Before the Storm – Rick Perlstein (2001)

Before the Storm

Before the Storm by Rick Perlstein is a book on the period 1956-1964 detailing the rise and defeat of Barry Goldwater. A long, detailed and pretty fascinating book that sheds light on where we stand today in American politics.

As Perlstein describes it, the emerging conservative movement chose Goldwater as their standard-bearer, even though Goldwater himself was pretty reluctant to play such a role. He was outspoken to his detriment (his famous lines about ‘extremism’ during the Republican convention did him no good in the general election).

The other big factor that looms over the story is Civil Rights. Having Kennedy and then Johnson push for the Civil Rights Bill apparently pushed many white voters of the South over to the Republican side, a trend which has been very important to Republican success in the time since.

While many of the themes of the Goldwater campaign are still with us today, as Brad DeLong has noted Goldwater’s loss in ’64 opened the door to Johnson’s Great Society which the conservatives hated but can probably never roll back.

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