UCSB history professor Laura Kalman recently published a book that she spent the last 30 years writing and researching.
Right Star Rising — A New Politics, 1974-1980 tracks the presidencies of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter to explain the rise of conservatism in the United States. Kalman traces the movement back to the 1970s, which was characterized by such national and international disasters as the energy shortage, Iran hostage crisis and recession.
As a prominent legal historian, Kalman has been investigating the trend on and off for nearly three decades.
“I kept coming back to it and every time I came back to it, something new had happened,” Kalman said. “I would return to find echoes of the present alive and well in the past.”
According to Kalman, exploring the past is fundamental to understanding current politics.
“I think it helps us to understand how we got here,” she said. “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes and this may be one of those times.”
History professor Nelson Lichtenstein said Kalman was a diligent researcher.
“She visited every library possible — she went everywhere,” Lichtenstein says. “She used various different sources that no one had touched on before.”
Lichtenstein also said the book explains how the right wing has come to define American politics.
“Although the ’70s were often thought of as a confusing decade, Laura has a way of showing the projectory of liberal confusion and conservative determination,” he said.
Additionally, Kalman said both Carter and Ford were ineffectual party leaders and commanders-in-chief. She said these traits, along with the growth of conservatism during their terms, led to the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.
Kalman also said the reputation of the Republican party plummeted most significantly following the Watergate scandal and 9/11.
“At the time [that Ford was in office] the Republicans looked like they were completely down and out,” Kalman said. “The number of people who identified themselves as Republicans were staggeringly low and in that case it looked much like 2008 when George W. Bush was leaving office.”
In order to make more informed decisions, Lichtenstein said students need to research political trends before voting next Monday.
“We have to understand that all current politicians became politically aware in the ’70s,” Lichtenstein said. “If you are at all interested in the mid-term elections of 2010, you need to read political rhetoric to understand where the politicians are coming from.”