12 February 2008

The Sixties: A Patriot’s History

History is the memory of states.
Henry Kissinger

The chapter, “The Age of Upheaval, 1960-1974,” in A Patriot’s History of the United States by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen takes a long view of the Sixties in the United States, albeit severely circumscribed by the bounds of the history of government. Arthur Marwick also advocates a long view of the Sixties, but emphasizes cultural developments, as well as political and economic. Marwick’s The Sixties: Cultural Revolution in Britain, France, Italy, and the United States, c. 1958-c. 1974 (1998) offers an international perspective that is wholly lacking in A Patriot’s History.

Schweikart and Allen's “The Age of Upheaval” begins with Richard Nixon’s defeat in the Presidential election of 1960 and concludes with his resignation in the wake of Watergate. The authors accuse Kennedy of election fraud in 1960, while they exonerate Nixon’s behavior in 1971-72. They place the Watergate burglary in a context of “Lyndon Johnson bugged Goldwater’s campaign offices in 1964, and nothing was done about it” (716). They mention Daniel Ellsberg’s role in providing “secret documents to the New York Times” (712), but omit the burglary of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office, and nothing of the “rat-fucking” that would be familiar to anyone who had seen All the President’s Men (1976).

Nixon authorized the formation of an investigative unit within the White House and assigned it the job of cracking down on government leakers, starting with Daniel Ellsberg. In September [1971], probably with Nixon’s knowledge, the “Plumbers” broke into the offices of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist to get information that would help convict Ellsberg, who had been indicted for violating the Espionage Act and theft of government property. … Undertaking a campaign of what they called “rat-fucking,” they engaged in a series of dirty tricks to disrupt the campaigns of Democrats who were vying to oppose Nixon in the 1972 election.
Chris Finan, From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America (2007), 232.

The authors of A Patriot’s History exhibit bipartisanship in their criticism of President Eisenhower’s role in actions that facilitated the disasters of the Bay of Pigs and Vietnam, but as he “was no traditional Republican and more of a moderate … [who] posed no threat to [Franklin] Roosevelt’s legacy” (668), such evenhandedness seems easy. Nixon, on the other hand, seemed more conservative, but “his social and economic programs had far more in common with FDR than with a true conservative like Ronald Reagan” (668).

Pundits use terms like “true conservative,” but historians need to offer better definitions than I’ve found so far in A Patriot’s History. Even the divisive conservative pundit Cal Thomas has recently taken issue with declarations that Arizona Senator and Presidential Candidate John McCain is not a “true conservative”:

John McCain, some say, is not a true conservative. Was Reagan? Reagan campaigned as a tax cutter. He cut taxes, but he also raised them. He promised conservative judges and spoke of his opposition to abortion, yet named two justices to the Supreme Court (Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy) who voted to uphold Roe v. Wade.
Thomas, “Redefining Conservatism

It comes as no surprise that attack dogs have spammed with ad hominems calling Thomas Republican in Name Only (RINO).

Conscience of a Conservative

Schweikart and Allen make it a point to identify the ghostwriters that penned John F. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize winning Profiles in Courage (1956), while leaving in place the fiction that Barry Goldwater wrote Conscience of a Conservative (1960). My conscience would rebel if I offered this fiction and knew otherwise; Schweikart and Allen certainly should know that Goldwater was not the author if either one of them took the time to read the only text they cite in the paragraph that mentions Conscience of a Conservative as “providing a list of Goldwater’s policy positions” (682). The footnote refers readers to Rick Perlstein, Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus (2001).

At least Kennedy had a hand in the production of Profiles in Courage, even if he did not write the text. Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative, on the other hand, was presented to Goldwater for his approval after having been fully written by L. Brent Bozell at the behest of Clarence Manion.

Manion had negotiated the grudging noninterference of Goldwater in their efforts to publish something under his name. … Over the holidays Goldwater skimmed Bozell’s manuscript and pronounced it fine.
Perlstein, Before the Storm, 51, 61.

Schweikart and Allen state that the ideas in Conscience, “were hardly radical positions” (682); Perlstein’s view differs:

The ideas that followed—in chapters like “Freedom for the Farmer,” “Freedom for Labor,” “Taxes and Spending,” “The Welfare State,” “Some Notes on Education,” and “The Soviet Menace”—were radical. Conscience of a Conservative domesticated them.
Perlstein, Before the Storm, 64.

Opinions will differ. Schweikart and Allen deserve credit for offering footnotes to works with perspectives at odds with their narrative. However, the notes appear as documentation not counter argument. Their intent is unclear.

1 comment:

Historiann said...

James--their intent is perfectly clear! They want to mislead their readers into believing that Democrats are all bad, and Republicans are all (or mostly) good (if they are "true conservatives," anyway.) I am confident that "Patriot's History" was not peer-reviewed. A responsible peer reviewer would have flagged the fact that the book they cite on Goldwater is at odds with their misleading portrayal of him. A responsible peer reviewer would have urged the authors to reconcile this in their text. I have already shared with you the results of my opportunity to review some of this text before publication--and apparently my "expert advice" was entirely ignored!

One thing is for sure: Schweikart and Allen know their audience very well. And they can be very confident that not one reader in 10,000 will check their footnotes and do what you're doing, that is, look up the scholarship they cite. Anyway, I admire your strong stomach and your hard work.

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