Right Star Rising: A New Politics, 1974-1980

Right Star Rising: A New Politics, 1974-1980

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by Laura Kalman
     
 

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An authoritative history of the right turn in American national politics during the Ford-Carter years.
On the face of it, the Ford-Carter years seem completely forgettable. They were years of weak presidential leadership and national drift. Yet, as Laura Kalman shows in this absorbing narrative history, the contours of our contemporary politics took shape during

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Overview

An authoritative history of the right turn in American national politics during the Ford-Carter years.
On the face of it, the Ford-Carter years seem completely forgettable. They were years of weak presidential leadership and national drift. Yet, as Laura Kalman shows in this absorbing narrative history, the contours of our contemporary politics took shape during these years. This was the incubation period for a powerful movement on the right that was to triumph with Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980. These years also marked the coming of age of the social movements of the 1960s, as their causes moved from the streets to the courts for mediation. Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action and the scope of privacy rights had immense social and political impact. The nation experienced an energy crisis, a sharp economic downturn, and a collision with fundamentalism in Iran that set the terms for coming crises. Kalman’s navigation of this eventful political and social terrain is expert and riveting.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The 1970s emerge as a time of drift and chaos that nonetheless fundamentally realigned America, in this cogent, though not quite groundbreaking, study of the Ford and Carter presidencies. UC-Santa Barbara historian Kalman (The Strange Career of Legal Liberalism) thoroughly surveys the cultural, economic, and geostrategic shocks Americans endured in the'70s: the rise of feminism and the gay rights movement; racial controversies over affirmative action and forced busing; defeat in Vietnam and anxieties about declining American power; deindustrialization, unemployment, soaring inflation, and oil shortages. As Democrats and moderate Republicans floundered, Kalman contends, a New Right comprising neoconservative hawks, evangelicals, supply-siders, tax rebels, and conservative populists capitalized on these crises to mount a compelling attack on the liberal consensus. To Kalman, these developments are epitomized by the perpetually vacillating Gerald Ford and, especially, Jimmy Carter (who she paints as a devious, yet unprincipled and ineffectual figure) whose weak leadership paved the way for the triumph of Ronald Reagan's forceful conservatism. 8 pages of photos.
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Library Journal
Accounts of the rise of the Right normally resemble a baseball infield combination that runs Buckley-to-Goldwater-to-Reagan. Kalman (Univ. of California, Santa Barbara; The Strange Career of Legal Liberalism) also awards assists to Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, both of whom offered "too often abysmal" leadership during their presidencies, when "conservatives more effectively used conflicts over race, rights, religion, taxes, the market, the family, national security, the Middle East, detente and American captivity and decline than moderates or liberals." In a book based extensively on secondary sources, as well as her reading of the contemporary conservative press and archival work in the Ford and Carter libraries, Kalman argues that not until these few years, a "short 1970s," were the disparate forces of the Right able to unite and capture the American political mainstream. VERDICT As a prominent legal historian, Kalman provides scholarship here that should inform future interpretations of the Right's ascendancy. But her book lacks quite the right measures of grace, scope, and depth to entirely satisfy either academics, who will likely find the collection Rightward Bound, edited by Bruce Schulman, more wide-ranging, or general readers, who for the same reason might prefer Schulman's own narrative, The Seventies.—Bob Nardini, Nashville
Kirkus Reviews
Kalman (History/University of California at Santa Barbara; Yale Law School and the Sixties, 2009, etc.) picks up where Rick Perlstein left off in Nixonland (2008), when Gerald Ford took office from his disgraced predecessor in August 1974. As a self-identified "liberal Democrat" who voted for Jimmy Carter in 1980, the author has a fascination with and healthy respect for the right, which enables her to approach the subject with Perlstein-like fairness and balance. Neither Ford nor Carter fares particularly well. Ford was the accidental president, the never-elected substitute for Nixon, selected for his popularity among Democrats and Republicans in Congress rather than for his skill or ambition. He never overcame the perception that his pardon of Nixon was a condition of his rise to power, nor did he understand until too late the political liability of nurturing Henry Kissinger and detente. Nevertheless, Kalman reminds us that Ford was smarter and more politically savvy than the popular caricature of him would suggest. But Carter's apparent indecisiveness, writes the author, was very real, and cast his presidency adrift mostly until the Iranian hostage crisis finally gave him a reason for being president in the final year of his term. He projected a lack of confidence, even to the point of engaging in a weeklong, public navel-gazing session at midterm to figure out why his presidency seemed to be failing. The most insightful point Kalman makes about Carter is that his "centrist" tendencies played a key role in pushing American politics toward the right, especially in foreign policy, where, influenced by Zbigniew Brzezinski, he took a hard tack against the Soviets in arms control and in proxy wars in the Third World, but also in racial and labor politics at home. The author's recounting of Bakke v. University of California at Davis, which resulted in a major reversal in affirmative action and civil-rights law, is history at its best. She teases out truths from the record that the media myth-making machinery typically obscures. Richly rewarding look back at an ambiguous age in American memory.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393076387
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
06/28/2010
Pages:
384
Sales rank:
1,430,620
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.70(d)

Meet the Author

Laura Kalman is a professor of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the author of acclaimed books in American political and legal history.

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Right Star Rising: A New Politics, 1974-1980 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago