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

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

by Perlstein

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An astute and surprising account of the 1960s as the cradle of the Conservative movement

Before the Storm begins in a time much like the present--the tail end of the 1950s, with America affluent, confident, and convinced that political ideology was a thing of the past.

But when John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960,


An astute and surprising account of the 1960s as the cradle of the Conservative movement

Before the Storm begins in a time much like the present--the tail end of the 1950s, with America affluent, confident, and convinced that political ideology was a thing of the past.

But when John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960, conservatives--editor William F. Buckley Jr., John Birch Society leader Robert Welch, and thousand of students--formed a movement to challenge the center-left consensus. They chose as their hero Barry Goldwater--a rich, handsome Arizona Republican who scorned the federal bureaucracy, reviled détente, despised liberals on sight--and grew determined to see him elected President.

Goldwater was trounced by Lyndon Johnson in 1964. But by the campaign's end the consensus found itself squeezed from the left and the right; and two decades later, the conservatives had elected Ronald Reagan as President and Goldwater's ideas had been adopted by Republicans and Democrats alike.

The story of the rise of conservatism during a liberal era has never been told, and Rick Perlstein's gutsy narrative history is full of portraits of figures from Nelson Rockefeller to Bill Moyers. Perlstein argues that the 1964 election led to a key shift in U.S. politics--from concerns over threats from abroad to concerns about disorder at home; from campaigns plotted in back rooms to those staged for television.

Editorial Reviews

Sam Tanenhaus
Perlstein retells this story with energy and skill . . . His vibrant, detailed narrative moves swiftly and brings a large cast to life.
The New Republic
Todd Gitlin
Offer[s] much background on the remarkable fact of contemporary politics: most of our major political institutions . . . are today owned by the right, although, issue by issue, the causes of the right are unpopular . . . Perlstein has a nose for pungent detail. It is hard to imagine that he has missed any interesting or delicious fact about Goldwater or his circle of devotees.
Boston Review
Steven M. Gillon
Perlstein is a gifted writer and a talented storyteller. His sweeping narrative amounts to nothing less than a social history of modern conservatism.
Chicago Tribune
William Kristol
Combining prodigious research with journalistic flair, Rick Perlstein . . . has produced a detailed and dramatic narrative of the rise of the modern right . . . It's an amazing story, and Perlstein, a man of the left, does it justice.
New York Times Book Review
William A. Rusher
Anyone who has read Perlstein's wonderfully colorful account of the Goldwater nomination and his subsequent defeat in November 1964 will be sorry that the book stops there . . . Let us hope that Perlstein is already at work on another book about it all.
National Review
Robert Sherrill
Perlstein is such a great storyteller -- one of the most enjoyable historians I've ever read.
The Nation
Louis Menand
Before the Storm is smart and lively, and the description is delightfully thick . . . The point of Rick Perlstein's animated re-creation of the Goldwater campaign is that Barry Goldwater is as much a man of the 1960s as Abbie Hoffman or Malcolm X, and, what's more, his shadow looms a good deal larger than theirs.
New Yorker
Hartford Courant
Perlstein's narrative . . . is never less than compelling, brilliantly researched and reported. (Sara Scribner and David Daley)
Christopher Caldwell
Writing with the authority of an academic historian and the dash of a journalist, Mr. Perlstein manages to break free of the partisan id�es re�ues and doctrinal laziness that typify so much writing on recent history. There is something independent, un-bought-out and, in the best sense, radical about this book.
New York Observer
Mark Greif
One of the most stylish, riveting achievements in narrative history to appear in years.
Village Voice
Richard S. Dunham
Comprehensive and compelling . . . The heart of Perlstein's lengthy book is his colorful account of the intellectual giants, the canny political operatives, and the far-out fellow travelers in the conservative cause.
Business Week
Alvin S. Felzenberg
In Before the Storm, Perlstein provides a colorful account of the issues and personalities that made Goldwater's campaign so memorable and the enthusiasm of his supporters so intense.
The Weekly Standard
New York Times Book Review
A detailed and dramatic narrative of the rise of the modern right....It's an amazing story, and Perlstein, a man of the left, does it justice.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Jon Margolis titled his lively rendering of 1964 The Last Innocent Year (LJ 2/1/99). In this masterly account of the 1964 election, in which President Johnson trounced Republican Barry Goldwater, Perlstein, a writer for Slate and the Nation, shows that Johnson's victory was pyrrhic and that the year was anything but innocent. The post-World War II consensus became unraveled in 1964 by Mississippi bombings, Berkeley student uprisings, Communists supposedly lurking everywhere, the first of several long hot summers of urban racial violence, and what Johnson called that "bitch of a war" starting to foment in Vietnam. Perlstein re-creates these events in detailed, lucid narratives that include captivating expos s of the Young Americans for Freedom, and the 1964 contenders for the Republican presidential nomination- Goldwater, Nelson Rockefeller, William Scranton, and Henry Cabot Lodge. From the ashes of Goldwater's inept campaign and Johnson's short-lived victory arose the modern conservative Republican party, which saw its champion, Ronald Reagan, propelled to the White House in 1980. Mathew Dalleck's The Right Moment is a solid account of Reagan's rise, but this investigation of the birth of modern conservatism, written with the same verve as Jeff Shesol's Mutual Contempt: Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy and the Feud That Shaped a Decade (LJ 9/15/97), is in a class by itself. Highly recommended for all libraries. Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
It was a time much like the present, says New York-based history and current affairs writer Perlstein: the end of the 1950s with the US affluent, confident, and convinced that politics was dead. Then liberal Kennedy was elected, and southern and midwest conservatives conspired to challenge the center-left consensus, gathering around the white-hat cowboy Goldwater. He explains that when Goldwater was trounced by Johnson in 1964, pundits wrote the movement off as dead, but in fact the consensus was shattered, and the country has moved steadily into separate and suspicious camps since then. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

