The Right Moment: Ronald Reagan's First Victory and the Decisive Turning Point in American Politics

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Ronald Reagan's first great victory in the 1966 California governor's race is one of the pivotal stories of American political history, a victory that seemed to come from nowhere and has long since confounded his critics. Just four years earlier Governor Edmund "Pat" Brown was celebrated as the "Giant Killer" for his 1962 victory over Richard Nixon, and his liberal agenda reigned supreme. Yet in 1966 political neophyte Reagan trounced Brown by almost one million votes, marking not only the coming-of-age of Reagan's new conservatism but also the first serious blow to modern liberalism. Drawing on scores of oral histories, thousands of archival documents, and personal interviews with participants, Dallek offers a gripping new portrait of the 1960s that is far more complicated than our collective memory of that decade.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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 Reagan--and the conservative movement--learned 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 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Ronald Reagan's 1966 victory over incumbent California governor Pat Brown, not his capture of the White House in 1980, was the true start of the "Reagan Revolution" and the ascendancy of the Right. The race also marked Reagan's first try at electoral politics, and although he has been portrayed as a lightweight creation of his handlers, he proved himself an intelligent and highly skillful campaigner. Indeed, Reagan was able to distance himself from the far-right John Birch Society while taking full advantage of the openings presented by Brown's failed fair-housing proposal, the Watts riots, and campus unrest at Berkeley. This first book by journalist Dallek (e.g., Slate, the Atlantic Monthly), who based his work on dozens of interviews and substantial archival research, is a good political story written in a clear style. Recommended for all public and academic libraries.--Robert F. Nardini, Chichester, NH Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Zachary Karabell
Reagan's victory over Brown is the subject of Matthew Dallek's engaging first book. Dallek, a speechwriter for the House Democratic leader, Richard A. Gephardt, contends that the Reagan revolution began not in 1980 but in 1966. And though Dallek's writing is not always as sophisticated as his research or as subtle as his analysis, he succeeds admirably in tracing the roots of the Reagan phenomenon to the turmoil of the mid-1960's.
New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
A focused look at the events leading to (and the ramifications of) Ronald Reagan's victory over incumbent Pat Brown in California's 1966 governor's race.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195174076
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 2/22/2004
  • Edition description: New Afterword
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 9.22 (w) x 6.13 (h) x 0.81 (d)

Meet the Author

Matthew Dallek, a former speechwriter for Richard A. Gephardt, earned his Ph.D. in American History from Columbia University in 1999. His articles and reviews have appeared in The Washington Post, The Atlantic Monthly , The New Republic, and other national publications. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Critical Years
1 The Giant Killer 1
2 The Anticommunist 25
3 "Are You Now, or Have You Ever Been, a Liberal?" 42
4 "Run Ronnie Run" 62
5 "You've Got to Get Those Kids Out of There" 81
6 "A Bunch of Kooks" 103
7 "Charcoal Alleys" 128
8 The George Wallace of California 150
9 The Search for Order 173
10 Prairie Fire 212
Epilogue 240
Afterword 243
Notes 255
Acknowledgments 285
Index 289
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