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Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American… (2001)

de Rick Perlstein

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Acclaimed historian Rick Perlstein chronicles the rise of the conservative movement in the liberal 1960s. At the heart of the story is Barry Goldwater, the renegade Republican from Arizona who loathed federal government, despised liberals, and mocked "peaceful coexistence" with the USSR. 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 written, Before the Storm is an essential book about the 1960s.… (mais)
  1. 00
    Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America de Rick Perlstein (mattries37315)
    mattries37315: Perlstein's first and second books in his series studying the history of Conservatism and the Modern Right in American political history that began in the 1950s.
  2. 00
    Pillar of Fire : America in the King Years, 1963-65 de Taylor Branch (Jestak)
1960s (190)
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It is, unfortunately, a good time to read about the origins of the southern strategy, conservative backlash to the new deal, white backlash to civil rights, and the resulting political realignment. I knew about this stuff, vaguely, but reading about Barry Goldwater and his movement in context really crystalized how consequential it all was. From the end of Reconstruction through the 1950s, the two political parties had considerable ideological overlap. This is no longer the case, and Barry and his friends deserve a lot of the credit. With missionary fervor and military discipline, conservatives executed a hostile takeover of national Republican party machinery, wresting it away from liberal softies like Nelson Rockefeller and William Scranton. Though they lost the '64 election spectacularly due to awful campaigning, cold war fears (the Daisy ad goes so hard), Kennedy nostalgia, and LBJ's political genius, history would reward the conservatives and their frothing-at-the-mouth, racist, paranoiac anti-communist supporters immediately and decisively. But I didn't have to tell you that.

I'm too lazy to write all that much more so I'm going to move to bullet points:

What I liked most:

Perlstein demonstrates that the conservative movement was a 60s movement through and through just like civil rights and free speech. It was cool, filled with young people, and scared political insiders. The likes of SDS and CORE had their equals in YAF, the National Review (lol), and Goldwater organizations.

The media got everything wrong. Reading their constant predictions of Goldwater's demise and the fatal damage his loss would inflict on the Republican party is a great reminder that pundits are always full of shit, and love nothing more than rubber-stamping powerful interests while being incorrect all of the time. It's even funnier now because as reporters at prestigious legacy outlets have less power to shape narratives, their pomposity increases.

It's tempting to draw parallels between the conservative takeover of the GOP and Bernie's outsider shot at the Democratic nom in 2016 and 2020. There are enough similarities to make the comparison worthwhile: ideologically committed and disciplined outsiders representing people who feel shunned by both parties coalescing around the presidential campaign of a Senator far afield of the political mainstream. These were movement candidates, powered in unprecedented fashion by small donors, animated by righteous anger at the system and targeted at political parties seen as sluggish and out of touch. It's interesting too that both Sanders and Goldwater were reluctant candidates, because of the perceived impossibility of their goal and its likelihood to ruin their comfortable Senate careers. There are two things, in my view, that ultimately made Goldwater successful and Sanders fall short. First, '64 was one of the last of the "smoke-filled room" primaries. Far fewer delegates were bound to reflect a popular vote than nowadays. The conservative political takeover of the GOP happened procedurally, through a thorough knowledge and steady application of party rules at county, state, and eventually national conventions. Sure, Goldwater encountered the same structural barrier that Sanders did: complete opposition from mainstream media in coordination with powerful capitalists and party donors. But he was able to take over the party machinery *before* popular sentiment was in his corner in a way that Bernie, or any other left challenger to the Democrats, could never do.

The second factor in Goldwater's success and Bernie's failure is that conservatism had backers among the capitalist class, whereas even mild social democracy faces unified opposition from wealth. Some capitalists may have held old-school views about civic virtue among businessmen, and others may have sneezed at such rabid racism and bellicosity, but Goldwater had enough buy-in among the wealthy to significantly bolster his movement. To be super reductive: this is also why Trump's outsider candidacy succeeded and Bernie's didn't.

