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Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus

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  • Posted February 17, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    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 conservative movement in the United States. Before the Storm not only fulfilled, but exceeded those expectations as one learns the roots of conservative ideas and how slowly they were put into words to that could be consumed by the average American one day. Before the Storm is also about how the conservative movement found their standard-bearer in Barry Goldwater, who was reluctant to take up the call and when he did surrounded himself with those unequal to the task of a national political campaign. But as Perlstein shows while Goldwater's official campaign failed, the political operatives that has set-up his nomination before being discarded had established themselves in "unofficial" citizen groups planting the beginnings of an army to be reaped later by Ronald Reagan. If one could find faults it would be that Perlstein didn't give an in-depth description of the 1952 GOP Convention that conservatives always pointed out as being stolen from them, it was referenced many times but never delved into. To those wanting understand our present political landscape, I recommend this book to know how it developed in the past.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2003

    Right On!

    Author Rick Perlstein explains how the conservative movement that coalesced around Barry Goldwater in the 1960s eventually came to dominate the American political scene. The Preface contains a subtext that is perhaps congenial to Perlstein's own ideological commitments: the same thing may happen again, only this time with a revitalized liberal collectivism winning the political day. I am not a liberal, and I hope such a dreaded thing will never come to pass. However, Perlstein's book is the finest assessment of the Goldwater phenomenon I've read. BEFORE THE STORM brims with detailed information, intriguing anecdotes, and shrewd character sketches. Want to learn more about Clarence Manion, Robert Welch of the John Birch Society, the backlash factor George Wallace exploited in a handful of Democratic primaries in '64, or the impact of Phyllis Schafly's A CHOICE NOT AN ECHO? Read Perlstein. He charts the rise of Ronald Reagan as a conservative spokesman who would eventually claim the Presidency, and there is a facscinating discussion of F. Clif White, who not only tied up Goldwater's nomination at the grassroots level before the Republican establishment even knew what had hit them, but also spearheaded Citizens for Goldwater-Miller, a guerrilla-style campaign organization that might have made the 1964 race very interesting if the 'Arizona mafia,' Goldwater's official reelection team, had given them free rein. As a Jeffersonian Democrat, I have to take issue with one implicit argument Perlstein makes. In his discussion of Orange County, California, a bastion of right-wing activity, Perlstein heaps sarcasm on people who decried government programs while benefiting from government defence contracts and middle class 'welfare' that allowed tax deductions for mortage interest. There are two problems with this. First, most Orange Country conservatives at that time would have supported some govenment involvement, so long as it was limited to national defence. Thus they exhibited no hypocrisy in benefiting from contracts which facilitated that goal. Second, from the fact that government played a central role in developing a region, it doesn't follow that residents of that region should support government. Virginia was founded by a consortium of private investors, the Virginia Company. Certainly Perlstein wouldn't want to conclude from this that the residents of Virginia should support privatization of all government services. (Maybe the Virginia Company received some royal grants...but suppose they hadn't?)This is an instance of the genetic fallacy. (And are mortage tax deductions really 'subsidies' that 'redistribute' wealth--or do they let individuals keep more of their own money?) Despite these conceptual errors, BEFORE THE STORM is an excellent work. The writing is consistently witty and erudite, with a nice zing to it. I look forward to see what Perlstein will do next.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2010

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