Nut country : right-wing Dallas and the birth of the Southern strategy /

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Bibliographic Details
Author / Creator:Miller, Edward H. (Edward Herbert), author.
Imprint:Chicago ; London : The University of Chicago Press, 2015.
Description:v, 230 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format: Print Book
Local Note:University of Chicago Library's UCPress copy 1 has original dust jacket.
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Hidden Bibliographic Details
ISBN:9780226205380 (cloth : alk. paper)
022620538X (cloth : alk. paper)
9780226205410 (ebook)
Notes:Includes bibliographical references and index.
Summary:"On the morning of November 22, 1963, President Kennedy told Jackie as they started for Dallas, "We're heading into nut country today." That day's events ultimately obscured and revealed just how right he was: Oswald was a lone gunman, but the city that surrounded him was full of people who hated Kennedy and everything he stood for, led by a powerful group of ultraconservatives who would eventually remake the Republican party in their own image. In Nut Country, Edward H. Miller tells the story of that transformation, showing how a group of influential far-right businessmen, religious leaders, and political operatives developed a potent mix of hardline anticommunism, biblical literalism, and racism to generate a violent populism--and widespread power. Though those figures were seen as extreme in Texas and elsewhere, mainstream Republicans nonetheless found themselves forced to make alliances, or tack to the right on topics like segregation. As racial resentment came to fuel the national Republican party's divisive but effective "Southern Strategy," the power of the extreme conservatives rooted in Texas only grew. Drawing direct lines from Dallas to DC, Miller's captivating history offers a fresh understanding of the rise of the new Republican Party and the apocalyptic language, conspiracy theories, and ideological rigidity that remain potent features of our politics today."--Book jacket.
Review by New York Times Review

WHENEVER WE'RE IN DANGER of forgetting that the modern Republican Party is captive to a movement, one new excitement or another will jolt us back to reality - whether it is a trio of high-flying presidential candidates who've collectively served not a single day in elective office or an uprising by congressional Jacobins giddily dethroning their own leader. Each new insurrection feels spontaneous even as it revives antique crusades to abolish the Internal Revenue Service, "get rid" of the Supreme Court or - most persistent of all - rejuvenate the Old South. Half a century before Rick Perry indicated secession might be an option for Texas, John Tower, the state's first Republican senator since Reconstruction, accepted the warm greeting of his new colleague, Senator Richard Russell, the Georgia segregationist, who reportedly said, "I want to welcome Texas back into the Confederacy." Tower is one of the more statesmanlike figures in "Nut Country," Edward H. Miller's well-researched and briskly written account of Dallas's transformation from Democratic stronghold to "perfect test kitchen" of a new politics of Republican protest that combined the libertarian cry for "freedom" with the states' rights model of constitutional order. A go-getting paradise with an economy enriched by government contracts (aerospace and defense), Dallas might seem a curious place for anti-Beltway insurgency. But dependency bred anxiety, and "wealth and fear" took form together, as the journalist Theodore H. White observed in 1954. The tide of newcomers, many from the Midwest, inhaled the fumes of "Texanism," according to White "a synthetic faith that lets them oppose all the controls and exactions of the federal government in Washington as an invasion of sacred and immemorial rights, while at the same time providing, with its frontier and vigilante memories, a complete answer to the newer problems of minorities, labor and the complexities of city living." One of the new Dallas Republicans was Bruce Alger, a Princeton graduate and disciple of Ayn Rand, elected to the House of Representatives in 1954. Initially an Eisenhower supporter, he declined to sign the notorious "Southern manifesto," with its defiant sneer at civil rights, but soon became an "artful champion of Jim Crow." In November 1960, four days before the presidential election, he led a group of 300 protesters who converged on a downtown Dallas hotel and accosted Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson when they entered the lobby. Television cameras captured the moment - along with Alger holding aloft a placard that read "L.B.J. Sold Out to Yankee Socialists" - helping to plant