Rick Perlstein, author, Reaganland: America’s Right Turn 1976-1980.

Rick Perlstein: Reaganland — America’s Right Turn, 1976-1980

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Chris Riback conversation with Rick Perlstein on Reaganland

With REAGANLAND: America’s Right Turn 1976-1980, historian Rick Perlstein concludes his sweeping four-volume account of the rise of modern American conservatism.

Over two decades (and more than three thousand pages), Perlstein has published three definitive works about the emerging dominance of conservatism in American politics: Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of American Consensus(2002); Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America (2008); and The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan (2014). With the saga’s final installment, REAGANLAND—covering the years from Jimmy Carter’s election to his defeat at the hands of Ronald Reagan—he has delivered his most stunning literary and historical achievement yet. Perlstein shows how much the nation changed over those years—and just as importantly, how those changes produced the world we live in now.


Unedited transcript

Steve Israel: Thank you very much. Good evening everybody we’re so delighted that you can join us for another book an author event tonight with requesting author of Reagan land and of course our usual moderator Chris Riback. Chris. Let’s go to you.

Chris Riback: Thank you, Steve. Very much. It’s, it’s a bit feels a bit awkward to have one’s own book called excellent when we’re talking with Rick perlstein who has now you know done it, as you just noted for the fourth time. So whatever Rick, I mean your books are good. I want to be honest. I mean, they’re good that you do good work, but Chris Riback: You know excellence, a high bar. So we’re going to try to get you, though, you know, we’ll get you to New York Times bestseller. One more time. How about that. Chris Riback: Thank you for joining. Chris Riback: So Rick, I know you’re a historian, that’s how you identify yourself at the top, even before an author and among the reasons I love history so much is Chris Riback: Less that it not so much what it tells us about yesterday, but how it helps us understand today and I need some help understanding today. Chris Riback: So there’s this picture. You may recognize it and this is this is not meant to be a shameless plug. I mean, yes, it is a shameless plug. But I’m wanting you know the audience to see Reagan and Jimmy Carter sitting in the limousine smiling on their way to the inauguration in 1981 Chris Riback: I know you know yesterday and again today, the current American President refused to confirm that he would abide by a peaceful transfer of power. Chris Riback: Rick, would we see a picture like this again this year should buy even when Rick Perlstein: Well, Rick Perlstein: I sure hope so. We talked about bipartisanship as an ideal. I don’t know how easy it’s going to be to uphold the ideal of bipartisanship if Republicans revealed themselves as collaborators with dictatorship, why would we want to sit on panels with people who do that right Rick Perlstein: This is a very portentous time in the American experiment in democracy and republican government and Rick Perlstein: As much as Ronald Reagan was a profoundly controversial figure Rick Perlstein: I can’t imagine him ever dreaming of contesting the results of the electoral college or speaking to congressional of, you know, legislative delegations and states controlled by Republicans and Rick Perlstein: Signaling that they should be sending Rick Perlstein: electors to Washington in January of 2021 and advising them to vote against the candidate who won the most votes in their states. Chris Riback: Would he recognizes party. Rick Perlstein: Yes, very much so. History is the study of continuity and change. And there’s a great deal in Donald Trump, but you can recognize and Ronald Reagan, certainly when Rick Perlstein: You know, Donald Trump, you know, stands up in front of the National Archives and says, you know, teaching Americans school children schoolchildren that racism is a structural feature of American life is somehow illegitimate. I really hear the echoes around a Reagan, who was most Rick Perlstein: Comforting appeal to white America was that they were not racist that America was not a racist country. Rick Perlstein: Sometimes he did it in ways that you know were rooted in at least legitimate facts. Like, for example, he would mention that Los Angeles elected, you know, African American mayor in 1973 Rick Perlstein: Sometimes he would route them in fantasy. Like, he would say that when he was a baseball announcer I was the 1930s. He was one of the announcers who called for the Rick Perlstein: Integration of the major leagues, and lo and behold, it happened, but you know it didn’t happen until, like, you know what 15 years after he sat being announced her 11 years after stopping announcer or he’d say, Rick Perlstein: The army was integrated, you know, after Rick Perlstein: Cook, you know, on Pearl Harbor, you know, man. The guns, you know, and you know shut down, you know, Japanese fighters. Right. Another goal of the book. Rick Perlstein: Was to make it impossible to wonder why members of the evangelical right could endorse someone like Donald Trump as I document a huge part of Rick Perlstein: An Evangelical movements turn to politics and the late 1970s was rooted in basically a conspiracy theory that has very strong resemblances to q&a Rick Perlstein: It was the idea that gay men could not reproduce. So they were recruiting children, one of the most powerful christian right preachers was the guy named James Robeson Rick Perlstein: Still close to the Bush family who in 1979 get kicked off as affiliate in Fort Worth for saying that gays were recruiting boys and murdering them. Rick Perlstein: And when he was kicked off the year he became a murder and that martyrdom led to a rally of 10,000 people you know in Dallas. Rick Perlstein: And, you know, fighting for his right to say that sort of thing on the air. And that was one of the galvanizing catalyzing moments that led to the foundation of the moral majority. Rick Perlstein: Which was an absolutely crucial part of Reagan’s coalition. So even though Ronald Reagan was a guy who, for example, revered immigrants, right, George Bush and Ronald Reagan, who are the last men standing, the Republican nomination fight in 1980 Rick Perlstein: In Texas, and the primary competed with each other to say the nicest things about Natalie immigrants from Mexico but undocumented immigrants from Mexico. Rick Perlstein: And so that’s obviously a great contrast, but you cannot understand what’s happening now in the republican party without understanding the coalition that brought ron or Reagan to power. Rick Perlstein: So, Chris Riback: So talk to me about that because I think that Chris Riback: Understanding today it’s is is among the many ways that your book in your books are just so helpful. You just said, you know, you hear things and think about things. Chris Riback: From Reagan and you know when you see them in Trump there there are connections. There are so many connections as well. Some of the things that you’ve written about about Nixon. Chris Riback: That that come back and you know we know, including a number of the people who worked back then, you know, you know, most obviously Roger stone. Rick