President Ronald Reagan, campaigning for a second term of office, smiles during a rally speech at the California State Capitol the day before the 1984 presidential election. (Photo credit: © Wally McNamee/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Oscar Wilde once said, “Anybody can make history; only a great man can write it.”
Historian and journalist Rick Perlstein is not a great man and certainly not a great scholar of the right, as some on the left falsely claim. He is a mediocre polemicist for the left and a card-carrying hater of American conservatism and Ronald Reagan.
The first sign that something is amiss is when a so-called chronicler of the right, like Perlstein, is rejected by everybody on the right for his works. It tends to cause suspicion about his scholarship.
Fortunately, with the publication of his final book on American conservatism, “Reaganland,” we will hopefully hear no more of Perlstein, unless he pops up again to call the POW/MIA flag racist, as he did and half-apologized for several years ago. But his book is selling poorly and only knee-jerk leftist publications like the never-read book review section of the Washington Post are giving it a good ride. But like Perlstein, the Post is also a joke.
Faux Ronald Reagan biographers like the shallow Perlstein are not scholars, and are not welcomed by any Reagan-related or conservative institution such as the Hoover Institute, the Reagan Library, the Reagan Ranch, the Reagan Institute, the Buckley Program at Yale, or the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), to name just a very few respected institutions of the right.
They live their lives consigned to the leftist ghettos of academia and media.
Perlstein’s new book, “Reaganland,” is crammed with mistakes and errors. He recently did an interview with the left-wing site Democracy Now! in which he claimed “one of the most dangerous things that Ronald Reagan did as president was…that idea that people who criticize America are not quite Americans.”
Reagan never said such a thing and I doubt he ever even thought it. In his interview with Democracy Now! — after trashing the GOP, Donald Trump, and Ronald Reagan—Perlstein piously said he wasn’t going to discuss the 2020 presidential election.
His book meanders from one 1970s anecdote to another, with no central point, no organizing theme. As one example of his bias and shoddy reporting, Perlstein arbitrarily trashes the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC), an important organization at the cutting edge of national politics in the 1970s and 1980s. His anecdote about NCPAC chief Terry Dolan and a 1978 senate campaign in New Hampshire is flawed and ill-informed. Dolan did not formulate the “Boston media strategy,” which entailed purchasing radio slots on Boston stations to reach voters in southern New Hampshire. I know because I was there. But Dolan did help turn around the New Hampshire campaign, setting it on a winning course.
It must be understood that modern leftists hate America with every fiber of their being, thus Perlstein’s statement, “just how sick was Norman’s Rockwell’s America, that it kept raising up monsters like” Ted Bundy, the infamous mass murderer. But there was no condemnation from Perlstein of the millions of abortions in America committed each year nor any favorable comment about the American heroes Ronald Reagan always celebrated.
At one point, Perlstein smears conservative activists as “zealots…the most dangerous impediments to the Oval Office that Ronald Reagan had faced.” Nothing could be further from the truth. If they were zealots, then so too was Reagan, or else he never would have spoken each year at the Conservative Political Action Conference and indeed, it was these zealots who formed the basis of all his campaigns and came to his rescue at vital times in his 1976 and 1980 quests for the presidency.
Speaking of these zealots, it was these “True Believers” who stood by Reagan in 1976 when he picked the moderate Pennsylvania senator, Richard Schweiker, as his running mate. Naturally, Perlstein completely bungles this story.
Perlstein cites a “state rep” in New Hampshire who turned down Reagan’s offer to chair his 1980 campaign but, in fact, there was no state rep who did so. He writes: “to heartland Republicans, Reagan was an aloof snob.” What? This falsehood is so stupid, does it even need a response?
His detailed explanation of a local DJ blowing up disco records at Comiskey Park is painful, like having your gums scraped. Perlstein calls it “malaise.”
The whole national mood could be summed up in the blowing up of disco records? What a pathetic understanding of a serious crisis of American morale in the stinking hot summer of 1979.
Another falsehood? Reagan did not insist in being sworn in as governor at midnight in January 1967 because of his and Mrs. Reagan’s astrological charts, but because he wanted to stop any more last-minute left-wing appointments by outgoing governor Pat Brown. And, there is no evidence that Reagan’s pollster, Dick Wirthlin, invented the “tracking poll” in the 1970 gubernatorial campaign.
In Perlstein’s error-strewn fourth and final book, mistakes and misstatements and prevarications abound. It will never be considered as an accurate and needed resource on the life and times of our consequential 40th president.
But the good news is we don’t have to put up with Perlstein anymore. He’s reached the end of the line and must now find another American story to screw up and twist into another tortured left-wing canard.
Good riddance, Rick Perlstein. You won’t be missed. Enjoy residing in the dustbin of history.
Craig Shirley is the author of four bestselling books Ronald Reagan’s campaigns, including “Reagan Rising: The Decisive Years, 1976-1980,” out March 21, 2017. He is also the author of the New York Times bestseller, “December 1941,” and is the president of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs.