Before the Storm:
An amazingly written piece of narrative history, Rick Perlstein's Before the Stormrecounts the merging of conservatism around the presidential candidate of Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater in 1964, and how this frenzied continuum of "true conservatives" set the stage for the victories of the New Right that would trail Goldwater's fiasco of an election campaign. In his book, Perlstein uses the past as a preamble: "It is hard, now, to grasp just how profoundly the tectonic plates of American politics have shifted between 1964 and today...the opening years of the twenty-first century [are] as surely a conservative epoch as the era between the New Deal and the Great Society was a liberal one (Pages x, xiv)." Perlstein sees the early development of the conservative tidal wave, that has overwhelmed our world today, in the Goldwater explosion of 1964, and given how skillfully and engagingly he puts his ducks in order, it's hard to find a flaw in his argument.
After beginning his anecdote with a thought provoking exercise to help well-meaning liberals comprehend the pre-Goldwater conservative frame of reference, Perlstein presents to us a cast of vibrant political gladiators who would help to reanimate the conservative cause. They include Clarence Manion, fanatical anticommunist Marvin Liebman (whose fund-raising expertise would make him "the right's P.T. Barnum" (Page 104)),National Reviewpersonality William Buckley, Frederick Clifton White (the organizational mastermind whose understanding of delegate arcana was unequaled), and of course, Barry Goldwater, the attractive, passionate senator from Arizona (whom, Perlstein reminds us, was as much of an innocent in the world of federal munificence as his anti-government cohort,Ronald Regan). However, it was the great perceptiveness of those who organized the conservative resurgence and the Goldwater candidacy that you could be successful in winning the Republican nomination by giving vent to that true voice of the conservative. Perlstein has a very clear and enlightening section starring the expertise of Clarence Manion and Representative William Jennings Bryan Dorn and as stated earlier, Manion was one of the many men behind the curtain that kept the movement afloat,"...Faubus[Gov. Orval Faubus] should announce his candidacy for the democratic presidential nomination on a conservative platform and enter primaries in the North, as Johnson suggested. At the same time, For America should line up some prominent conservative to run for the republican nomination on the same platform. "X for President" clubs would be organized in the North, "Faubus for President" clubs in the South. And when both candidates were turned back at their respective party conventions, the two organizations would merge to form a new party to back one of the candidates- who combining the votes of Dixiecrats and Taft Republicans, could finally block the major-party candidates from an Electoral College majority."(Page 15) This was Manion and Dorn's plan for Goldwater; however its level of success comes into question, especially since Goldwater did not win the election.
As is obvious, Perlstein is a talented writer with an insider understanding of political modus operandi and an aptitude for dynamic prose, prose made even more remarkable by his attentiveness to detail. In reality, the narrative moves along so quickly that it's effortless to ignore how meticulously Perlstein has renovated the plans and traits that gave life to the Goldwater machine. Towards the end of the work, he has made a persuasive argument that although Goldwater may ultimately have been too unmanageable and relaxed a contender for his grassroots organization, the Goldwater conservative movement lived on, and, only a few years later, it would be seen as a movement that paved the way for a more competent and media-savvy politician, Governor of California and future president Ronald Reagan.
To close, Perlstein'sBefore the Storm, an exceptional work of narrative and political history in its own right, joins the works of other recent historians in making unquestionably obvious one essential fact, "America would remember the sixties as a decade of the left. It must be remembered instead, as a decade when the polarization began."(Page xiii)