Perlstein: Roger stone is still around. Chris Riback: Yeah, I’m not sure. He said he someplace. He He Chris Riback: Yeah, he’s he’s someplace might be getting a tattoo or something, I don’t know where he is right now your books are Chris Riback: Yes, about the personalities. Yes, they are about Reagan yes they are about Nixon, but they are a roadmap to American conservatism. Chris Riback: Widely considered and often described as the roadmap of how conservatism took control of American political power. Chris Riback: Does conservatism still exist today, is it the same conservatism. How to trace that path. Chris Riback: You spend your books tracing a path. Chris Riback: From Goldwater through Reagan, you know, when I was talking to people about this book and about a conversation with you what most folks want to understand is, well, how in the heck did we get from there, though, to hear Right. Rick Perlstein: There’s an A VERY does a very important difference in the conservatism of Ronald Reagan’s day and the conservatism of Donald Trump’s day but it’s rooted in a underlying home ology a very important similarity Rick Perlstein: So I’ve been, you know, Rick Perlstein: Reading You know the documents during this 23 years of research of, you know, what conservatives, you know, say to each other. Right. Rick Perlstein: When no one else is looking and an enormous part of what conservatism’s a rise to power has been about is the idea of creating a message that you know Rick Perlstein: Has attractive optics for ideas that aren’t necessarily all that popular Rick Perlstein: When exposed to the light of day. For example, the idea of, you know, cutting taxes for the wealthy that’s never been popular. It isn’t popular. So how did they manage to Rick Perlstein: You know, get it done right and there’s a whole lot of subterfuge you know that you can you can kind of read the playbook. And these books that I write Rick Perlstein: To give a, an important example, um, you know, Ronald Reagan. Rick Perlstein: WOULD SIGN letters written by staffers, I don’t think I’m giving away any secrets congressmen, when I say that occasionally politicians do that. Rick Perlstein: And he would dictate letters to his secretary that were to his friends and his colleagues and to his critics. Rick Perlstein: And if you compare the two transcripts, the two bodies of evidence, you’re looking at two very different ronald reagan’s right the Ronald Reagan, who signed the letters was the guy who wrote to like a liberal Rick Perlstein: New York Times columnist like Anthony Lewis and presented himself as an intellectual in the broad center of, you know, establishment opinion right he wrote to authors. Rick Perlstein: You know, hee, hee, hee, hee right to an author who sent him a book, but the cover note to him might say, Governor. Here’s a letter for you to sign and the letter says what a wonderful Chris Riback: Book Rick Perlstein: And on the cover note says Rick Perlstein: Don’t bother to read the book. Right. Rick Perlstein: And at the same time the letters that he’s dictating are saying, I wonder what what’s going on in the Middle East, what its relationship is to prophecy in the book of Revelation. Rick Perlstein: Right, or he would say, I’m not trying to change my ideology from anyone for anyone. The same day in which he receive a briefing about how to answer questions about his opinion on sell to you know to basically Rick Perlstein: Make it look like he was, you know, in the broad center of American opinion. Rick Perlstein: And huge part of the political work of the people around around a Reagan was kind of disciplining the stuff that he actually believed him. He’d give a speech. Rick Perlstein: And, you know, to, you know, on the on the mashed potatoes circuit. And then he have a question answer, sir. He’d have a question and answer session. And he would say, Rick Perlstein: It’s come to my attention that the Soviet Union has dispersed 20 million young people to the countryside. Rick Perlstein: In order to practice reassembling the society in the event of a nuclear war, and they have dispersed their industry underground Rick Perlstein: Right, and it would show up in the newspapers. The next day, and then suddenly you know Mike Deaver would have a job on his hands. Explain. Oh well. Rick Perlstein: He must have been misquoted or misunderstood, that’s a metaphor for a lot of what the conservative movement has been about and the profound transformation that Donald Trump represents is he kind of lowers that scrim between the public and the private transcript. Right. Rick Perlstein: There’s, there’s always a Rick Perlstein: Challenge in a conservative movement. Rick Perlstein: rising to power when you know so many of their policies are not in the interests of, you know, the broad masses of Rick Perlstein: Citizens in a democracy. Rick Perlstein: So I would say that the biggest difference and the biggest Rick Perlstein: Important thing to understand in reading these books that I’ve written is how the dog whistle. Rick Perlstein: Right, which is, you know, say, Richard Nixon saying the first civil rights right of all Americans is to be free from domestic violence. Rick Perlstein: Right, the dog whistle. In that case, as well. Those people say they’re for civil rights really were for civil rights. Rick Perlstein: Or Richard Nixon say I’m speaking for the great silent majority of Americans who don’t really go into the streets and protest. Right. Well, when you have a majority, you have a minority, you know, everyone knows what minorities are in America. Rick Perlstein: To the train whistle Donald Trump saying, you know, they’re sending their rapists Donald Trump saying, forgive me, they’re coming from shithole countries, right. Rick Perlstein: But deep down a lot of the policy goals are the same. This a very long tradition and political in conservative political life. Rick Perlstein: Of these sort of documents about their kind of long term plans right the Discovery Institute in Seattle, which is pushing us push creationism having a 30 year plan how we’re going to manage to you know get people to doubt. Rick Perlstein: Of the add the theory of evolution, you know, the Cato Institute talking about their Leninist strategy to undo social security. Chris Riback: In so is Rick Perlstein: And wonder if I could say one more thing, Chris. One of the striking things about Rick Perlstein: The conservative movement now in in in in the form of it’s, you know, public officials, right, not, not just their kind of people who are writing memos for each other is the extent to which they’ve kind of welcomed this opportunity to kind of pull down the curtain. A instead of reacting Rick Perlstein: In horror, saying, Wow. Isn’t it great you know that we don’t have to pretend anymore. Chris Riback: Well in so Chris Riback: Many people you are among them you you have written that you know that this is not a normal election. Chris Riback: You have, you know, been been somewhat public about you’re concerned about where we are. You’re not alone. There are many, many Americans who are Chris Riback: Just a bit concerned that liberal small l democracy is under threat. Chris Riback: And so is what you’re describing is this the logical conclusion of pulling down the curtain. Is this the true conservative ism that you have documented over the years and now it’s just Chris Riback: You know, full frontal and we’re seeing everything and there’s no hiding or is what we’re seeing today a perversion of what you’ve covered and documented, you know, from Goldwater, you know, and beyond, Chris. Rick Perlstein: You know, literally, I can answer that right. Other people ask those questions are the 90% of Republicans who support Donald Trump, you know, something like the you know 80 or 90% of self described conservatives who support Donald Trump, you know, Rick Perlstein: Do you support x, y, z is something to ask them. Rick Perlstein: What does it mean for a, you know, an ideology that has made representations of its beliefs over Rick Perlstein: Decades to suddenly, you know, reverse those representations. When you know they’re coming into a situation where they feel like they can exert permanent power over the three branches of the government, the United States. Rick Perlstein: So, you know, I’d love to hear. I’d love to hear a member of the Republican caucus and Congress answer that question. That’s for them that’s not for me. Chris Riback: Let’s talk about the evangelicals a bit. You, you, you, there’s so many aspects of the book that you know that one can ask you about voter restriction and the way that that came up Chris Riback: I mean 77 yeah i mean you know and we’ll talk about maybe we’ll talk about that in a second. But Chris Riback: But Reagan’s quote about you can’t trust. He was talking about voter registration by mail, but I read that part. And it just rings, exactly, you know, very similar. Rick Perlstein: Like, why don’t we try reverse psychology. Why don’t we try making it harder to vote. Chris Riback: Yes. Yeah, yeah, that it was a great line and and you know what a what a terrific, terrific thought it’s the centerpiece of democracy is to restrict voting, of course. Chris Riback: But I’m the evangelicals that you raised a moment ago, obviously you document the the Chris Riback: And I think it’s almost the formation of that relationship. And it did kind of, you know, my understanding from from your writings that really did kind of start around Chris Riback: The during the era time. The, the kind of integration of the rise of the era as it was Chris Riback: Reaching are about to reach that 38 state threshold and then the rise of the anti gay movement and Anita Bryant and everything that was going on in Florida. Chris Riback: And many people at least before Chris Riback: RPG died and the reality of what a six to three majority could do it. Roe vs. Wade and other social issues. Hit many people, you know, still wonder why evangelicals would be so connected with Trump today and everything that that exists in his personal life. Chris Riback: But in your discussion on how era opponents built that opposition you in in in how it looks, you know, just as it looked like that amendment that the era was was going to pass. Chris Riback: You wrote that the most common answer cited by 56% is among the evangelicals was that the era was against God’s plan for the family. Chris Riback: The second most common answer was that it would quote would encourage an unbiblical relationship between men and women. Chris Riback: And for evangelicals to call something unbiblical or against God’s plan was no minor thing you right Chris Riback: It was not a matter of live and let live you handle your family and your way I’ll handle my family in mind the central evangelical 10. The reason they evangelize was the great commission in Matthew 28 Chris Riback: Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations fighting that which was unbiblical was more even then, a matter of life and death. It was a matter of eternal life and death. Chris Riback: I read that and I’m thinking about it. Chris Riback: I’m, I’m thinking about the language that’s being used today and the battles that are going on has has that insight of yours from the 1970s change to look in the last 50 years Rick Perlstein: Well, I mean, if you’re an evangelical Christian to that. Do you still believe that, you know, last things that you’re you know mission here on Earth is to bring you know, bring God’s kingdom. I mean, the Rick Perlstein: THE WOMAN THAT DONALD TRUMP APPEARS prepared to nominate to the Supreme Court said her work in the judiciary is to build God’s kingdom on earth. So you know clearly that’s Rick Perlstein: still the case. People are not gonna you know give up their, you know, foundational constitutional sense of how the world works, and man’s place in it, just because, for any reason, really, that that story you tell is is is a fascinating one. It also speaks to the hubris of liberals Rick Perlstein: I quote Time magazine. Rick Perlstein: You know, and we have, they have their man of the year, right, and then it 76 in recognition of Rick Perlstein: What appears to be, you know, the imminent success. So the Equal Rights Amendment and feminism as almost like the hedge romantic ideology of everyone in America they they named Women of the Year. Rick Perlstein: And I have this quote in the book that I was, you know, struggling to find I wasn’t able to page through and find it. But is it something like in 1976 the women’s Drive has gone beyond ideology, to be a universal belief. Rick Perlstein: And I point out that at the same time as they were saying that Rick Perlstein: These kind of popular evangelical vice books for women therapeutic books. Chris Riback: Were quotes from those books were just extraordinary. Rick Perlstein: Should we should we should we should we find one. Chris Riback: You can find when you have if if memory serves, I’m going to guess that it was around page. Rick Perlstein: I got it. Yeah. Rick Perlstein: I got it. You know, I’m you know when you don’t write thousand page book so that being able to find information really, really fast. Rick Perlstein: Uh, let’s see. Um, there were the books and lectures. Rick Perlstein: Not that one. Unfortunately, here we go. Yeah, here we go. In the gift of inner healing actually Rick Perlstein: That was a book written by Jimmy Carter sister with cutter Stapleton Stapleton she counseled a women desperately unhappy in their marriage, quote, try to spend a little time each day visualizing Jesus coming in the door from work. Rick Perlstein: Then see yourself walking up to him and bracing him say to Jesus. It’s good to have you home, Nick. Rick Perlstein: Here’s the spirit controlled women by Beverley Lehane was Rick Perlstein: The wife of Tim. Hello. Hey, who wrote the left behind novels, the woman who is truly spirit filled will want to want to be totally submissive to her husband. Rick Perlstein: This is a truly liberated woman as the women woman humbles Herself dying to self. Rick Perlstein: And submits to her husband, she begins to find yourself within that relationship, a servant, and was one who gets excited about making somebody else successful Rick Perlstein: You can live fully by dying to yourself and submitting to your husband. Now these are not obscure books. These are books that are selling 5 million copies. Right. Rick Perlstein: And these are the books being read by the people who are fighting the Equal Rights Movement, not just as a matter of politics, but as you say, as a matter of Rick Perlstein: Last things as a matter of the survival of civilization and, you know, it speaks to Rick Perlstein: Yes, I think the the strange and fundamentally undemocratic nature of a lot of this fundamental Christianity, but at the same time. How could