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Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus [Hardcover]

by Rick Perlstein
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 23, 2001 080902859X 978-0809028597 1st
An astute and surprising account of the 1960s as the cradle of the Conservative movement

Before the Storm begins in a time much like the present--the tail end of the 1950s, with America affluent, confident, and convinced that political ideology was a thing of the past.

But when John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960, conservatives--editor William F. Buckley Jr., John Birch Society leader Robert Welch, and thousand of students--formed a movement to challenge the center-left consensus. They chose as their hero Barry Goldwater--a rich, handsome Arizona Republican who scorned the federal bureaucracy, reviled détente, despised liberals on sight--and grew determined to see him elected President.

Goldwater was trounced by Lyndon Johnson in 1964. But by the campaign's end the consensus found itself squeezed from the left and the right; and two decades later, the conservatives had elected Ronald Reagan as President and Goldwater's ideas had been adopted by Republicans and Democrats alike.

The story of the rise of conservatism during a liberal era has never been told, and Rick Perlstein's gutsy narrative history is full of portraits of figures from Nelson Rockefeller to Bill Moyers. Perlstein argues that the 1964 election led to a key shift in U.S. politics--from concerns over threats from abroad to concerns about disorder at home; from campaigns plotted in back rooms to those staged for television.

Editorial Reviews Review

Not every presidential election is worth a book more than a quarter-century after the last ballot has been counted. The 1964 race was different, though, and author Rick Perlstein knows exactly why. That year, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, a Democrat, trounced his opponent, Barry Goldwater, a Republican senator from Arizona, in a blowout of historic proportions. The conservative wing of the GOP, which had toiled for so long as the minority partner in a coalition dominated by more liberal brethren, finally had risen to power and nominated one of its own, only to see him crash in terrible splendor. It looked like a death, but it was really a birth: a harrowing introduction to politics that would serve conservatives well in the years ahead as they went on to great success. Conservatives learned a lot in 1964:
It was learning how to act: how letters got written, how doors got knocked on, how co-workers could be won over on the coffee break, how to print a bumper sticker and how to pry one off with a razor blade; how to put together a network whose force exceeded the sum of its parts by orders of magnitude; how to talk to a reporter, how to picket, and how, if need be, to infiltrate--how to make the anger boiling inside you ennobling, productive, powerful, instead of embittering.
These were practical lessons that anybody in politics must pick up. For conservatives, the rough indoctrination came in 1964, and Perlstein (who is not a conservative) tells their story in detail and with panache. Before the Storm is not a history of conservative ideas (for that, read The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America, by George Nash), but a chronicle of how these ideas began to matter in politics. The victory of Ronald Reagan in 1980--to say nothing of Newt Gingrich in 1994 and George W. Bush in 2000--might not have been possible without the glorious failure of Barry Goldwater in 1964. As Perlstein writes, "You lost in 1964. But something remained after 1964: a movement. An army. An army that could lose a battle, suck it up, regroup, then live to fight a thousand battles more." --John J. Miller

