Witness was one of Reagan favorite books; he could recite entire passages from memory. It can be argued, and persuasively, that the one person bridging Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan more than anyone or anything else is Whittaker Chambers.
But if Perlstein doesn’t have the courage to get the basics about Chambers right, what’s the point of sinking into the 800 pages of his forthcoming book about Reagan?
To be clear: It’s not that there is no difference between liberalism and communism. It’s that liberals have often, and increasingly so in recent decades, freed themselves of any limiting principle on their ideology, and thus found it difficult, as Hiss’s defenders did, to demarcate where liberalism ends and socialism begins. And since the 1960s, that line has all but disappeared. John F. Kennedy, a liberal, was an anticommunist and for low taxes and a strong national defense. Fr. John Cronin, one of Nixon’s main speechwriters and a powerful anticommunist, was also a strong voice for labor rights and the poor. Fr. Cronin is dismissed in a few glib sentences in Nixonland, because to ponder the work of Fr. Cronin is to reveal that there were liberals who saw the evil of communism, and that in the 1960s these voices of sanity were driven out of the Democratic Party. And to reveal that is to reveal that even to some on the left there once existed the idea of limiting principles — that we can’t create heaven on earth.
When you admit that, then the game is up. The ice cap of the socialist revolution that Chambers predicted is now telling us that two men can get married, that religion is evil and taxes should be high, and that nuns have to provide birth control. Perlstein’s new book won’t address this change. Instead, it can be summarized as follows: crazy paranoid nut Richard Nixon, inspired by sad sack mental case Whittaker Chambers, passed on his crazy paranoid ideas to Ronald Reagan, who almost ruined the country. Because, you know, Joe McCarthy.
I just saved you 800 pages and $26.50.
Mark Judge, a journalist and filmmaker, is the author of Damn Senators: My Grandfather and the Story of Washington’s Only World Series Championship and A Tremor of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism, and Rock ‘n’ Roll.