Time magazine be so oblivious to the nation that they’re that they’re Rick Perlstein: Asserting themselves as the voice of to not grasp this right and one of the dramas of my books, one of the Rick Perlstein: Is to record that I really happening over and over and over again, you know, 1964, you know, Barry Goldwater loses California by a million votes and as a headline and the New York Times white backlash does not Rick Perlstein: Develop right, of course. Barry Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Act and the fact that he lost was taken as vindication of America supported civil rights. Well, that same day in California by almost exactly the same deficit. Rick Perlstein: A open housing bill passes. I mean fails initiative, I should say. So basically the same people who are voting for Lyndon Johnson are voting for the right not to live next to an African American right Rick Perlstein: And over again. Rick Perlstein: Conservatism is declared dead and buried and it always somehow manages like the Godzilla, you know, the last the you know the sequel right rises from them from below and and bodies forth, and here we are. Chris Riback: Well, if that is just one of the elements of art that is just a signature of your writing to, you know, take the reader along what’s happening on the front page is what’s happening in in, you know, Chris Riback: On the evening news you did it. A Nixon land at the beginning of your whole treatment of the Watts riots. Chris Riback: Right. And you know that that was dominating all of the coverage while you know the the law and order sentiment was was kind of Rick Perlstein: Five days after Lyndon Johnson stands on to the capital don’t capital dough and Martin Luther King science of the Voting Rights Act and almost literally declares racism dead in America. Rick Perlstein: He says, you know, the slaves came here and bondage. We have in chains. We have broken the last vestiges of those fears in action buttons right Chris Riback: Yeah. Rick Perlstein: Brock Obama was elected. And Rick Perlstein: A little book called Nixon land comes out. And the last line of the book is that will you Americans are next and land over. No, it’s not over yet and I talk about Americans fantasizing about killing each other in cold blood. Rick Perlstein: Um, people say, wow, that’s a great book. But what the heck is he talking about at the end. And literally, some of the people who wrote that in the reviews apologize to me. Rick Perlstein: Now, realizing that that’s part of the American patrimony that kind of mutual recrimination and rage towards different tribes of Americans. And here we are. Chris Riback: And the, the that that rage that retribution and that the everyday. Chris Riback: Inability and and i mean we all, we all have it. I have. We all have it have of looking beyond Chris Riback: Just what we are being shown or just what we are choosing to see. I mean, the most you know one of the recent examples, I would argue was Chris Riback: And so many of us felt that that one of the problems you know one of the things that the Democratic Party didn’t realize was what was going on in the Midwest. What was going on in in white working class America of what they had had lost their Rick Perlstein: All of us, not realizing it. I remember my, my favorite Saturday Night Live. Rick Perlstein: skit of the last 20 years is all these Rick Perlstein: You know, nice middle class white folks sitting on a couch watching the lecture, lecture reviews, a gas returns a gas that so many their fellow Americans could be so racist and and two black guys in the back, kind of smirking, whereas these guys been living the last 400 years Chris Riback: Yeah. Rick Perlstein: Yes. Yeah, that that’s I’ll drink, you know, I gotta, I gotta have a little I gotta have a little of the great laughter is happy, happy reflections. Chris Riback: Terrific. I wish that we were doing this in person, because I would ask you to refill my glass I you know you should have given me the heads up, I would have, I would have joined you, you know, I, I, you know, I guess. Luckily, you’re doing a Rick Perlstein: vamp while you go to the kitchen. Rick Perlstein: The great thing about Chris Riback: I’m sure I’m sure you can Chris Riback: Let’s talk as well. Chris Riback: About another element. Rick Perlstein: I think in Steve’s line of work, they call it a filibuster Rick Perlstein: That’s the Senate. Yeah, maybe someday. Chris Riback: Yep, that’s what you’re hoping they don’t do away with the filibuster right so that you can Rick Perlstein: They don’t have that talking filibusters anymore. Rick Perlstein: There’s lots of filibusters in the book by the way they filibuster a labor law reform that has buy in from both corporate america and labor and suddenly at the last minute. Rick Perlstein: A bunch of executives at Fortune 500 companies are like, wow, there’s way too much liberalism happening. We got a filibuster this thing to death and a young Rick Perlstein: Senator freshman senator from this new right movement Orrin Hatch is the field general is a lot like he’s a lot like the FREEDOM CAUCUS GUYS, because he didn’t exercise the rules of deference that senators were supposed to reveal in their first first year, what Chris Riback: What is an orange hash, Rick. Rick Perlstein: That’s one of the one of the funniest thing parts of the book, I hope after Orrin Hatch, you know, wins this Rick Perlstein: Come from behind behind victory. He’s a nobody has no connections in Utah, and he wins the senate race and as, as, as you know, once again, you know, the pundits are declaring conservatism dead because Jimmy Carter one Rick Perlstein: The only article I could find that that discussed Orrin Hatch his election in any depth was a humor piece about our suburban couple having a cocktail party and decide to make their theme Orrin Hatch because they thought the name was so funny. Rick Perlstein: What’s an orrin hatch. That’s the name of the chapter. Yeah. Chris Riback: Yeah, the treatment. I mean, that whole that whole part of the book and and the you know the connection and obviously the the reagan connection. And that was also kind of a canary in a coal mine example where what was happening with him in Utah, and you explained it in other places. Rick Perlstein: I have a fun thing I stuck in way at the last minute right before I went to the printers almost Rick Perlstein: I added a paragraph about an initiative that was on the ballot with orrin hatch in 1976 to ban the fluoridation Rick Perlstein: Of water and yes yeah the Rick Perlstein: Same as coven mass. It’s what are these what are these pointy headed scientists to tell me what to drink. Chris Riback: Sincerely, that was not going to be a did you put it in because, of course, I can’t believe that was not going to be in the book that part. Rick Perlstein: You know it’s 1000 pages long. Chris, I did a lot of cutting you know I did, I did a New York Times op ed based on Gerald Ford Rick Perlstein: Having the whole nation. Take this vaccine that was rushed into production for the swine flu, the swine flu never developed. But, you know, hundreds and hundreds of people were paralyzed by the vaccine and that’s what happens when you obviously rush the process of creating a vaccine. Chris Riback: You know, I don’t want to fact check you on the Rick Perlstein: cutting room floor. Chris Riback: Okay, that may be and I don’t want to, you know, fact