At the American Political Science Association annual meeting, in Boston’s Hynes convention center, room 107.
7:58 All the panelists have their laptops up and open. Henry has brought donuts to entice the audience.
For an 8AM panel, there’s pretty good attendance—30-or-so people [by 8:15, more like 35; if this trickling keeps up, I'll have the biggest audience of the panelists] in a room that might hold 50—I think we call this the Krugman effect. Or else it’s the donuts.
Krugman will talk first, then Pierson, McCarty and me.
Perlstein sees my laptop screen and says, “Hi Mom!”
Krugman on the kinds of book reviews—reviewing a book by Murray Slotnick, you say, “Slotnick is no Marcel Proust,” then you talk about Proust. This will be a comment in that tradition.
Perlstein’s book conveys that sense of chaos.
Quotes Walker Percy—things fell apart, the center did not hold, but the GDP continued to rise. Krugman: Actually, it’s the opposite.
The conditions that created the possibility of Nixonism are gone. No social chaos, riots, hippies, etc. But the right is frozen in amber, campaigning against those same things. The only thing left is the Franklin/Orthogonian divide (this is Nixon’s term of outrage, separating the golden boys from the hard-workers, the Kennedys from the Nixons, the kewl kids versus the strivers, which is what nowadays allows ol’ Twelve Houses to be seen as the reg’lar guy).
Nixonism has become institutionalized—”six angry billionaires.” This gives us a lot of “fake Orthogonians,” who’ve been brought up in this alternative institutional structure to simulate outrage at the traditional institutions.
Krugman says he doesn’t know how much of this would have happened without Watts and such. But it’s painful to recall it, and to recall that he thought that was as bad as it could get.
Pierson. Excellent book, 2 reactions. (1) people find it riveting, brings alive the time. (2) hard to talk about at APSA because it’s not political science, it’s narrative, with high level of empathy for a variety of points of view, and lots of the virtues that come with that.
Actually, Pierson says, the book convergences with a number of standard narratives of post-45 politics—those shared by the press, historians, political scientists: breakup of New Deal coalition, realignment of South. Strengthened the relative power of the GOP, increased ideological sorting between the two parties—no more conservatives in the Democratic Party.
“Clearly there’s a lot to this story.” A sentence that indicates another shoe dropping. Here it is: “What’s not to like? Actually, I think there’s quite a bit….”
Pierson has a different narrative. First an excursion to talk about what political history is like—a series of spectacles, elections, with politicians riding the waves of these events.
What does this narrative push to the side? (1) Policy; (2) Interest groups. There needs to be more of this in the narrative.
We need governance, so it isn’t just contests between Red and Blue. And as for interest groups: for them, politics is a means, not an end, and they want something out of these elections. Something like a tenth of what industry groups spend on politics goes to elections; the rest to lobbying.
We need to merge these two visions. And there’s a puzzle in doing this. In the 1960s, the role of the government doesn’t let us see 1968 or 1972 as turning points—they’re in the middle of government activism. If anything, it accelerates while Nixon is in the White House. Expansion of all kinds of New Deal/Great Society programs, of regulation, etc.
And this trend doesn’t stop in 1981, it stops in 1978. Tax bill much more business-friendly. Deregulation. All with the Democratic victories of 1974 and 1976.
McCarty. A rich, insightful, entertaining, riveting, etc. book. Some difficulties. A story that’s been told more often than the 1964 Goldwater story Perlstein previously wrote about.
Agrees with Pierson that the periodization could be different. Thinks the 1966 and 1970 elections are less important than Perlstein does. The 1966 election basically undoes a 1964 aberration. In 1970, the GOP underperforms because the economy’s bad. So we don’t get the ideological sorting Pierson mentioned until 1974 or so.
McCarty notes that income/class polarization very important lately and has a lot to do with governance. Economic division more important than sociocultural issues. And the economic separation occurs mostly in the 1970s after the book ends.
Contrariwise, wishes he could have had more on neoconservatives and the broader conservative intellectual movement.
Also, wants more attention paid to public opinion, in a systematic way, rather than quotations from newspaper articles. And more election data. And a comparative perspective—student rebellions, crime problems, these things occur elsewhere and the political responses sometimes differ from the American one.
And, there’s Wilentz’s Age of Reagan—doesn’t it matter which politician we invoke to describe the period? Different styles of politics, different policy platforms. Reagan did something that Nixon couldn’t—make the Republican Party a conservative party.
Then Rauchway goes, and I talk about Bankhead Republicanism, the inextricability of race and class in understanding the rise of Southern Republicanism, etc.