What I liked least about this book:

I learned that Barry Goldwater is Jewish, a fact that fills me with unutterable shame.
  trotta | Mar 4, 2021 |
Before the Storm describes the beginnings of the modern Republican/Democratic split. For example in 1960, Vermont went Republican which seems laughably impossible these days. In 1964 it went Democrat for the first time and has not looked back since. Other states similarly lined up to how we recognize them today. What happened? Barry Goldwater, an ultra-conservative, re-arranged politics along the southern strategy which was primarily concerned with civil rights and the ideology of communism versus capitalism ("freedom"). At the same time, as blue collar jobs were replaced with white collar and increased prosperity, politics shifted from what can be done to make life better, to fear of things getting worse, keeping what you have. Thus civil rights and communism were the perfect bogymen to strike fear in the hearts of voters to create a new political force to challenge the existing order. It would take 20 years, and four books by Perlstein to describe the ultimate triumph of Regan and the insanity we have lived with since, culminating most recently with the storming of the US Capitol in 2021. So long as people buy into the fantasies of self-sufficiency and fear mongering, there will be a misinformed, paranoid and angry base of Americans to contend with. ( )
1 vote Stbalbach | Jan 11, 2021 |
One of the best histories of the American conservative movement. Perlstein does an excellent job of describing the twists and turns that led the Republican party to embrace Goldwater. In his narrative we catch glimpses of individuals who will, down the road, play a major role in the shaping of the GOP. The cold war and the civil rights movement play a major role in the shaping of the neo-cons to come. After two hundred years, Thomas Jefferson's "Fire Bell in the night" is still ringing. Pointing to a issue that will not go away. If you want to understand where we stand as a country, read this book and proceed on to"Nixonland" and "The Invisible Bridge". It will be time well spent. ( )
1 vote Steve_Walker | Sep 13, 2020 |
First in Perlstein's magisterial series on the rise of the far right in U.S. politics. A lot of people have been going back to Arendt's Rise of Totalitarianism to understand Trump's America. That's worthwhile (I reread it myself last year), but I would argue the far right's takeover of the GOP that these books chronicle is much more important to understand as the political context that made Trumpism (or something like it) not only possible but perhaps inevitable.

They are also just rollicking good narrative political histories.
1 vote JFBallenger | Sep 1, 2020 |
2016 is not the first year Republican presidential politics seemed batsh*t crazy. Once before we had a nominee whom pundits and analysts considered an unqualified lunatic; who caused foreign observers to question the sanity of the American electorate and worry about the global future; who resolutely flew in the face of accepted wisdom about how to run a campaign. How such a candidate emerged not (as now) in a climate of polarization but in one of placid liberal consensus is the subject of this book. Along the way you'll meet players such as Nelson Rockefeller, Richard Nixon, Phyllis Schlafly and William Rehnquist, and learn how at one time both Democratic and Republican parties included both reactionary and progressive elements, so that neither organization could be simply labeled "conservative" or "liberal." The Democrats partnered Northern labor-movement activists with Southern racists. The Republicans paired Western might-makes-right libertarians with Eastern elitist intellectuals. How Goldwater's candidacy was made inevitable by a mostly unknown cadre of true believers flying under the radar is the central drama.

The book reads like an ironic thriller, its twists and turns always surprising despite the overall tone of amused disbelief, punctuated by earnest excitement. Perlstein loves his subject and every page includes a great story. The day after I finished Before the Storm, I went out and purchased his next book, Nixonland. I have a feeling I'm going to be crediting these books for keeping me sane and giving me perspective during interesting times. ( )
  john.cooper | Jul 3, 2016 |
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Acclaimed historian Rick Perlstein chronicles the rise of the conservative movement in the liberal 1960s. At the heart of the story is Barry Goldwater, the renegade Republican from Arizona who loathed federal government, despised liberals, and mocked "peaceful coexistence" with the USSR. 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 written, Before the Storm is an essential book about the 1960s.

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