check you on the fly, but you know it’s 1000 page book, man. You didn’t do that much cutting Rick Perlstein: My wife just giggled, the background in here that Chris Riback: I heard that. I’m glad glad Rick Perlstein: Knowledge mints. If it wasn’t for her would have been 2000 Chris Riback: Very good. And, and you, you Chris Riback: You you write very lovingly about her in the acknowledgments, and I guess you guys know have time for. What did you call it mad music something music mad music, you’re going to do now. Rick Perlstein: Well that’s that’s between me and Judy. Chris Riback: Okay, well, you put it in the acknowledgments. It’s not just between you guys anymore. Chris Riback: I’m just not remembering the exact phrase that you said, but it was Chris Riback: Something was an M M something Rick Perlstein: Music Chris Riback: To it manic music Rick Perlstein: Music of her red pen. Chris Riback: Yeah, okay. I knew, I knew that I was Rick Perlstein: Sure she read that, I don’t know. Rick Perlstein: You might be hearing that, for the first time. Chris Riback: I want to ask you another part about the book specifically because we’ve been talking about. Chris Riback: The path of conservatism. How did we get here today, you know, would Ronald Reagan recognize the the party now and I want it. We want to leave room because there are questions from the audience and Chris Riback: Congressman, Israel has at least one question for you as well. But you you write among the many, many things that you do that is just make your books just so much fun to read is bringing to life characters who Chris Riback: Some of us should have known about, but I will confess I didn’t, I didn’t know Richard viguerie Chris Riback: No, you know, I just, I wasn’t Chris Riback: Fully aware pack Adele, I knew Chris Riback: You know viguerie I didn’t know and wow what a character and he almost Chris Riback: Is probably an exaggeration to say he invented the connection of direct mail to the political process, but he certainly was one of the drivers of it and and Chris Riback: The powerful line to me about it. And just to be clear, he raised a bunch of money did. There are all sorts of things that he did, but Rick Perlstein: Jesus out of the folks you know the plane folks that Rick Perlstein: Yes, gays, we’re going to be demonstrating sex in the classrooms and that sort of thing. So unless you give me $20 to, you know, elect. So instead of Congress. Yeah. Chris Riback: He is quite a character but but there was this powerful line that you wrote about the direct mail that he was because he was really strong at using mailing list. Chris Riback: As ways to raise money. Chris Riback: And and he said, Democrats. Think of direct mail is fundraising. It’s not. It’s advertising. It’s advertising. Chris Riback: And then you wrote viguerie explain viguerie explains that the media is left of center and direct mail is the way to connect directly with voters. It’s the only way that the public school republicans feel this is pre Fox, of course. Chris Riback: That they can Chris Riback: Communicate directly and and as I’m as I’m reading this. Chris Riback: I started to wonder, did he have something there. And what’s the fact that the new right that you write about connected directly with voters almost like some kind of prehistoric social Rick Perlstein: media, social media parallels how strong he also said direct mail. It’s like a water moccasin silent but deadly. So when everyone wakes up in the morning and realize that, you know, Rick Perlstein: You know, Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon had been in and and our friends, you know, the Russian steps are, you know, seeding our social media with these horror stories, uh, Rick Perlstein: After the election. That was a lot like what was happening in the 1976 and 1978 election. Rick Perlstein: By the 1980s election. People were pretty getting pretty wise. Now the question is, what would they feed and kind of directly to the people. I mean, just to, you know, I’m not sure that that vigorous style direct mail was used in the Rick Perlstein: You know that that fluoridation campaign but you know if it was, it would have said. Rick Perlstein: You know, these these these scientists were elected by nobody claim this this fluoride is preventing tooth decay, but really we think it causes cancer. Right. Rick Perlstein: Or they, you know, just to take a real example. You know, they would, they would say, yeah, that was that was here’s here’s, here’s a really good example that that that Rick Perlstein: The IRS, you know, is, you know, increasing the rule. You know, it has new rules you know for Christian schools to keep their tax exemptions. Rick Perlstein: What they really have in mind is forcing a Christian schools to hire homosexual teachers. I mean, that’s a literal example right Rick Perlstein: And so the idea that there’s this kind of almost parallel reality that conservatives are fed that that that you know doesn’t Rick Perlstein: You know comport with the actual reality that we know now on fox news that also was a process that was a long time coming. And in the case of Richard vagaries Rick Perlstein: Apology that, you know, direct mail is really advertising. A lot of that was self serving it was to stay one step ahead of the law. Rick Perlstein: Because you know he was charging people exorbitant fees and sometimes he would charge people more than they actually raised in the fundraiser. So he was trying to stay on. Rick Perlstein: Congressman is real stuff late colleague Charlie Wilson. Rick Perlstein: decided that he was going to regulate this stuff and every not for profit group in America was behind it. But then once again they fired up this kind of propaganda machine. Rick Perlstein: And the ministers and said, Really, what they want to do is make it impossible for ministers to grow their churches, right. So that kind of poisoning be that be falling of of Rick Perlstein: The well of information was a huge part about which are what Richard Gregory was all about, you know, also the original conservative political action committees, the National Conservative Political Action Committee. Rick Perlstein: Steve will remember Terry Dolan, right, who was a new right the youngest member of the newly new right cohort who started the national conservative political action committee and began Rick Perlstein: Putting up these foul negative advertisements against senators like Rick Perlstein: Frank Church and and and George McGovern, year and a half before they even had any opponents to kind of soften them up for the 1978 1980 Rick Perlstein: Senate races and he said, The great thing about political action committees. In other words, soft money uncoordinated campaigns. Rick Perlstein: Is that we can live through our teeth and the candidate, we support stays clean right i mean he he’s he’s bragging about this a lot like Roger stone kind of brags about, you know, his various exploits. Rick Perlstein: And kind of idea like Rick Perlstein: Like Catch Me If You Can trolling liberals dare dare you to you snowflakes. You know, don’t you really want to play the game. Right. And now we’re seeing it come from the White House. Chris Riback: And so I’m going to hand this over and we’re going to get questions now from the audience. But is it too much. Chris Riback: I spent a lot of time thinking about that part, is it too much of an extrapolation for me