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Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Read an Excerpt

The Manionites

Imagine you live in a town of twenty, or fifty, or one hundred thousand souls — in Indiana, perhaps, or Illinois, or Missouri, or Tennessee — with a colonnaded red-brick city hall at its center, a Main Street running its breadth, avenues rimmed with modest bungalows and named for trees and exotic heroes and local luminaries, interrupted at intervals by high-steepled churches. On the outskirts of town are factories. It is June 1959, and, three shifts a day, they throw up great clouds of smoke, churning out vast pools of cement, cords of lumber, spools of rolled steel, machine parts of every size and description. Although no one who didn't have to would ever venture inside one of these factories, locals point to them with pride, because they are what make their little town prosper, and because all over the world foundries use machine parts inscribed with the town's name.

Imagine you are the proprietor of one of these concerns. Your father founded it; perhaps to start things up he cadged a loan from the father of the man you bank with now. Probably, by dint of their shared membership on any number of company boards and fraternal orders and community chests and church committees, the bank let it slide when your father — who had made sacrifices to expand his plant in the hopes that the town's grandchildren, too, might enjoy its fruits — was late a time or two paying off a note.

You grew up reading the adventure novels in the "Mark Tidd" series by Clarence Budington Kelland, an author prominent in the national Republican Party, and your favorite was the story in which a group of boys take over a run down sawmill and get it to turn out a profit: "Up till then a river didn't mean anything to me but a thing to fish or swim in," the narrator said, "but before I was many months older I discovered that rivers weren't invented just for kids to monkey with, nor yet to make a home for fish. They have business, just like anybody else, and they're valuable just like any other business, getting more valuable the more business they do." Calvin Coolidge once said, "The man who builds a factory builds a temple; the man who works there worships there." You agreed. You liked Calvin Coolidge.

By the time you took over the plant, the additions you built were too expensive to finance through any of the banks in your town, which was now a small city. More and more you found yourself trudging to, New York, hat in hand, for money. New York, after all, controlled over a quarter of the nation's banking reserves. Your letterhead soon bore an address in Manhattan as well as the one in your town, but it galled you what it took to get the Wall Street boys to take you seriously (you had worked much harder than any of them when you went to college with them back East).

When the union rep came by to try to sign up your men (there are hundreds, but you know most of them by name), you told the workers stories of the sacrifices your father made for their fathers; you reminded them of the times you kept everyone on the payroll when business was slack, of how you were always ready with an advance to help with the new baby or a sick mother. For fifty years they had seemed perfectly happy without a union, but when FDR signed the Wagner Act, the organizers came again, this time with a slogan: "The President wants you to join a union." A union came.

