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Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus Paperback – March 17, 2009
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
Perlstein';s thick book draws a detailed history of American politics from the rise of conservatives such as Clarence Manion to the defeat of Barry Goldwater in 1964 to Lyndon Johnson in the presidential sweepstakes. Johnson won re-election by a massive victory over Goldwater the Arizona Senator but Vietnam would bring him down. The Republicans broke up the solid Democratic South as southerners angered by the civil rights movement and passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by the US Congress turned the South into a Republican stronghold. Ronald Reagan would be the first Goldwater Republican to win the Oval Office in his 1980 victory over POTUS incumbent the hapless Jimmy Carter.
Civil unrest and the fear of such right wing groups as the John Birch Society, Young Americans for Democratic Freedom and candidates from the West whose first icon was Goldwater caused the liberal eastern establishment to wake up and take notice. Today is a deeply divided nation between African-Americans and Whites, liberals and conservatives and big government vs. opponents of the Washington leviathan,
The book is filled with colorful characters . Goldwater s chief foes for the 1964 Republican nomination was Nelson Rockefeller the fabulously wealthy governor of New York;' George Romney the governor of Michigan'; Bill Scranton governor of Pa. ;' Margaret Chase Smith Senator from Maine and Richard Nixon who had lost to JFK in the 1960 campaign for chief executive. Conservative leaders such as William F. Buckley, William Rusher, Robert Welch and other conservative luminaries are discussed at length.
Rich Perlstein has produced an excellent book filled with anecdotes as he has the ability to make history come alive. An excellent book which would be suitable for classroom usage in college courses on American political history.
The book needs better editing! For instance, the Rev. Jerry Falwell was pastor of Thomas Roads Baptist Church in Lynchburg Virginia and not in Lynchburg Tennessee as reported in the book The print is small and hard to read for those like the reviewer who has weak eyesight. Recommended.
The writing is both detailed and engaging, starting with documenting the early rise of the far right, the "movement conservatism" and its fulcrum in the embodiment of Barry Goldwater. While I knew what happened in the presidential election of 1964, the path to it is well laid out by Perlstein, and well supported with his research. The writing is crisp, and entertaining, yet poignant. I highly recommend this, and will be reading the other two volumes penned by Perlstein.
The history in this volume is so comprehensive, one wonders if Perlstein has been so immersed in 1960s politicking that he hasn't seen a 21st Century sun in a quite a while. He not only traces the origin of the Republican party's drastic embrace of conservatism, he explores the background of every ad man, adviser, contributor, and idealogue that cluttered the universe that swirled around Barry Goldwater and thrust him into a role perhaps he was unprepared for. In fact, despite the ruggedly evocative image of Goldwater on the cover, he's actually a minor player in this crowded cast. It's a remarkable look into the kind of politicking that doesn't just happen behind closed doors, it happens with only a PO Box and a telephone.
Unfortunately, Perlstein is a victim of his own expansive research. The book delves not just into the high-level politicking that occurred at conventions, it delves into the intramural, parliamentary arcana of sub-groups within the Republican party. The reader will learn how the Young Republicans chose their leader in the 1960s, for example. Perhaps it's crucial to fully understand the dynamics of the rise of Goldwater, but it's brutal reading - despite Perlstein's avidity. The same goes for the detailed description of every campaign stop and speech made during the 1964 election by both candidates.
I'll reiterate my opening comment - Perlstein is one of the best nonfiction writers in America. NIXONLAND is a landmark text. In fact, NIXONLAND is so nuanced and brilliant, I think a reader might be better advised to pick up that title instead. It covers the bullet-points of Goldwater and captures the extreme nature of not only 1960s politics, but 1960s history.
Forge through the morass and you'll be rewarded - but you can't ignore the morass.
This quote about Goldwater stunned me since this is the same thing being said about Trump now:
"A major party endorsing and promoting a man so blatantly out of touch with reality, so wild in his foreign policy, so backward in his domestic ideas, and so inconsistent in his thinking" - From the London Times in 1964 about Goldwater
This book is an excellent history lesson and how history often repeats itself.