A conversation with Rick Perlstein: The bootleg tapes

Defeat in Vietnam, the OPEC oil embargo, Watergate, rising crime rates, and the first signs of the collapsing blue-collar economy marked the mid-1970s as among the toughest periods in American history.

Rick Perlstein’s current best-seller, Invisible Bridge, chronicles that time. It portrays the rise of Ronald Reagan from the Nixon presidency’s Watergate demise to the bitterly-contested 1976 Republican nomination fight between Reagan and then-incumbent president Gerald Ford.

I interviewed Perlstein for the Washington Post’s Wonkblog section. For reasons of space, not all of our conversation was posted. Below is an edited transcript of what didn’t fit within the Post. I think it’s pretty interesting: The FBI, Ford vs. Reagan, the legacy of Martin Luther King, the Manson family.

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The life of an independent historian

Harold Pollack:  You’re one of the few historians who’s doing this work in a free-standing way. You’re not a professor. You’re a writer. That’s a difficult path. I can’t say I know too many other folk who are able to do that.

Rick Perlstein:  Yeah. There have been some challenges. Luckily, I’m now in a very stable place and have been able to put together a solid living doing this. I went to graduate school. I was in a Ph.D program in American Studies. It was much more oriented towards abstruse academic stuff. I really wanted to reach a wider audience. I moved to New York and got into journalism.

HP: The style and sweep of this book does reach a wide audience. Its infusion of popular culture within a broader narrative has reminded several people of William Manchester’s The glory and the dream. It’s a very long book, but it actually reads very quickly….. Continue Reading…

“Transcending Obamacare”–A conversation with Avik Roy

Given the fact that conservative health policy advisor Avik Roy and I have disagreed so vehemently and so often, RBC readers might be surprised by the civil conversation we conducted over at healthinsurance.org about Roy’s new health plan.

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I hope my fellow liberals will read what he has to say–not because you will agree with him, but because he offers an instructive and well-articulated vision of what conservative health policies might look like that build on the platform created in ACA. I am a firm believer in Mill’s idea that if you only know your own side of the argument, you really don’t know that.

Roy rightly acknowledges that Republicans will not outright destroy ACA at this point. That question was decided by the 2012 election and by the (eventually) successful roll-out of ACA this year. Whatever the polling numbers on “Obamacare,”  the on-the-ground progress is impressive. Medicaid expansion and the new marketplaces are embedding within the fabric of American life.

Where it gets interesting and disconcerting is to note the generative conservative possibilities opened up by ACA. Roy would limit ACA in various ways. But his real quarrel is with Lyndon Johnson not Barack Obama. Once 64-year-olds are enrolled in the health insurance marketplaces, why the abrupt transition at age 65? Roy would raise the Medicare eligibility age by four months every year, retaining the subsidy structures provided by the exchanges and Medicaid. Over time, this would turn Medicare into much more of a means-tested program with dramatically reduced actuarial subsidies to the top half of the income distribution.

I don’t support this or see it as politically attractive for Republicans. But Roy’s plan raises fundamental questions about what we want Medicare to be and do.  More here.

Since no one else noticed the Ferguson thing…

Glenn Loury and I talked about it on Bloggingheads.

We discussed the political economy of suburban poverty, rioting and the social contract, the necessity and the difficulty of achieving police legitimacy, the incredible social harm done through the looting of small businesses that accompany urban unrest, and order maintenance as a cooperative achievement of both the citizenry and the police.

If your memories of Al Sharpton were formed twenty years ago, watch this….

Like many people who witnessed Rev. Sharpton’s disgraceful behavior in the Tawana Brawley case and some other scandals, I was never a huge fan. But this very nice sermon in Ferguson shows another side of things. It also underscores why so many people have been drawn to him for a long time. We all contain multitudes…. (h/t Steve Chapman for the video.)

America’s most criminogenic drug

Which intoxicating substance is associated with the most lethal violence? Devotees of the Wire might presume that cocaine or maybe heroin would top the list.

Of course the correct answer, by far, is alcohol. It’s involved in more homicides than pretty much every other substance, combined. Surveys of people incarcerated for violent crimes indicate that about 40% had been drinking at the time they committed these offenses. Among those who had been drinking, average blood-alcohol levels were estimated to exceed three times the legal limit.

Aside from its role among perpetrators of violence, alcohol use is widespread among victims, too, for some of the same reasons. Recent data from the Illinois Violent Death Reporting System (IVDRS) bear out these trends. At my request, researchers at the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute analyzed 3,016 homicides occurring in five Illinois counties between 2005 and 2009. I find the below figures quite striking, particularly among young people. More here


The disparaging stranger: Kevin Williamson visits East Saint Louis

I came late to Kevin Williamson’s controversial blog-post in National Review online, “Where the sidewalk ends: Danger and despair in Pat Quinn’s Crumbling Illinois.”

From the top, here are the guts of it:

East St. Louis, Ill. — ‘Hey, hey craaaaaacka! Cracka!White devil! F*** you, white devil!” The guy looks remarkably like Snoop Dogg: skinny enough for a Vogue advertisement, lean-faced with a wry expression, long braids. He glances slyly from side to side, making sure his audience is taking all this in, before raising his palms to his clavicles, elbows akimbo, in the universal gesture of primate territorial challenge. Luckily for me, he’s more like a three-fifths-scale Snoop Dogg, a few inches shy of four feet high, probably about nine years old, and his mom — I assume she’s his mom — is looking at me with an expression that is a complex blend of embarrassment, pity, and amusement, as though to say: “Kids say the darnedest things, do they not, white devil?” It’s not the last challenge like this I’ll get here where the sidewalk ends, or the most serious one.
I get yelled at by a racially aggrieved tyke with more carefully coiffed hair than your average Miss America contestant.

Jonathan Chait believes this is a racist rant. David Weigel has more doubts.

At a minimum, this piece is insouciantly tone-deaf to some basic proprieties….

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Moon shot

I waited too long in the evening to get the rich color, but this isn’t bad. Don’t try taking a moon picture on automatic.

This was taken at 1/450 sec, 800 ISO with a 300mm lens. (h/t @JeremyWest for the advice on settings.)



Secretary Kerry and that girly bike

Governor Jindal apparently dislikes Secretary Kerry’s transportation choices:

Yes we have another expression of that tired juvenile conservative trope that liberal men are wimp-metrosexuals* who fail to live out our apparently God-given gender roles.

There is nothing wrong with being a wimp (I happen to be one) or with being a metrosexual. But it’s a little weird here. Once you’re a highly-decorated war hero who’s chased down and killed a rocket-launcher-wielding soldier of the Viet Cong, you’re kindof entitled to ride whatever bike you want, girly- or otherwise, without fear of being macho-splained by Bobby Jindal. (Below the fold is the citation for Kerry’s Silver Star.)


*Trope not intended to describe Barack Obama, LeBron James, and other liberals who are filed under an alternative entry.

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This is what we fought for in ACA

Via the indispensible Sarah Kliff at Vox, this pre-post map of Kentucky health insurance coverage puts a lump in my throat. This is what we fought for ACA, and what we will eventually achieve when low-income red states eventually embrace the Medicaid expansion.

I’ll never be involved in another presidential campaign as I was with the Obama campaign and the fight for health reform between 2007 and 2012. I knocked on hundreds of doors, made I-don’t-know-how-many-phone-calls in the hope of achieving near-universal coverage. Maps like this make me so glad that I participated in that fight. That map reflects hundreds of thousands of lives changed, in a single small state that went against President Obama, big time, in both 2008 and 2012.

More from Sarah Kliff here.

This speaks for itself.

This speaks for itself.