to make to almost link that that training that that the Chris Riback: honing the skill of directly communicating with voters because they couldn’t leverage the mainstream media as well is, is there a direct line to their use of the conservatives use of social media today, or is that too long of a lie. Rick Perlstein: I mean it’s it’s definitely part of the discourse. But the fact of the matter is the media was bending over backwards to get the conservative message, you know, into the mainstream media, you know, Rick Perlstein: You know newspapers were hiring people like, Well, I’m sapphires there column su and Nixon. Rick Perlstein: speech writer, they were they were you know getting the syndicated columns. The Patrick, we can. And so they could somehow Rick Perlstein: protect themselves from the charge that they were not vessels for liberalism, because there was there existed. This then and now this discourse that politics is only respectable if you represent both sides, even if one of the sides is systematically and admittedly lying. Chris Riback: Natalie, as we hand over for a moment to the congressman who I’m sure has no fewer than 27 questions on his mind that he would like to discuss with Rick. Is there any instruct just to. Okay, well, you’re better Rick Perlstein: He’s given me the peace symbol. Chris Riback: Yeah, I think. Yeah. Well, the liberal that you are. He probably is, but there Chris Riback: Are that Nixon look Chris Riback: Natalie’s during the instruction for the viewers listeners that you want to give before congressman is real takes over. Natalie Ryan: Absolutely. So if anybody has a question, please look at the bottom of your screen. And you’ll see the raise hand function. If you click on that, it will let us know that you’re in queue. And then I can call on you after a congressman Israel. Thanks. Steve Israel: Well, thank you, Natalie is populating that Hugh Steve Israel: Rick have a question and then a slightly more abstract question. Steve Israel: I, I hope you’re not finished tracing the arcs of history, you know, I would argue that the 1990s when gingrich change strategies and tactics in Washington was another extraordinary Steve Israel: A macro trend. Steve Israel: Seems to complexity politics. Will there be another book. Rick Perlstein: Yes. Steve Israel: And it’s going to be about the 1830s. Rick Perlstein: Then my next my next adventure is to explain the rise of of Rick Perlstein: Markets and industrialism around the world. So I Rick Perlstein: I take on the big ones. Steve Israel: We will look for that. Now a slightly more abstract question. I’ve always been fascinated by the strategies strategies and tactics of the conservative movement. Steve Israel: Contrasted with the strategies and tactics or lack thereof of the Progressive Movement. Right. So your book traces the the hardball tactics. Rick Perlstein: Right. Steve Israel: Over the movement, the flyleaf actually says traces conservatives cutthroat strategies to gain power and sales. Rick Perlstein: Manager for that. Yeah. Steve Israel: And also thank you editor for this line, a look at quote new right organizers deploying state of the art technologies and bending political norms to the breaking point. Steve Israel: Off of that right now. One could argue that the rebel and there’s no argument, the Republicans right now or two no in denied Democrats vote for this. Steve Israel: They’ve done a triple Axel reverse flip on the 2016 position. Sometimes it strikes me that conservatives play to win and DEMOCRATS PLAY to discuss the rules. Steve Israel: Yeah, and I’m wondering is that if your contract as you Rick Perlstein: Would I would just love to turn this sentence around and asked, How the heck that ends up happening. I mean, Rick Perlstein: when when when the democrats took over the Senate last time. Patrick Leahy, a Rick Perlstein: Great champion of human rights and a great senator in many ways decided, the first thing to do was to make a bipartisan by in a more important and more more more important feature of the nomination and and and seating of Rick Perlstein: Members of the federal judiciary. So he made the blue slip slip process easier to use, giving literally the Republicans have veto power over every democratic judge when the Republicans get into power they steal a Supreme Court seat. Rick Perlstein: The abstract my abstract answer that question is that liberals and conservatives have completely opposed definitions of what principle is right when it comes to liberals principle means fair procedures transparency being nice. Rick Perlstein: A liberal congressman who has a very important vote the clock is ticking and needs to get out to that floor, but he sees a little old lady who needs help across, you know, Pennsylvania Avenue will take her arm and and take her cross the street. Rick Perlstein: Republican who wants to exercise principal principal means achieving the Rick Perlstein: ends up getting power right a conservative who’s not a squish a conservative. Who wants respect as a principled conservative will knock her aside and, you know, lower the minimum wage down eight cents. Rick Perlstein: Right, so it’s a very different way of looking at the world, of course, that wasn’t always the case. Let me tell you, Franklin Roosevelt was one tough cookie, right, you know, Phil Burton was one tough guy right Rick Perlstein: Tip O’Neill, you had a Steve Israel: Woman Right. Rick Perlstein: What’s that Steve Israel: Nancy Pelosi is one TOUGH WOMAN. Steve Israel: No go Rick Perlstein: No, she said that we don’t. We can’t pursue. She didn’t want to pursue Rick Perlstein: An impeachment of the president unless both sides agreed that it was likely possible, right, that was a surrender. That will write her a black mark in history for allowing a dictatorship to come to power in the United States. Rick Perlstein: She should have gone after after this criminal with everything they had and the fact that she didn’t Rick Perlstein: Shows the liberal the liberal ideology at its worse that fairness, transparency. Rick Perlstein: Is Rick Perlstein: The most important thing and that achieving power in this case power for the American people to Rick Perlstein: live their lives and freedom and dignity. Steve Israel: Or Rick Perlstein: Not when it comes to fighting Donald Trump. Steve Israel: I’m gonna I’m gonna we have a bunch of people ready to ask questions, but I would love to further that conversation with you. Really. Oh. Rick Perlstein: Wait, when we hit when we, when I meet the caucus. We can do that. Rick Perlstein: Well, we can ask your, your republican colleagues how tough they think she is Steve Israel: All right, Natalie. Shall we go to questions. Natalie Ryan: Absolutely. We have a few people lined up. The first is former congressman jack Kingston, and Peter, please unmute yourself. You can ask your question. jack kingston: Hey, Jackie. Thanks. jack kingston: It’s great to listen to you at jack kingston: This time with each other and cross pollinate a little jack kingston: You do a great job on this, and I, I appreciate your email the other day. jack kingston: I’m Rick. Now I can talk to you a little bit about being a Republican. I look at aqua blue that now has, I think, closing in on a billion and a half dollars or some jack kingston: astronomical amount. And I’m thinking, why don’t we have that on the good side that is on the republican team on. I just had