Leadership Secrets of Richard Nixon
July 12, 2008 - 11:27pm ET
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An article in the Canadian magazine Macleans argues "anyone interested in understanding what [prime minister Stephen] Harper is trying to accomplish could do worse than to pack some hefty vacation reading this summer: an extraordinary new book by a young American historian, Rick Perlstein, called Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America. Overflattering, but the author does manage to arrange passages from the book to explain a key facet of contemporary conservatism with a bit more clarity than I have myself:
Perlstein writes that even as an undergrad at Whittier College, Nixon defined his coalition as the excluded and snubbed. The student leaders were all in a club called "the Franklins" — "well-rounded, graceful, moved smoothly, talked slickly." Nixon formed a club from everyone left out, the Orthogonians, "the strivers, those not to the manner born." Being disliked by the swells was a badge of honour, and when Nixon beat a Franklin for student body president, he showed that "being hated by the right people was no impediment to political success." The rest of Nixon's career was a series of appeals to Orthogonian tastes....
If the press is your enemy and the "Lawrence Welkish mass" is your base, certain odd tactics make more sense. Lying, for instance. Or at least being very loose with the truth, even when you know you'll be caught. Because who's catching you? The Franklins is who. "Let them pounce on your 'mistake,' " Perlstein writes, "then garner pity as you wriggle free by making the enemy look unduly aggressive. Then you inspire a strange sort of protective love among voters whose wounds of resentment grow alongside your performance of being wounded. Your enemies appear to die of their own hand, never of your own. Which makes you stronger."
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