the image of Dallas as a "city of hate." Alger was a "moderate conservative," in Miller's taxonomy. His specialty was refining the crude dredged up by "ultraconservatives" like the oil baron H.L. Hunt, who was reputedly the world's richest man in the mid-1950s, but was nevertheless inflamed with millenarian fears of a tax-happy federal government plunging the citizenry into serfdom. He spread the antigovernment gospel in the media operation he financed. It included a radio program, "Facts Forum," picked up by 222 stations, a "free circulating collection of 20,000 books" and a magazine, Facts Forum News, with 60,000 subscribers, more than either The New Republic or The Nation. Big ideas were essential to the emerging movement. Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises and Russell Kirk were required reading, stocked in Dallas libraries, and the National Review theorist Willmoore Kendall left Yale for the University of Dallas. Ronald Reagan passed through, thrilling an audience of 10,000 in 1962 when he egged on President Kennedy to go harder after the Soviets. Meanwhile, the hometown crackpot W.A. Criswell (Hunt's pastor) thundered from his Baptist pulpit against the sins of integration, and Gen. Edwin Walker, relieved of his command in Germany after reports came back that he had been indoctrinating troops in the liturgy of the John Birch Society, returned to Texas in battered glory, like a hick Douglas MacArthur. Walker hoped to become governor, but had to settle for freelance demagogy, exhorting radio listeners to "bring your flags, your tents and skillets" to Oxford, Miss., where James Meredith, an African-American Air Force veteran, was trying to enroll at the University of Mississippi. Miller's account of ultras and so-called moderates jostling at the same ideological trough prefigures our own Republican moment, with its competition between "insiders" and "outsiders," all promising war on the feds, the differences coming down to shadings of stridency and flair. The only thing wrong with "Nut Country" is its title, which trivializes a timely, intelligent, penetrating book. Miller, an assistant teaching professor at Northeastern University Global, explains that the epithet was the one Kennedy used to describe Dallas on the morning of Nov. 22, 1963 - the date when "city of hate" assumed its darkest meaning. This isn't really fair. Lee Harvey Oswald, a Communist misfit from New Orleans (by way of the Bronx and Moscow), was anomalous by any measure. Nevertheless, he too drifted into the go-getter's sunstruck paradise, and his sick ambitions were fed by Texanism. His original target may have been General Walker. KATHRYN S. OLMSTED'S "Right Out of California" tells a different story, set even earlier, during the Great Depression, when well-organized strikes (involving as many as 50,000 workers in 1933 alone) paralyzed giant agribusinesses in the Central and Imperial valleys and shut down first the docks and then the entire city of San Francisco. California had a long history of labor unrest, and the energized union movement touched deep-seated fears of Bolshevist revolution. The meliorist policies of the New Deal did too. Herbert Hoover, brooding in the exile of his "modernist mansion" overlooking Stanford University, read 30 newspapers a day, each bearing clues to Franklin Roosevelt's scheme to bankrupt the citizenry of their savings and their character. These suspicions were also staples of the Hearst press and The Los Angeles Times (an anarchist had bombed its news offices in 1910, killing 21 people). And they were made real by the big growers, corporately owned conglomerates whose "farms" were spread over tens of thousands of acres in as many as 10 states - "factories in the fields" tended by an immigrant proletariat, entire families from Mexico, China, Japan, the Philippines, paid as little as 10 or 15 cents an hour at a time when 25 cents was a typical minimum wage in the rest of the country. Worse, the workers had almost no bargaining power, since they were cut out of consideration in the National Industrial Recovery Act - part of Roosevelt's Faustian compact with Southern legislators, who demanded protection for planters and the legacy exploitations of a tenant-farm system rooted in the antebellum slave economy. Olmsted's vivid, accomplished narrative really belongs to the historiography of the left. Its heroes include Wobblies and Communist Party organizers, lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Lfnion and honorable administrators like George Creel and Gen. Pelham Glassford, who intervened when they could, to varying effect. The strikers did achieve small victories, though they hardly offset the violence committed against them by hired thugs and vigilante mobs, often in collusion