Alexander Cockburn on Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland

A very harsh review, in New Left Review:

Perlstein’s larger historical focus, however, is near glaucoma. His narrative chugs through the late 60s and early 70s, offering scenes that are drearily familiar from the scores of contemporary accounts cited in his many pages of footnotes. The result is prolix, bland and humdrum. The style is indescribable. Here is a sample, from his account of Nixon’s response to a newspaper column by Roscoe Drummond suggesting that he needed to de-escalate in Vietnam, otherwise ‘popular opinion will roll over him as it did lbj’:

At which Nixon thundered upon his printed news summary . . . ‘Tell him that rn is less affected by press criticism and opinion than any Pres in recent memory’. Because he was the president most affected by press criticism and opinion of any president in recent memory. Which if known would make him look weak. And any escalatory bluff would be impossible. Which would keep him from credibility as a de-escalator; which would block his credibility as an escalator; which would stymie his ability to de-escalate; and then he couldn’t ‘win’ in Vietnam—which in his heart he didn’t believe was possible anyway. Through the looking glass with Richard Nixon: this stuff was better than lsd.

Nor is Perlstein’s grasp of fact much better. Of the 1969 Altamont concert played by the Rolling Stones outside San Francisco he writes, ‘Hells Angels beat hippies to death with pool cues’. No hippy at Altamont died in this fashion. One of the Hells Angels, Alan Passaro, did stab to death Meredith Hunter, a black man who had drawn a revolver; Passaro was later acquitted on grounds of self-defence. Perlstein also claims that George Bush Sr, in his losing congressional race in Texas against the Democrat Lloyd Bentsen, said that if Bentsen wanted to run to the right of him he would have to fall off the planet. It was actually Bentsen who said this—an altogether sharper political anecdote.