blue them via jack kingston: Act blue and you talking about the sophistication it of one side versus the other, it seems to me that right now. The Democrats have the jack kingston: technological edge. Certainly they do with something like blah at Blue with fundraising and Steve, you probably were the brainchild behind that when you ran the congressional committee, but I just wanted to get your thoughts on it. Rick Perlstein: Well, when it comes to you know seating secret messages via Facebook using psycho graphics, you know, we’re African Americans are, you know, Rick Perlstein: Educated that somehow the Democratic candidate has doesn’t have their interest in her I’d say that that’s a pretty sophisticated technological setup to but maybe they had a little help. Steve Israel: All right. Natalie Ryan: Great. Our next question comes from Anderson, Carol. If you could unmute yourself, please. Steve Israel: Carry with us. Steve Israel: She’s on mute. Yeah, let’s go to the next one. And if we can get carried back, we will Natalie Ryan: Absolutely, yes. The next question comes from Jeremy Paul Jeremy, if you could unmute yourself, please. Jeremy Paul: I clicked on mute. Can you hear me. Rick Perlstein: Making me Jeremy Paul: Excellent. So, so, Rick. I’m delighted to see you, what was necessary to come to a T shirt and speak a couple years ago for us now. Jeremy Paul: In your book, you cover. Jeremy Paul: Not only Reagan’s political rise of but also his time as president because one of the things that has always struck me as very odd is the way that the Democrats have allowed the national perception. Jeremy Paul: That he was a very successful President, when in fact he did have the good fortune to be there. When the Soviet Union collapsed, but at the same time he basically started the whole chain of deregulation and Jeremy Paul: Massive deficits that ultimately led to the collapse of the ability of the federal government. Rick Perlstein: Jimmy Carter started the deregulation. Jeremy Paul: Yeah, he started a little bit yeah but but not Rick Perlstein: I mean Reagan’s presidency, I don’t write about the tools to understand it but Rick Perlstein: I think one of the striking things. You know what, I can just recommend a really good book about, you know, kind of a day to day coverage of the the reagan presidency is Rick Perlstein: Trying for the imagination by Richard Reeves. And one of the things that really struck me reading that book is you know what was going on in Lebanon and the giant cockup Rick Perlstein: You know the Reagan administration achieve there and, you know, one of the things I mean those this, you know, weird Rube Goldberg situation involving 11 on in Iran and Central America. Rick Perlstein: This is, you know, Iran Contra when you actually like look at, you know, kind of you, you actually tell it to a young person. Rick Perlstein: Exactly what it was, this was about. So you know proxies of around we’re taking American hostages in Lebanon and demanding ransom we negotiate with them. We told them we give you missile parts if you release our hostage is they got the math, the you know the money from Rick Perlstein: The, the, the, they took them the profits from the missile parts and gave it to these right wing death squads and Central America after Congress band. Rick Perlstein: You know band America from giving them any money just a black letter violation of a law passed by Congress and then Lebanon, we released the hostages and then they take more Rick Perlstein: I mean, it’s literally what happened not only negotiating with terrorists, but unsuccessfully negotiating terrorists and using the profits to break the law. This is a great president i i don’t Rick Perlstein: I was just a teenager, then, you know, don’t look at me. But I think a lot of this is, you know, the media’s desperation to appear fair by being, you know, Rick Perlstein: By treating Reagan as a great book about the media in the reagan presidency called it on bended knee. I think there was a lot of sympathy for him. Rick Perlstein: After the assassination attempt. And I think one of the striking things about Reagan and the Presidency is Rick Perlstein: Jimmy Carter’s. One of the reasons Jimmy Carter’s presidency failed, and I think the congressman would probably just probably agree with me. Rick Perlstein: Is that he had his finger and every pie. He was a micromanager and people were terrified. You know what, you know, at the people. One of the reasons Rick Perlstein: I found this very strange unexpected fact in the exit polls in the 19 eight elections that people who thought the hostage crisis was the most important issue. Rick Perlstein: Voter for Carter by a by a ratio of two to one, which is completely the opposite of what people assume I think the reason people was people were so terrified that the Reagan was going to nuke Iran. Rick Perlstein: People were terrified that Reagan would be a complete Rick Perlstein: You know doddering failure as president, but the fact that he was so hands off and kind of let his aides take care of things and delegated so much Rick Perlstein: Is actually a pretty good way to be president. So I think the shock that the world didn’t fall apart, you know, and Ronald Reagan’s first months and years kind of gave them a little bit more of a pass among Rick Perlstein: The media, then you would have had otherwise. Natalie Ryan: Great, Carol. Are you able to unmute Natalie Ryan: Now, so we’ll go to Richard colon, Richard. If you could please unmute yourself. Steve Israel: Wonder Richard Richard Cohen: Can you hear me. Rick Perlstein: I can hear you, Richard. Okay, I’m Richard Cohen: Sorry. Richard Cohen: So if I can ask the question. Um, I’ve only read the first three books have it. I’m only not H 30 of the fourth Richard Cohen: Matter was, was there any sense. Richard Cohen: Back 40 years ago as word demographics. We’re going in the country. We’re now you’ll as a Democrat, we think demographics or destiny. Richard Cohen: Was a sense on the part of conservatives Richard Cohen: Questions about the sense of concern was 40 years ago. Rick Perlstein: Right. Richard Cohen: Is this gonna be the same country down the road. Rick Perlstein: No, no, and immigration really wasn’t that much of an issue in the 1980s election. I mentioned that, you know, Ronald Reagan said very kind things about Rick Perlstein: Undocumented immigrants in the Texas primary key kinda reversed himself and kind of fudged it and probably you know he had some very good pollsters Rick Perlstein: But there was very little discussion of America becoming, you know, less white at that particular time, I can say more about, you know, I can go a little bit more to the abstractions of history I reject. Rick Perlstein: The idea that somehow America is going to become majority minority and that sort of provide some sort of guaranteed success for the Democrats for two reasons. Rick Perlstein: First of all, the category of who gets to be counted as white and America has Rick Perlstein: Consistently shifted. There’s a book called How the Irish became white right they were considered racial others when they first came here. So you know if if Hispanic Americans, you know, manage to kind of work their way into, you know, white identity. Rick Perlstein: Then, all bets are off. And that when they become one more of the of the repeated history of immigrant groups rising through America’s class system