Rick PerlsteinFROM THE PUBLISHER
Rick Perlstein's Before the Storm tells the story of the rise of the conservative movement in the liberal 1960s--a story that, until this book, had never been told. The figure at the heart of the story is, of course, Barry Goldwater, the handsome renegade Republican from Arizona who loathed the federal government, despised liberals on sight, and mocked "peaceful coexistence" with the USSR. But Perlstein's narrative shines a light on a whole world of conservatives and their antagonists, including William F. Buckley, Nelson Rockefeller, and Bill Moyers. Vividly and thrillingly written, Before the Storm is already recognized as an essential book about the 1960s.This is my personal critique. I'm sorry I thought we had to write our own review:
Of all presidential campaigns, that of 1964 often is considered one of the least interesting. No horserace, telegenic actor or senator, or last minute surprises. It was such a blowout, that, as journalist Rick Perlstein writes in Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus
, the pundits concluded that "By every test we have...this is as surely a liberal epoch as the late 19th Century was a conservative one."
And indeed, the 1960s is remembered for its liberalness: the Mario Savios, the Tom Haydens, the Martin Luther King Jrs.
But the nation's top experts saw something else: In consensus themselves, they saw it as the Age of Consensus. Republican officials had accepted the New Deal and the need for urban management. Democratic officials allied themselves with corporate executives and promised to cut their taxes. America had transcended ideology, and entered the Era of the Technocracy, where the broad issues and questions had been resolved, and it was left only to the experts to find scientific solutions to our problems.
But unknown to the national punditry of the time, the landscape supporting the consensus they so confidently pronounced was shifting, shifting dramatically, beneath their feet.
In popular mythology the changes were coming from one side: the left. But in Before the Storm
, Perlstein shows how American society was in fact tearing itself apart from both sides--that a stadium full of hysterical screaming young people characterized the 1964 Republican National Convention as much as it did the Beatles’ “British Invasion” the same year—in fact the two events were hosted in the same building. Or that behind-the-shadow operators like F. Clifton White, whose name doesn't show up in the history books, or young authors like Phyllis Schlafly, defined the decade just as much as a Malcolm X or a Tom Hayden-- and probably had much more lasting influence than either of them. Certainly, this book will transform you view of the 1960s.
But further, this is the story of the births and origins of a movement which has never been told-- the story of a whole new world to those familiar only with popular history. Of the campaign to recruit Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus for President, of power struggles at the editorial board of the newly minted National Review
, the popularity of such books such as Conscience of a Conservative
and A Choice, Not An Echo
, the vast membership of Young Americans for Freedom, the rallies of the John Birch Society, how tactics developed at College Republican meetings were used to take over the Republican Party, and how future conservative stars such as Ronald Reagan used Barry Goldwater's sinking ship to jump start their own careers.
It is also the story of what Perlstein calls the "Merging of the Blue and White Nile" how libertarian conservative ideologues and racially conservative Dixiecrats found one another while stumbling around in the political wilderness and laid the seeds for an alliance that would first upset the Republican party and then realign American politics.
The mechanism Perlstein uses for this story is the candidacy of Barry Goldwater—so much the reluctant candidate, that in perhaps no other campaign in history has the draft movement so much defined not only the campaign but the candidacy itself.
Most importantly of all, Perlstein, through painstaking research and meticulous attention to detail, tells a social history which shows how simple political ideas, by mechanism of pure passion, become translated into actions that build a political movement --a political army-- one that could outlive any single election campaign or defeat, and was more, from the beginning, than any single candidate.