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The Right Moment: Ronald Reagan's First Victory and the Decisive Turning Point in American Politics Hardcover – September 19, 2000


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1St Edition edition (September 19, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 068484320X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684843209
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,106,964 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

When Ronald Reagan won the Republican nomination for governor of California in 1966, The New York Times called the GOP's decision "against all counsels of common sense and political prudence." That comment probably deserves to go down in history as one of the most spectacularly wrong political assessments ever to appear in a newspaper. As historian Matthew Dallek writes in The Right Moment, his account of Reagan's campaign against Democratic governor Pat Brown, "Ronald Reagan redefined politics like no one since Franklin Roosevelt." The future president's "stunning, out-of-nowhere victory," in which he beat Brown by nearly a million votes, altered the course of American politics for at least a generation: it signaled liberalism's descent into the fatal politics of 1970s McGovernism, announced the rebirth of the conservative movement out of the ashes of Barry Goldwater's crushing defeat two years earlier, and foreshadowed Reagan's greater accomplishments on the national stage.

Before becoming governor, Reagan faced the formidable challenge of persuading mainstream voters that an affable actor could indeed perform effectively as a chief executive. But an even trickier task, in Dallek's telling, was how Reagan rescued the conservative movement from its own extremist elements. There was, for instance, the John Birch Society, a right-wing organization whose thousands of members would form a part of any successful conservative coalition, but whose leaders believed in the plainly absurd idea that President Eisenhower was a Communist agent. Reagan at once had to harness this group's energies and keep his distance from its nuttier beliefs. This he accomplished with a deftly written one-page statement repudiating some of what the group's leaders had alleged and courting their followers at the same time. By zeroing in on this half-forgotten episode of Reagan's career, Dallek shows how the consequences of one election can reverberate throughout the years. This book is almost as much about Pat Brown as it is about Ronald Reagan--fans of Ronald Radosh's Divided They Fell, for instance, will surely enjoy that aspect of it--but most readers will be drawn to The Right Moment for its detailed chronicle of how Reagan got his start in politics. --John J. Miller

From Publishers Weekly

The so-called Reagan revolution, according to Dallek, did not begin in 1980 when Reagan won the presidency, but in 1966 when the conservative Hollywood actor, a former FBI informant with no political experience, won a landslide victory in the California gubernatorial race against two-term Democratic incumbent Pat Brown. In this briskly readable, insightful but unsurprising study, Dallek (who has been a columnist for Slate and a contributor to the Atlantic Monthly, Salon and other publications) argues with some justification that the California election was a watershed event. Reagan, positioning himself as a champion of law and order, and as a bold-thinking conservative with fresh ideas and programs, distanced himself from the Republican Party's extremist right wing. Tapping into widespread frustration over high taxes, crime and bloated budgets, genial, telegenic ReaganAand the conservative movementAlearned how to push the right buttons on key issues, turning welfare, urban riots and student protest into cudgels that could be used to bash liberals. Meanwhile, Brown greatly underestimated Reagan's appeal, and though Brown had a strong record on education and civil rights, his faith in the ability of big government to solve social ills was being challenged by entrenched poverty, the Watts riots and campus sit-ins. In Dallek's analysis, Reagan benefited immensely from a liberalism that had moved too far in a direction most voters were unwilling to go; Reagan's rhetorical commitment to smaller government and his support for a strong military budget would resonate for decades. Dallek's evenhanded, incisive critique will compel both liberals and conservatives to rethink their strategies. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

The writing is excellent and the story is captivating and important.
James Gallen
Dallek does a superb job of profiling lesser-known political characters like Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty and Reagan's "Kitchen Cabinet."
Nikos A. Leverenz
Riots, Vietnam, and the failings of the Great Society turned America into a nation ripe for political change.
Michael R. Nothstine

