Know Your Enemy: On the Road to Reaganland, with Rick Perlstein and Leon Neyfakh

Know Your Enemy: On the Road to Reaganland, with Rick Perlstein and Leon Neyfakh

A discussion about “Fiasco: The Battle for Boston,” the weird and wild 1970s, and Ronald Reagan’s path to victory.

Anti-busing protest in South Boston in 1975 (Spencer Grant/Getty Images)

Know Your Enemy is a podcast about the American right co-hosted by Matthew Sitman and Sam Adler-Bell. Read more about it here. You can subscribe, rate, and review to the show on Apple Podcasts and Stitcher, and receive bonus content by supporting the podcast on Patreon.

Matt and Sam talk to two esteemed guests, Rick Perlstein and Leon Neyfakh, about why U.S. politics took a right turn in the 1970s. “We organize discontent,” as one New Right activist put it—and they did. Fierce battles over desegregation, gay rights, abortion, and the meaning of America itself all paved the way for Ronald Reagan’s smashing victory in 1980.

Over four books and two decades, historian Rick Perlstein has chronicled the rise of movement conservatism in America, starting with its renegade beginnings in the 1950s and ’60s. Now, with Reaganland (2020), his extraordinary tetralogy is complete—taking readers on a journey through Jimmy Carter’s doomed administration, the culture wars of the 1970s, and Ronald Reagan’s campaign for the presidency. Perlstein’s sweeping narrative is paired in this episode with the brilliant work of journalist Leon Neyfakh, who just finished the third season of his podcast Fiasco. It’s a deep-dive into the battle over integration in Boston public schools during the 1970s (colloquially but inaccurately known as the Boston “busing crisis”)—a vivid and compulsively listenable portrait of a pivotal episode in recent American history.

In this conversation, Rick and Leon disinter forgotten figures from a decade crucial to the rise of conservatism—the 1970s—while discussing how they tell stories we know the ending to, the problem of contingency and political agency, and issues such as white backlash, right-wing rhetoric, and more. Don’t miss this one!

Further Reading: 

Rick Perlstein, “I Thought I Understood the American Right. Trump Proved Me Wrong,” New York Times, April 11, 2017

Richard Sennett & Jonathan Cobb, The Hidden Injuries of Class,1972

Jesse Curtis, “‘Will the Jungle Take Over?’ National Review and the Defense of Western Civilization in the Era of Civil Rights and African Decolonization,” Journal of American Studies, November 2019

Jefferson Cowie, “Is Freedom White? Boston Review, Sept 23, 2020

Tom Wicker, One of Us: Richard Nixon and the American Dream, 1995