and then pulling down the ladder for the next group. Rick Perlstein: Of course, African Americans have always unfortunately been excluded from that process. They’re always tragically being, you know, kind of counted as the mud Silla society. Steve Israel: They send it or don’t go away. I, Rick. If you’re okay with this. Rick Perlstein: Sure. Steve Israel: I’ve got to ask the senator, you’re a senator in the St. Paul area Minnesota is a must win state for Joe Biden, the Trump campaign thinks they can make a run at it, who wins, Minnesota. I want the on the ground report. Richard Cohen: I’m personally, I tend to be pretty realistic about stuff. I think Biden wins in it’s not close to you all the polling suggests Biden’s up our Senate caucus bowling suggested a bite it is up significantly in suburban Minnesota so Rick Perlstein: In congressman and Senator, if I could make the point, I always make when I’m asked about the electrical electoral electoral questions about this election. Rick Perlstein: It is a profound mistake to look at this election only in terms of who gets the most votes, whether they’re popular votes or electoral votes that route. Rick Perlstein: Donald Trump does not see this as an election he sees this as an attempt to regain power. Rick Perlstein: Probably because if he loses power he has a chance of going to jail and the people around him feel fear they might go to jail and the public officials in the Republican Party fear the judgment of history should Rick Perlstein: They be revealed for what they are. So hopefully, the person who gets the most votes will win. Rick Perlstein: But unfortunately that’s in the air right now and we have to see this election as not just a question of who gets the most more. So of course we meet Rick Perlstein: Speaking as a partisan Democrat, we need a commanding popular victory and electoral victory, but we also have to be ready for the kind of tragedies, we’ve only seen in other continents and other centuries. Steve Israel: Natalie, can we take one more question. Natalie Ryan: Yeah. So Carol was able to put her question, the chat. She asks can you make a digest and get your key point A 30 year conspiracy to establish minority roll out to the general public. Rick Perlstein: Can I Rick Perlstein: Get my third my 30 year plan to take oh if I were to Rick Perlstein: Uh, if I were to well i would i would support the idea that every patriotic American should be armed Rick Perlstein: And that they should be armed to fight tyranny on the part of their government. And lo and behold, that’s exactly what we’ve heard from the last 30 years from my friends on the other side of the aisle. Natalie Ryan: Right. Steve Israel: You go, Chris, you want to have a few concluding words and then I’ll wrap it up. Is that okay Chris Riback: That’s x. Yeah, that’s terrific. Thank you. So I have to follow ups, based on what you just said. Chris Riback: One at the beginning you said to me that yes, you thought Reagan would recognize the Republican Party today. You also in congressman Israel’s question about Nancy Pelosi said that the current president is a dictator and a criminal. Why would would Reagan caucus. He Chris Riback: Would he caucus. Chris Riback: With its party. Rick Perlstein: When I’m when Spiro Agnew the vice president United States. Rick Perlstein: Pleaded guilty. No, a contemporary I should say to fraud that involve literally taking money and envelopes from people in the vice presidential office and in his office as governor Rick Perlstein: Ronald Reagan refuse to denounce him because Reagan saw the world in terms of good guys and bad guys and Ted was one of the good guys and when Michael Deaver you can read this in his memoir said, Governor. Rick Perlstein: You can’t hold on to your, to your friendship with Teddy agony, this guy, this guy’s an admitted crook. Rick Perlstein: He said, Ron Reagan got MATTER AT HIM THAT HE’D EVER SEEN and throw his keys at him. Rick Perlstein: So if Donald Trump if Ron Reagan should decide, should have decided that Ronald Reagan was on the side of right i mean that that Donald Trump is on the side of right, it would be very hard for him to kind of change his mind in the facts of the evidence in the face of the evidence. Chris Riback: And my last question is you. You were just talking with the senator from Minnesota in in about this outcome. Chris Riback: The things you write about in the book is the sense that the DNA that the belief that the DNA of America, you wrote. Oh, no, no. This was in an essay that you wrote in these times, you wrote an essay about museums and and Chris Riback: Write the Americans desire to not confront reality, but to to come together, right, which you kind of argue is not a way to get to an my, my question is if Biden is running as as the Rick Perlstein: Right. Chris Riback: With the idea that we should be coming together that that part of the DNA. But the reality is what we’re seeing what you just said that this is not a normal election. This is about race for power is Chris Riback: Of Chris Riback: Trying to Chris Riback: Promote that DNA of Americans to want to come together. Is that just the wrong theme at this time. Rick Perlstein: You know it’s working. I think in a lot of ways, and people. The fact is he is appealing to an electorate that wants to believe in you know unity and the idea that America is a country that’s fundamentally decent Rick Perlstein: I think that Biden is pretty sophisticated and seeing himself and sophisticated and mature and kind of admirable and seeing himself as a transitional figure, you know, he knows he is a Rick Perlstein: Opening the door for a new generation of democrats I’ll probably think about the world in a very different way. I think for America to kind of transcend its wounds. Rick Perlstein: It needs to sort of thing we saw in South Africa. Truth and Reconciliation Commission and which required the malefactors in South Africa, in order to receive Rick Perlstein: Grace for their for their crimes and their sins to admit them right. But that’s a very ugly and difficult process and it’s not going to happen overnight. Well, Chris Riback: Rick. Thank you, Steve. I will turn it over to you for your, your closing words but Ricky you describe yourself as a historian and then author of these various books. I don’t know which one I would put first for you. Chris Riback: Or author Chris Riback: Say it again. Chris Riback: Edison citizen. Okay, fine. We’ll call you citizen, but thank you. The books are just all wonderful reads the pros and the history. Thank you. Steve Israel: My friends, but before you go, Rick. Let me remind our friends, next Wednesday at 1pm anatomy of an ad, you’re going to learn everything you need to know about how political ads are constructed produced presented Steve Israel: And then on October 1 at 11am Jeffrey Tubingen talking about something that reciprocity alluded to, and that is what happens in this country. Steve Israel: I don’t know. Election Day, but the day after the election. Yes, not read this book, yet it is just extraordinary and entertaining and reposting thank you for being a chronicler of the conservative movement and the 1830s, we’ve just learned Rick Perlstein: Thank you, Congressman. Rick Perlstein: I look forward to our next meeting. Steve Israel: I can’t wait. Thank you all very much stay healthy and safe. And with that, we will say farewell. Thank you, everybody.