I’m currently working my way through Rick Perlstein’s incredible new book, The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan.
Perlstein’s previous two books — Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and The Unmaking of the American Consensus and Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America — chronicled the rise of conservative politics in the United States from the middle of the 20th century forward.
The Invisible Bridge picks up the story in the middle of President Richard Nixon’s Watergate crisis. The historian has mined deeply into archives and other historical works to paint a rich picture of life in the United States during the early 1970s.
A wealth of lessons can be taken from the three works. The primary one being that the conservative movement has been declared dead at several points over the past 50 years, only to rise from the grave it had been put in by pundits, political advisers and purveyors of conventional wisdom.
But what has me reeling this week is the depths Perlstein has plumbed to put readers right smack in the middle of 1974. I feel as if I’m returning to this place called the ’70s. I’ve started to miss my green ecology lunch box, episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man and my bedspread with the logos of all the teams in the National Football League.
Some may find it tedious. Writing in The New Yorker, George Packer complained, “It’s good to have one’s crumbled memories of the Patty Hearst kidnapping and the Hank Aaron home-run record reassembled, but at times it feels as if Perlstein were just indulging his love of archival newspaper research, all the way down to the killer bees.”
I say keep it coming, Mr. Perlstein. Or perhaps I should say to the author, “Keep on truckin’.”
You see, I was a grade-school news nerd in the 1970s. I followed the drawn-out saga of the rich heiress Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army. I watched the Watergate hearings. I remember the news stories about long lines at gas stations during the Arab oil embargo.
Oh, and I recall the day in 1972 when my mother explained that Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games in Munich had been killed by terrorists. It shocked my system. I couldn’t comprehend the randomness of this violence.
Of course, we all grow somewhat calloused to shocking news as we age. Journalists have a well-deserved reputation for wearing an armor that protects them from the seemingly endless suffering they report on. The busyness of life can blur awful events into a fuzzy memory.
Yet, something put me back to 1972 last week. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria released a video. A man clad in black with his face covered and speaking with a British accent stood beside a kneeling man wearing an orange jumpsuit. We don’t know who the man in black was. The man in orange was James Foley, an American journalist who had been held hostage in Syria for almost two years.
At the end of the video, the 40-year-old Foley’s body is shown after an apparent beheading. This isn’t the first time ISIS has committed atrocities to innocents, and it probably won’t be the last.
I wish there was a grand solution to end these senseless and barbaric acts by religious fanatics. I wish Foley’s family could be spared this awful death. I wish I could go back to that point at life when such brutality was the furthest thing from my mind.