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.
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
A bold and astute narrative history of conservatism's climb and one of the best-reviewed books of 2001.
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.
Rick Perlstein writes for The Nation, Slate, and The New York Times. He was named one of The Village Voice's Writers on the Verge in 2000 and received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant for independent scholars. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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