You hated Franklin Roosevelt. In 1932 he ran on a platform of balanced budgets, less bureaucracy, and removing the federal government from competition with private enterprise. Then the New Deal threw money at everyone and everything — everyone and everything, that is, but you and your plants. You thought it was a godsend to industrialists who managed thousands of workers, instead of hundreds, and their friends on Wall Street. Roosevelt's National Recovery Administration authorized executives in every industry to regulate their own. The men he picked were inevitably from the biggest companies, no one you knew. You had no say when they set floors so high that they destroyed the only edge you had over them in accessing the market — you could no longer undercut their prices. You had no say when your taxes ballooned to pay for Roosevelt's deficits, which you knew would only bring inflation.

Bigger companies licked at your heels all through the Depression. Government regulations — whose application was the same for large and small firms, but which invariably fell heavier on the small — began to feel more burdensome to you. The amiies of unemployed were as uninterested in fine distinctions as the New Dealers were: when Roosevelt attacked the "economic royalists" at his second inaugural in 1937, you found yourself as much the object of the poor's resentment as was the company that wanted to bury you. You felt like a victim.

Then came the Second World War. You hadn't asked for this fight; as a leader of the America First Committee you had agitated against U.S. involvement. You didn't pay your taxes so that Washington could fight England's quarrels. Lawyers from John Kenneth Galbraith's Office of Price Administration and the National War Labor Board, small, petty, jealous men who had never met a payroll in their life, now poked their heads into your plant, read your profit and loss statements, told you what to make and what to charge.

By the time it was over, Roosevelt, not happy just to sell out this country to the collectivists, was busy selling out the rest of the world as well: first by tying MacArthur's hands in the Philippines, and then by handing over vast tracts of China to Stalin to get him to join the war against Japan. His striped-pants diplomats had been busy signing secret agreements at Yalta that would leave the countries of Eastern Europe in the hands of the godless Cornmunists — and one by one by one they entered the ranks of the "captive nations."

Japan's surrender did not end wartime price controls; it did, however, end wartime no-strike pledges. A rash of strikes swept your plants and plants across the country: 4,985 in the last six months of 1946 alone, during which 116 million working hours were lost to the labor bosses. The President wanted the workers to join a union. Now the factories were in the hands of the unions. So was the Democratic Party, now that the labor bosses could deliver them millions of votes.

Meanwhile Wendell Willkie's Wall Street internationalists had taken over the Republican Party, and they were selling out the country right alongside the Democrats. You had read Willkie's gauzy tract One World back in 1943: "What we need now is a council of the United Nations," he wrote. Well, now we had it — and we were forking over our riches to every last Hottentot in addition to the billions General Marshall had committed to Europe.

August 1949: China fell, Russia got the bomb. There would soon be an explanation. Russian spies had been at Los Alamos. Alger Hiss, architect of the United Nations; Harry Dexter White, wizard of Bretton Woods; Owen Lattimore, whispering in an enfeebled Roosevelt's ear as he handed over Poland to the Soviets — all were Communists. America was falling apart. You began spending more of your time serving on political committees, reading books, attending lectures, studying the newspapers, writing letters. You retired in 1952 to work for the Republican presidential nomination of Ohio's Senator Robert Taft, one of the few pro-Americans left in Washington — only to see him railroaded at the convention by the Wall Street kingmakers. Eisenhower talked a good game about returning government back to the states. Yet his first recommendation to Congress was to establish a new cabinet department of Health, Education, and Welfare! He left the heroic Senator McCarthy to twist in the gale-force winds issuing from the Eastern Establishment Press. He worked out a humiliating "truce" in Korea that tied us to the United Nations' war aims. You pledged to fight against our boys serving under any flag but the American flag, so long as you lived.

But the fight was getting harder and harder. In 1958, recession set in, and practically every real Republican was voted out of Congress. You watched as the presumptive nominee for 196o, Richard Nixon — the man who brought down Alger Hiss! — announced a trip to Moscow. Worse, you heard rumors that the archintemationalist of them all, Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller, would be the only one to challenge Nixon for the nomination.

You despaired of ever having a chance to vote against the socialistic Republocrats. You despaired of Washington ever balancing a budget. You despaired of ever again seeing a President who had read the Constitution. You despaired of real Republicans receiving anything but ridicule from Eastern "Republican" newspapers like the Herald Tribune, which wasn't too Republican not to run Eleanor Roosevelt's execrable column. You despaired for a country brainwashed into believing it was approaching paradise, and you despaired of anyone ever waking up. You sent more and more, bigger and bigger checks to any patriotic, pro-American, pro-Constitution organization, candidate, radio program, or publication that asked. Better they get your hard-earned money than the Internal Revenue Service.

