Books postsFriday August 08, 2014
Frank Rich on Rick Perlstein on Ronald Reagan
Here's a key passage in Frank Rich's review of Rick Perlstein's much-anticipated third volume of modern conservative history, “The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan”:
The key to Reagan’s political success, in Perlstein’s telling, was that he recognized what many Republicans did not — that Americans craved “a liturgy of absolution” and “an almost official cult of optimism” postulating “the belief that America could do no wrong” or “that if America did it, it was by definition not wrong.” That’s why Reagan stubbornly insisted on minimizing the crimes of Watergate even though polls suggested he might be punished for it and even after most of his ideological soul mates jumped ship. That’s why Reagan never stopped insisting that we came home from our humiliating defeat in Vietnam “as winners.” He propped up such illusions by ignoring facts or inventing them. But the will of his listeners to believe — and his gift for making them feel good in his presence — conquered all.
Which ... yes. But what does that remind you of? Absolution and optimism? And, I would add, absolutism? And belief at the expense of truth? What industry is that? What city? What industry and city was Reagan steeped in, after all?
Why, Buddy, it's Hollywood. It's so-called liberal Hollywood, buddy.
For more on Reagan, Hollywood, optimism and innocence, see this.
It came from liberal Hollywood.
Stefan Zweig's Laments About His Time Speak to Ours
Wes Anderson's “The Grand Budapest Hotel” was inspired, so the credits say, by the writings of Stefan Zweig, an early 20th century Austrian writer of whom I had read approximately zilch. So during our recent trip to Prague, Vienna and Salzburg, I brought along his memoir, “The World of Yesterday.” Appropriate. Zweig grew up in Vienna and lived in Salzburg, and it was fun reading Zweig's thoughts about places we'd visited the same day.
What caught me by surprise about the memoir, though, was how often his time, and all that was lost by 1941, speaks to ours, and all that we've lost by 2014. Particularly in matters of politics.
There's this, for example:
... even the political and social movements [of the 19th century] were free of the terrible hatred which has penetrated the arteries of our time as a poisonous residue of the First World War. In the old Austria they still strove chivalrously, they abused each other in the news and in the parliament, but at the conclusion of their ciceronian tirades the selfsame representatives sat down together in friendship with a glass of beer or a cup of coffee, and called each other Du.
I've heard the same from many U.S. politicians about Congress after the 1994 midterms.
One did not look down at tolerance as one does today as weakness and softness, but rather praised it as an ethical force.
Political parties (often represented by flowers) sprang up everywhere (like wildflowers). Violence was expected from the socialists (red carnation) but came the German National Party (the blue cornflower), which, weak in the city and strong in the countryside, feels reminiscent of today's Tea Party:
... the German National Party had its followers in the Bohemian and Alpine border districts: weak in numbers, it compensated its unimportance by wild aggression and unbridled brutality.
My favorite bits, though, thus far anyway, tend to be non-political: how Zweig and his gymnasium friends found and adored writers like Rainer Marie Rilke and Paul Valery before the cultural establishment; and how Zweig ignored his dull schoolwork so he could read exciting new writers like Frederich Nietzsche.
John Wayne By Your Bed
Another from Scott Eyman's John Wayne: The Life and Legend:
No matter how petulant he could be, his employees stayed with him for decades, the same way the public did. The reasons are best conveyed by a story told by Tom Kane, whose wife, Ruth, was in the Motion Picture Home dying of cancer. ...
One morning at 9:15, Kane’s phone rang. It was his wife, sounding like she did before she got sick.
“My God, you sound great,” said Kane.
“Well, how would you feel if you woke up in the morning and John Wayne was standing by your bed?” She went on to explain that Wayne had stayed for more than an hour talking to her. Before he left, he had brushed her hair.
All Men Want to Be John Wayne But John Wayne Wanted to Be Fred Astaire
Again, from Scott Eyman's John Wayne: The Life and Legend:
Wayne told [his would-be biographer Wayne] Warga that he always wanted to be Fred Astaire, and he demonstrated by launching into “Putting on the Ritz.” He danced, remembered the writer, “with all the grace of a freight elevator.”
A Message from John Wayne to Bill O'Reilly
From Scott Eyman's John Wayne: The Life and Legend:
“If you had an opinion about something, he wanted you to state it,” said the character actor Ed Faulkner, who made six pictures with him. “He did not like yes-men. Even if he disagreed with you, he’d want to hear your argument. And he might say ‘I don’t agree with you,’ but he would always let you say your piece."