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Nixon's Piano: Presidents and Racial Politics from Washington to Clinton Hardcover – November 8, 1995


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; First Edition edition (November 8, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0029236851
  • ISBN-13: 978-0029236857
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #644,996 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

University of Alaska historian O'Reilly (Racial Matters) ably synthesizes a large volume of material to portray what he sees as the mostly sorry record of American presidents who, on matters of race, pandered to what was worst in America for the sake of votes. The early leaders, Reilly posits, were hypocrites; Abraham Lincoln "was the first to act his conscience on matters of race." Even New Dealer FDR accommodated himself to Jim Crow in military strategy, and Harry Truman and JFK (a "civil rights minimalist") were pushed not by ideals but by pressure or expediency. O'Reilly has harsh words for Ronald Reagan's attempt to turn the clock back and George Bush's consistent flip-flops on race. If Jimmy Carter's compromises on affirmative action couldn't keep his fellow Southern whites in the fold, Bill Clinton has even more carefully pursued a "balancing act" in which he regularly dissociates himself from the likes of Jesse Jackson and Lani Guinier. "These are bleak times," the author concludes, suggesting that attacks on welfare and affirmative action still don't address the source of white middle-class anxiety.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Yes, the title is strange: it refers to a racist minstrel-show performance in which the president and vice president (Spiro Agnew) mocked their "Southern strategy" before journalists and guests at a 1970 Gridiron Club dinner. The argument of University of Alaska historian O'Reilly is just as audacious: he maintains that a "Southern strategy" --" a belief that presidential elections can be won only by following the doctrines and rituals of white over black" --has been "the gut organizing principle of American politics" ever since the Constitutional Convention compromised with slavery. Only Lincoln and LBJ stand as exceptions: despite the former's "white supremacist caveats" and the latter's "surveillance state," these two presidents truly improved African Americans' status and opportunities. After one chapter on "Owners" (Washington to McKinley) and one on "Progressives" (Teddy Roosevelt to Hoover), O'Reilly's remaining seven chapters study the many ways in which presidents from FDR to Clinton--often despite personal goodwill--have "deepened . . . the racial rut" in which "the politics that came out of the Constitution and its articles on slavery" has been stuck for more than two centuries. Provocative history, convincingly argued. Mary Carroll

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By JOHN GODFREY on July 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover
of presidential racial politics throughout our history. The rather whimsical title, Nixon's Piano, refers to a minstrel show presented in the White House in 1970 with president Nixon on the piano. The author, Kenneth O'Reilly, sounds like a rather angry man in this indictment of presidential action & inaction for over two centuries. None of our presidents are safe from his scorn save two. Lincoln & LBJ get a pass. Lincoln for his part, may be the only president to pursue his conscience, that being in very special circumstances. Some of our presidents had the very best of intentions & guilt. Washington & Jefferson knew of the the inherent evil of slavery. They talk piously but in the end did nothing that would jeopardize their wealth & lose their privileged position & fine life. That their peculiar institution must someday end they surely knew. But they also knew by that time they'd be dead anyway. In our first 72 years, 9 out of 16 presidents had slaves. The Civil War changed that of course. After a brief reconstruction, the old southern power structure reasserted itself & things got decidedly worst for the black race. Most early presidents seem to have some sort of return to Africa or anywhere but here scheme. These were failures. The idea of moving millions of people to a land that was unknown to them was patently impossible, except on a very small scale. So you'd think that the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt would bring some relief to southern blacks. You'd be wrong. His best instincts told him blacks were equal under the law with the rights of every man. His baser instinct told him that blacks were inferior. He broke bread with Booker Washington in the White House & provide patronage jobs. Meanwhile, throughout his term an average of 80 blacks were lynched in the south every year.Read more ›
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By D. Garcia on September 2, 2003
Format: Hardcover
for those that yearn to understand presidential politicss impact on race & the shortcomings of the individuals that are so often placed on a pedestal--unjustly. To elaborate, former presidents are often looked upon with prestige and honor that frankly, they don't deserve--this book breaks these issues down in detail with the goal of providing a more complete context to these individuals.
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