From Publishers Weekly

In the 1964 presidential campaign, LBJ ate Barry Goldwater for lunch and thereby, according to the pundits, stuck a fork in the heart of American conservatism. But Goldwater's politics were vindicated, Perlstein argues, by subsequent elections, especially Reagan's in 1980, and his tenets are championed today on both sides of the aisle. Perhaps. What's more important about Perlstein's argument is its subtext. By casting the senator as the long-term winner, Perlstein's chronicle vindicates what appears to have been Goldwater's magnificently ham-handed campaign. Conservative readers will cringe at the missed opportunities and wrongheaded tactics; the scattered and mismanaged themes, including Goldwater's crippling clarion call for extremism; the extremists who embraced him; and the backroom machinations and supporters that in many ways created Goldwater. Certainly they'll see Nixon and Reagan in an unlikely light: using the deck of the sinking ship Goldwater as a platform for their own careers. Liberal readers, on the other hand, will approach the pinnacle of schadenfreude. And they'll either be peeved or amused by Perlstein's unabashed partisanship, perhaps best shown in his observation that LBJ's deputy Bill Moyers pioneered dirty campaign tactics: "the full-time-espionage, sabotage, and mudslinging unit." Aptly casting conservativism as the triumphant underdog, Perlstein observes that "in 1995 Bill Clinton paid Reagan tribute by adopting many of his political positions. Which had also been Barry Goldwater's positions. Here is one time, at least, in which history was written by the losers." With Republicans again in the ascendancy, this account of their fall and subsequent rise should interest readers of all political stripes. Illus. not seen by PW.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 671 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang; 1st edition (March 23, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080902859X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809028597
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #718,818 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
65 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Conservative Backstory March 13, 2001
If you are a reader of culture and politics, I can guarantee that you have never read the story contained in this book. The history of the sixties has been packaged by the so called "victors" for 30 years. Rick Perlstein just broke up that monopoly. Somehow he tells the story of the birth of modern conservatism without attacking the ideology, or schilling for it either. We hear alot about "balance" these days, but here we actually have it. This is the way history should be written.
Perlstein is a thirty year old guy, who obviously went beyond his textbooks while in school. He is one of the rare modern writers of politics and culture who treats the subject of American conservatism seriously by painstakingly recreating its march forward, led by Barry Goldwater. Goldwater's defeat in '64 was spectacular, but as Perlstein puts it, conservatives "sucked it up" and moved on.
If you are a conservative you will love the detail of the book. If you are Liberal you may begin to understand how the conservative ideology was battle tested in '64 and how it later used that huge defeat as a source of strength in the eighties and nineties. Most of all if you want to know more about the truth of the sixties, read this book. Perlstein shows that alot more than just flower power happened during that complex decade.
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52 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars MUST Read Regardless of Your Political Persuasion June 9, 2001
Aficionados of U.S. political history, regardless of their political persuasion, will immensely enjoy Rick Perlstein account of the pivotal Presidential election of 1964. Given Johnson's lopsided majority -- the largest landslide to that point in U.S. history -- the 1964 contest would appear, on the surface, to be uninteresting. However, 1964 was pivotal not for who won, but who lost and why. Perlstein, an avowed Leftist himself, adroitly recounts the rise of the new Conservative movement, which flexed its political muscles for the first time with the nomination of Barry Goldwater. Ironically, as Perstein shows, pundit after pundit proclaimed the Conservative movement stillborn following Goldwater's pitiful 27-million vote total (compared with Johnson's 43 million). It would be, Perlstein points out, one of the greatest political misjudgments in U.S. history, as the next 30 years would attest.
"Before the Storm" has much to commend it. A few of the more interesting anecdotes include:
* Clifton White's brilliant, secretive Draft Goldwater campaign and his tactical genius in out-flanking the Rockefeller/Scranton/Lodge partisans at the convention;
* the internecine struggle for the soul of the young Conservative Movement between Welch's John Birch Society and Buckley's National Review;
* the rise of the Young Americans for Freedom, which would dwarf its better known liberal counterpart, Students for a Democratic Society;
* the role of Bill Moyers, the holier-than-thou PBS personality, in pioneering a new advertising genre: the political attack ad.
* the dramatic political debut of Ronald Reagan, with his acclaimed "A Time for Choosing" speech -- broadcast nationally on election eve.
I could go on and on. "Before the Storm" is neither a paean to, nor an attack on, the Conservative Movement. Rather, Perstein's account is thorough, well researched and even handed. A MUST read for political fans of all stripes.
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67 of 77 people found the following review helpful
Why should you read this book? Lots of reasons.
First, read BEFORE THE STORM for it's look at the origins of the modern political era. When the polls closed on Election Night '64, the Democrats had just won the Presidency for the seventh time in nine elections, and they held huge majorities in both houses of Congress. The experts debated whether the Republican party could survive, but all agreed that the Conservative movement was dead as vaudeville.
Within two years, the Republicans came roaring back in Congress and the state capitols, and the Conservatives held veto power in the Party. The GOP won five of the next six Presidential elections, captured the Senate in the eighties and both houses of Congress in the nineties, and the only Republican presidential candidates to lose were two incumbents who had shown themselves as not conservative enough for the fire-eaters. Who ordered this?
Perlstein shows how the charges that blew apart the consensus were laid. He follows the people who were determined to create a Conservative movement, and shows how they eventually succeeded in forcing their champion, Barry Goldwater, into running for the office he didn't want.
BEFORE THE STORM also shows us how crazy politics can make people. It's jaw dropping to read of Clarence Manion's efforts to make Orville Faubus into the standard bearer of Constitutional govt. Faubus arguably should have been hanged for treason!
And how many of knew that Barry Goldwater was either a totally incompetent politician, or he deliberately sabotaged his presidential effort? The story of Goldwater's '64 'campaign' is a near-perfect record of doing the wrong thing. Yet it didn't matter.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Political history at its BEST May 22, 2005
Quite simply, this is an amazing work. It starts as the book the cover would suggest it is: tightly focused, part Goldwater biography and part tale of the conservative movement's early days. By the end, however, the story is less Goldwater and the election and far more a sweeping survey of American life in the early 60s. The campaign fades away, Perlstein masterfully weaves in tales of the civil rights movement, demonstrations, and other events, and Johnson becomes as central to the close of the story as does his opponent. And this only adds to the impact of the book, since both aspects are written amazingly well. Following the Goldwater campaign with all its missteps is as agonizing as the wider diversions are educational. In the end, there is a complete and engaging portrait both of the election and the massive changes in American society that it portended (not to mention how different things are today: the chaos of Goldwater's campaign is utterly surreal in comparison to the machines of current elecitons).

