates Bettina Aptheker — a Jew. “Free Speech” is not a Jewish value; they only claimed to be for “Free Speech” to advance subversion.

At a time when other politicians were proposing technocratic ideas about public transportation and more government support, Reagan espoused the idea that “government,” always vaguely defined, was the problem. As governor of California, Reagan started to figure out how to make sweeping tax cuts.

Gerald Ford

Gerald Ford is unique in that he was the only person to become US President that was not elected President or Vice President. He was a moderate Republican that got the VP slot after Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned. Indeed, the coup against Nixon was long in coming, and removing Agnew was the first step.

There is a great deal of truth in the 38th President’s comment that he was, “a Ford, not a Lincoln.” However, Ford wasn’t even a Ford. His natural father was Leslie King (1880 — 1941). Ford’s ancestry was mostly English and deeply Midwestern. His family tree stretches back to colonial Pennsylvania and includes some Yankee [1] [4] and New York stock.

Ford ruled over a stressed-out nation buffeted by shocks. Saigon fell in 1975, the energy crisis continued, the dream of sexual liberation was quickly becoming a nightmare, and Leftist terrorists ran amok. Meanwhile, Ford had no nationwide base of supporters. He also had no ideology other than a bland Republicanism. He was more like flotsam atop the waves than a ship moving with a purpose.

In 1976, Reagan conducted a primary challenge against President Ford. The Fords and Reagans couldn’t have been more different. The Fords seemed to embrace the insanity of the 1970s. For example, Betty Ford compared marijuana to cigarettes and praised Roe v. Wade. The Reagans raged against the rot and mold of the 1970s.

Indeed, the Reagans had tapped into something. A wave of nostalgia was washing over the United States even as the nation struggled with a society-wide explosion of decedent modernity. In the 1970s, musicians scored big hits wearing 1940s style clothing and singing 1940s style songs. TV shows like The Waltons were part of a trend.

Reagan was able to fit into that wave of nostalgia. One of his most famous nostalgic movie roles was that of “The Gipper,” a football player whose death inspired his team. The 1976 Republican Party Convention was contentious. Reagan lost the nomination for president, but his conciliation speech [5] galvanized his supporters. Indeed, Reagan had gathered together and expanded the same coalition that Nixon had used to win although nobody really knew this at the time. Perlstein ends the book at the convention — Invisible Bridge is part of a series by Perlstein on the New Right.

Ford was defeated by Jimmy Carter in the 1976 US Presidential election. Reagan went on to win in 1980 and win even more in 1984.


Ronald Reagan did not develop the anti-Communist and anti-New Deal ideas he supported. Others came up with the ideas and they changed the mind of an ambitious and talented man. I believe that the way Reagan waged the Cold War can be traced back to the book The Iron Curtain Over America [6] (1951). Perlstein offers concrete proof that Reagan was influenced by the book Economics in One Lesson (1946) by Henry Hazlitt. In short, metapolitics matters.

And so does hard work. Reagan suffered setbacks in his career. He lost a child, went through a divorce, hit a career wall in Hollywood, but shifted focus to politics. Through it all, he worked hard at communicating well and looking good. He was able to take complex ideas and package them in a speech that millions of people could understand and act upon.

A case can be made that Dutch Reagan and Harry Truman are the two presidents that did the most to win the Cold War. But Reagan left work undone. Reagan was elected — at least in part — by a mandate to destroy the “civil rights” system. He didn’t even attempt to do that. It remains for us to finish his work.

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[1] [9] Although there were other issues involved, there was a Jew vs. Yankee situation with Gerald Ford also. In a briefing to Congress, the Jew Elizabeth Holtzman, then in Congress, questioned Ford as though he was a criminal due to his pardon of Nixon. The Jew Holtzman would later go on to establish in 1979 the Office of Special Investigations, which gave vindictive Jews in the US Justice Department authorization to go after “war criminals” who were supposedly involved in “the Holocaust.” While many people were abused by the Office of Special Investigations, all of those targeted were eventually found not guilty or were convicted, then acquitted, of the various preposterous charges leveled against them. There is an irony to this. In the aftermath of World War II, the organized Jewish community wanted to allow immigrants into the United States. One can reasonably suspect they wanted Jews and Communists to arrive. Immigrants eventually came, but they turned out to be German or Germanophile Slavs who were anti-Communist. One of the immigrants was John Demjanjuk [10], who was later persecuted by the Office of Special Investigations.