with law enforcement officials. In one instance, a lawyer was set upon by a mob on the steps of a county courthouse while a sheriff stood by. Olmsted, the chairwoman of the history department at the University of California, Davis, brightens this bleak picture with pages on the colony of bohemian leftists in Carmel, home to the aging muckraking legend Lincoln Steffens and his much younger wife, the Australian-born journalist Ella Winter. Their gifted protege John Steinbeck soaked up the details of the giant cotton strikes in the San Joaquin Valley and recorded them in his popular novel "In Dubious Battle" - which he first conceived as an almost documentary record, though he didn't visit the strike camps (instead relying on interviews). In the end he buffed and prettified the material, making it a fable of salt-of-the-earth whites, forerunners of the Okies in "The Grapes of Wrath," when in fact 75 percent to 95 percent of the work force was Mexican. Olmsted's correctives are convincing, and she has also dug hard nuggets out of archives and newspaper morgues - crassly racist editorial commentary on the black poet Langston Hughes and news photos of Communist organizers bandaged and bloodied after a beating by the police. California's epic labor battles, Olmsted argues, created modern conservatism "in its fullest form," the "anti-labor, anti-statist movement that dominates American politics today," its tendrils sunk deep in the soil of the field-factories, "where racial conflict shaped political attitudes." But as her strong research shows, race and gender prejudice informed, or deformed, almost the whole of American social and cultural life in the 1930s and was as common on the left as on the right. She is doubtless correct that Steinbeck's "decision to erase brown-skinned people and women of all colors from the story" was political, but the politics were those of a New Deal Democrat, as she notes, and the attitudes were shared by Washington administrators and liberal-minded journalists. They were reproduced as well in the fields, where white workers enforced their own rough-hewed segregation, hunkering in separate camps, eating at "whites only" tables. This last datum was an omen of what was to come when working-class whites, lifted into prosperity - or at least out of immiseration - by the New Deal and World War II, anxiously pulled the ladder up behind them. It was the same fear, of someone or something lying in ambush, that haunted H.L. Hunt and the members of the Dallas Federation of Women's Clubs - a cry of helplessness against the predations of distant liberals writing laws in Washington. It was emotional protest more than ideological precept that breathed new life into the Republican Party and built the longest-lasting majority since the New Deal. The tribunes of that majority came from California (Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan) and Texas (the George Bushes). They also happen to be the only Republicans elected president since 1960. These two fine books help us understand why. Race and gender prejudice informed, or de-formed, much of American life in the 1930s. SAM TANENHAUS, who was the editor of the Book Review from 2004 to 2013, is writing a biography of William F. Buckley Jr.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [December 6, 2015]
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

"We're heading into nut country today," President John F. Kennedy said to his wife on the day he was killed in 1963, a reference to Dallas's growing reputation as a hot spot for ultraconservative Republicans. What had traditionally been a nondescript, socially conservative city took a hard right turn in the city's post-WWII economic boom as government manufacturing contracts and proximity to oil fields launched new migrations of white-collar workers into higher tax brackets. Miller, an adjunct history professor at Northeastern University, painstakingly details how a combination of newfound wealth (and a desire to hold on to it), a sudden rise of the middle class (which allowed for a single breadwinner and freed wives to dabble in politics), and the need for new residents to assimilate resulted in a highly conservative political stance riddled with deep-seated racism and "conspiratorial" John Bircher thinking. Miller's outstanding research allows him to weave a number of parallel stories, most notably his portrayal of the role of women working behind the scenes to enact this political shift. The work loses steam as the Reagan years approach, and there is little on the Bush family, but this is otherwise an insightful examination of a political shift that endures to this day. (Oct.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by New York Times Review

Review by Publisher's Weekly Review