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Stamper VINE VOICE on December 10, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Much is made of our current leaders being products of the turbulent 1960s, but author Matthew Dallek reminds us, in this very evenhanded account, that Ronald Reagan's political fortune was due largely to that same turmoil. Dallek makes a good point that the impact of Reagan's 1966 win of the California governorship has been ignored by current journalists and historians. Today, the 60s counterculture is romanticized by the baby-boomer media, like Stonewall Jackson is lionized by the Daughters of the Confederacy. But in the 1960s, civil unrest wasn't too fashionable. People were frightened. Enter Ronald Reagan.
Reagan was considered a lightweight by Democrats and liberal Republicans, and on top of that, he spoke in the same right-wing tone that supposedly cost Barry Goldwater the 1964 Presidential Election. A few conservative businessmen thought differently. They liked the speech Reagan gave in the last days of the Goldwater campaign. They thought that Reagan was the right mix of personality, intelligence and political persuasion, and could pull a big upset in the 1966 election versus the 2-term Governor Edmund "Pat" Brown.
We all know that Reagan pulled that upset, but unlike the other histories, Mr. Dallek shows us how he pulled it off. He also provides a look into the Brown campaign, and the many misfortunes Brown suffered in the two years prior to his defeat. Nothing could go right for the seasoned Brown, while nothing went wrong for the neophyte Reagan. It would seem that destiny produced Ronald Reagan. In this book, you'll see how Reagan and destiny took care of Edmund "Pat" Brown.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Patrick Ruffini on November 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Matthew Dallek's The Right Moment was a highly enjoyable, well-written and insightful view of the turmoil in California politics in the mid-60s. Dallek's effort is a great work of historical scholarship, synthesizing different topics like the John Birch movement, the student uprisings at Berkeley, the Watts riots and the internal rifts in the Democratic Party into a coherent and compelling narrative of "what went wrong" with 1960's liberalism. The Right Moment also gives us a taste of what is to come with the rise of Ronald Reagan, and as such, it builds an important bridge between two very different eras, the 1960s and the 1980s. The only thing that can be said against the book is that the cover dramatically oversells the Reagan aspect -- at least two thirds of the book deals with Pat Brown and his struggle with liberalism's internal demons. Nonetheless, it is a joy to read, and even contains gems on Reagan you won't find anywhere else.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Nikos A. Leverenz on October 23, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This account of Ronald Reagan's first electoral triumph is rather remarkable for its evenhanded approach to Reagan and his opponent in the 1966 California gubernatorial election, Edmund G. "Pat" Brown. Reagan is a polarizing figure for most authors --- from the Leftist chorus that maintains the untenable assertion that he was an "amiable dunce" who got lucky, to those who have penned recent volumes that are more like hagiographies than serious pieces of non-fiction. Titles like Dinesh D'Souza's "Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became and Extraordinary Leader" and Peggy Noonan's "When Character was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan" speak for themselves.
Dallek does a superb job of profiling lesser-known political characters like Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty and Reagan's "Kitchen Cabinet." His narrative of Watts and Berkeley is succinct and dispassionate, two characteristics that defy the usual cant readers can expect from accounts of the 1960's tumult. The introduction and the epilogue seem hurried; they do not adequately address Reagan's signature impact on the conservative movement or the larger civic debate.
"The Right Moment" stands alongside the works of Lou Cannon in the Reagan literature in terms of its readability, use of primary sources, and latent objectivity.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Michael R. Nothstine on June 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The Book "The Right Moment" by Matthew Dallek is an important piece of balanced research into the 1966 campaign for Governor of California. The race chronicles one conservative (actor turned politician) verse an old guard liberal who dominated California politics for the last eight years named Pat "The Giant Killer" Brown.

This book makes a few very important cases. One being Reagan benifited from the changing trends in politics nationally as well as in California. There is no doubt there is truth in that but it is also important to note that Reagan did what no other modern conservative had done and that is win big. Dallek understands that it was Reagan's skill plus the right times which brought about a national change. Riots, Vietnam, and the failings of the Great Society turned America into a nation ripe for political change. Reagan was the man who lead the revolution from California and eventually ending with the demise of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

Dallek also understands what many authors do not and that is Reagan ran a mainstream conservative campaign from California on into the White House.

It is also important to note that this book chronicles the life, campaigns, and ambition of Pat Brown who was a very able politician who knocked off former Vice President Richard Nixon in 62 who challenged Brown's hold on Sacramento.

Much of the problem with Brown was that he underestimated Reagan (which would not be the last time an incumbent did that) and failed to quell the anarchy in Watts and Berkley.

If you enjoy studying Ca politics, political campaigns, or political history this book is very valuable and brings out a lot of new information on the 66 Governor's race. Another strong quality is the balanced approach "The Right Moment" offers and its obviously well researched. I believe more could have easily been written about the 66 race.
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