On the first day of June 1959, you received a letter marked "CONFIDENTIAL" from Clarence Manion of South Bend, Indiana. Manion was a conservative lecturer and weekly radio commentator, one of the most stirring you had ever heard. You opened a letter from Manion eagerly. It invited you to join a "Goldwater Committee of 100" to draft Barry Goldwater, the junior senator from Arizona, for President. You put it down. Goldwater in the White House — Goldwater winning the Republican nomination — was an incredible, impossible notion. You sent Clarence Manion a letter, on the stationery with your factory's and Manhattan office's addresses on the top, telling him that you wished him well, but that this was a lost cause, hopeless, that a conservative would never win the Republican presidential nomination as long as you lived. You were an old man, tired, and you were through with fighting impossible battles.

Five years later, when you watched Barry Goldwater accept the 1964 Republican nomination for President with tears in your eyes, you wondered how it possibly could have come about.

The name of the man who started it all shows up in few history books. Clarence "Pat" Manion was a precocious kid from a small town in northern Kentucky, Democrat country, the son of a well-off sidewalk contractor with no particular interest in politics. Not long after Pat graduated from the local Catholic college after his twentieth birthday he traveled to Washington, D.C., to study philosophy at Catholic University. Woodrow Wilson had captured Washington from the stolid, stand-pat Republicans. The nation's capital was teeming with brash young intellectuals from all over the country who believed the progressive mood percolating through the states had finally found its fit exemplar in the former political science professor now in the White House. He had resisted the entreaties of Wall Street and had pledged that under his Administration no American would suffer entanglement in the blood feud then raging in Europe. Manion, too young to vote, was swept up in the excitement. The night before the 1916 election he stood in front of Democratic headquarters and led the chants for reelection: "We want peace, we don't want war./We want Wilson four years more!"

Wilson won a second term, and then he went to Congress to ask for a declaration of war.

Pat Manion swallowed hard and elected to stick with the Democrats. Each party had its nationalists and its intenationalists — and also its Progressives and its stand-patters, its urban and rural elements, its reformers and its machine hacks. For an ambitious young man like him, demonstrations of party loyalty made more sense than demonstrations of principle. By the age of twenty-nine he was a law professor at Notre Dame, making his way up the ranks in the Indiana Democratic Party. In 1932 he lost his bid to be his district's nominee for U.S. Congress; in 1934 he failed in an attempt to win nomination for Senate — a New Dealer like him, at any rate, was unlikely to do very well in conservative, Republican Indiana. A textbook he wrote in 1939 for parochial school government courses, Lessons in Liberty, assured students that guaranteeing a decent standard of living to all Americans was government's sacred duty, and his few criticisms of Roosevelt fell foursquare within the emerging consensus of American liberalism: that the only things standing in the way of the federal bureaucracy efficiently spreading well-being to all citizens were problems of technique, their solution just a matter of time and governmental effort.

When Roosevelt began making noises for military mobilization in 1940, Manion once again joined the anti-interventionist cause, taking a leadership position in the left-right coalition America First. The next year he was named dean of the Notre Dame Law School. And by war's end, Dean Manion, as his admirers would come to call him, had joined a multitude for whom disillusionment with FDR over the war became a bridge to despising the President's every work.

What People are Saying About This

Douglas Brinkley
Occasionally a book comes along which causes historians to rethink an entire era. Rick Perlstein's remarkable Before the Storm is such an achievement: elegantly written, copiously researched, brimming with fresh anecdotes. Perlstein illuminates how conservatism erupted into a mass political movement while the academic scholars and media pundits were embracing Great Society Liberalism and Counterculture Despair. A truly landmark study. (Douglas Brinkley, author of The Unfinished Presidency: Jimmy Carter's Journey Beyond the White House)
Thomas Frank
One of the finest studies of the American right to appear since the days of Hofstadter. Read it and understand where the mad public faiths of our own day came from. (Thomas Frank, editor of The Baffler and author of One Market Under God)
Michael Kazin
Finally, a gifted writer has told the full story of the difficult birth and exuberant adolescence of the conservative movement that went on to transform American politics. Rick Perlstein's indispensable history is stuffed with wit, learning, and drama. After reading it, you will never think of the 1960s in the same way again. (Michael Kazin, co-author of America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s)

Meet the Author

Rick Perlstein was born in Wisconsin in 1969. He writes about history and current affairs for publications including The Washington Post, The New York Observer, Feed, and The Nation. He won the National Endowment for the Humanities' most prestigious grant for independent scholars. Perlstein lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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