Perhaps most importantly, the book is amazingly even-handed. Perlstein's politics are obvious, but his observations come across as more therapeutic than enraged, almost seeming to sympathize with Goldwater as he tries to fight off the truly lunatic elements. It means that Before the Storm is a book that both conservatives and liberals can and should enjoy. Anyone seeking to understand why politics and society are what they are today should start here.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Nice Chronicle of the Beginning of the End
I am trying to understand how the United States degraded into the politically dysfunctional, completely polarized, war-mongering, corporate-ruled, welfare-soaked debtor nation we... Read more
Published 6 months ago by R. Kelly
4.0 out of 5 stars What we didn't know clearly hurt
I'm late coming to this book, published twelve years ago as I write, but I'm glad a friend suggested it and Rick Perlstein's other exhaustive political history, Nixonland: The Rise... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Cecil Bothwell
5.0 out of 5 stars How we got to where we are today
Until I read this book, Movement Conservatism was always a mystery to me. Perlstein is clearly not a conservative himself, but he is sympathetic enough in his retelling of the... Read more
Published 12 months ago by M. M. Davis
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book
What most people don't know about Barry Goldwater is that he would have been elected president had Kennedy not been assassinated. Read more
Published 13 months ago by nick
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting subject but too many errors
The book is about an interesting subject, but there were too many errors and unsupported facts. These errors and lack of support undermine the reliability of the book.
Published 13 months ago by Jim K
5.0 out of 5 stars Great history of the modern American Political Landscape.
If you think that the 1960's were the decade of the counter-culture and liberalism, you need to read this book. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive, Brilliant, and Bloated
Perlstein is one of the best nonfiction writers in America - period. His writing is infused with a novelistic sense of irony and keen adjective usage (quiet brilliant, really). Read more
Published on April 2, 2012 by Michael I.
4.0 out of 5 stars To Understand the Present, Know the Past
I bought Before the Storm after reading Perlstein's Nixonland expecting it to be not a prequel, but the first of what will most likely be multi-volume history of the rise of the... Read more
Published on January 31, 2012 by Matthew Ries
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific History
This is a foundational work (and much better than "Nixonland"). Perlstein delivers a book that completely captures the era, the players, and the stories of the mid-20th Century. Read more
Published on November 27, 2011 by J. Smallridge
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding Book
I remember arguing repeatedly with my cousin's husband about this race. I was for Johnson and he was for Goldwater. Read more
Published on August 27, 2011 by Seattle Reader
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I don't know the answer to that, but hopefully the publishers will notice the number and quality of the Amazon reviews and realize this book is getting quite a bit of serious attention.
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