Perlstein: Thanks, this is humbling. “I stand on the shoulders of graduate students,” when he does this work. He knows what path dependence and habitus are, but I don’t mention them for obvious reasons. Let me lay out a kind of mainline theme, and cover some of the points here.
Perlstein stands by his characterization of the 1960s as a crucible, says that Pierson is right, of course, but there’s a lag—you change the rhetoric, the state follows.
At the level of statute, bureaucracy, personnel—these things follow. Can political scientists be more formal about how these lags work?
Now, yes, we don’t have the conditions that let the Nixonlanders rise, we still have the backlash to those conditions, which as Krugman says, has been institutionalized. Is this a lag, a progressive alignment crystallizing?
Gonna do another volume from 1973-80, looking at political economy, what did it mean that corporations dealt with falling rates of profits, how did they convert their concerns into policy pressures and interest groups?
Again, remarks on the importance of the unpassed 1966 Civil Rights Act, and the housing portion.
Krugman’s mention of how painful the book is. Yes, Perlstein says, he does a lot of psychology in the book—and there’s a paucity of historical memory on how painful the 1960s were to experience, and it’s one of the ways in which that lag manifests itself.
Perlstein says, yeah, I do elections, in which lightly informed voters, courted by politicians surfing the wave of events—but I try to do that, to talk about the world of the ordinary American, and only break into the overall view rarely, that’s the kind of book this is. Didn’t talk about Kristol because that didn’t interest me at this time.
Talks a bit about methods, and reading popular press, then “reverse engineering” that reading, to try to see how the popular press got to reporting those things. Says the 1966 act is important, again, and has a lot more research on this than he could report in the book—it’s some of the stuff he put online, to talk about the role of the National Association of Real Estate Boards in creating astroturf campaigns to oppose the housing bill.
Brings him to the point that McCarty made, about the moderates elected in 1966, and a way in which it wasn’t that much of a watershed. The election has come down to us as a referendum on Vietnam, which is how Nixon wanted it seen. But that’s not how it was, and with Baker and Percy in particular—the GOP nationalized that election as a referendum on the housing bill, and thus on race and riots. Some people voted for Edward Brooke because they wanted to stick it to “the Negro”. And Baker and Percy won on this issue, too.
Talks about how the 1970 campaign can be explained in this light, too: Republicans campaigned too hot, seemed like part of the social chaos. This is what created the opening for Reagan—who’s seen now as mellow and sunny, but in 1964-66 he sure wasn’t—did he shift, in response to the obvious conditions? or did he just get people to think of him that way?
That leaves us at 9:10AM. Krugman puts in a comment on Edsall’s new inequality, GOP motives for creating inequality. Krugman says, too, that the polarization precedes the inequality.
Perlstein takes the opportunity too to say that Nixon doesn’t care much about domestic policy, and is willing to go along with the kewl kids on things like environmentalism.
Bruce Miroff of SUNY Albany comments to see that there are certain constituencies that become problematic for Democrats, and how much this happens in this period.
Donald Tannenbaum, Gettysburg College: isn’t “policy” too lofty a term—isn’t there a much more ad hoc, after-the-fact process of creating meaning out of bits of legislation.
Jeremy Johnson, Brown: Are African Americans a captured constituency? that nobody really wants, because there are more racists than blacks?
Perlstein, drew on Miroff in writing the book, the Democrats got blindsided by the loss of these constituencies. Says in response to the Tannenbaum, there’s a lot more intent in advance of legislation than the question implies.
I go for both these latter two questions, in my own way, which you’ll have to wait for Farrell’s post to know what I said.
Pierson addresses this lag question—why do the pre-Reaganish policies of the Carter era show up under unified Democratic government? You have to tell a story about the Democrats, to get this. Doesn’t like the Nixon/kewl kids/didn’t care about domestic policy isn’t enough of an explanation. Nixon thought of himself as a sociocultural conservative, but maybe a progressive Tory on economic issues.
Krugman says there is something autonomous about the conservative shift in economic thinking. Didn’t have so much to do with Nixon. It takes place because of intellectual concerns with regulation, and sometimes from Democrats.
McCarty says he still thinks that a lot of these stories about switching Democrats remain unclear, and that 1966 and 1972 are in retrospect less clear than they might have been.
I have a strong feeling that I’m doing less than justice to comments by now, being tired as I am, and I might stop. The panel might just be stopping, now, too. Though Farrell does ask a good question about time horizons, and Perlstein has a good answer about Nixon’s plans, his views of scheduling, and how Watergate comes along and bollixes up his grand plan.