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    A great strength of the two-party system is that basically we have been in general agreement on
    many things and neither party has been the party of extremes or radicals, but temporarily some
    extreme elements have come into one of the parties and have driven out or locked out or booed out
    or heckled out the moderates.
        -Lyndon Baines Johnson, October 24, 1964

    I would like to suggest that there is no such thing as a left or right.  There is only an up or down: Up
    to man's age-old dream, the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order; or down
    to the ant heap of totalitarianism.
        -Ronald Wilson Reagan, October 27, 1964, A Time for Choosing

This is a terrific, nearly novelistic, account of the movement, mostly subterranean at the time, by American conservatives to take back the Republican Party from the Eastern Establishment, after several decades in the wilderness, and run one of their own, Senator Barry Goldwater, for president in 1964.  Author Rick Perlstein--though a self described "European-style Social Democrat" (if I recall correctly from his appearance on Booknotes)--is clearly fascinated by the colorful characters, Byzantine machinations, and heartfelt ideals that went into this epic struggle and he's managed to turn a topic that might have been dry and scholarly into an exciting story about the triumph of ideas.  In many ways the book owes less to Teddy White, the erstwhile chronicler of Presidential campaigns, than to Fletcher Knebel, the great thriller writer of the 60s, whose bestsellers tended to rely on the existence of Vast Right Wing Conspiracies long before it was cool to see them lurking behind every subpoena.  Perlstein actually gets to write about a real conspiracy here, the plan by a reasonably small band of political activists to force their party to return to its conservative principles, and it makes for lively political history.  Perhaps the best facet of the book is that he is always fair, and often sympathetic, to a Right Wing which has all too often been the subject of shallow and brutally unfavorable caricature in the journalism and academic writing about American politics.

As compelling as Perlstein's authoritatively detailed narrative is though, one wishes that he'd provided an equally thorough  political and historical analysis of these events.  In the introduction to the book he states that the conservative movement must be seen as part and parcel of the broader social upheaval of the 60s, and cites Murray Kempton to the effect that it may have been more significant than the more well known activism of the Left.  I think this thesis is somewhat dubious, but it hardly matters because he doesn't really bother trying to prove it ("We must assume that the conservative revival is the youth movement of the '60s").  I can't emphasize enough how open minded and generous Perlstein is in examining the ideas and motivations of those on the Right (whose politics were after all antithetical to his own), but at the same time it seems as if he may have simply expected readers to share his assumption that prior to the Goldwater candidacy there existed what he calls in the books subtitle an "American Consensus" and that the breaking of that consensus was necessarily revolutionary.  On the contrary, as the story he tells here amply demonstrates, what appeared to be a consensus was a flukish and necessarily temporary construct, a function mostly of the bizarre politics, and unfortunate American history, of Race.

The two great American political parties can be roughly defined as standing for freedom from government (Republicans) and reliance on government (Democrats).  It is for this basic reason that the Republican Party is said to be a party of ideas, while the Democrats are a party of groups.  Typically this dichotomy has meant that the two parties have been fairly evenly matched, as the number of folks demanding government largesse has seldom been sufficient to tilt the balance entirely in the Democrats favor.  And speaking in the most general terms, it has generally tended to be the case that the Republicans were the party of the haves, Democrats of the have nots.  But in the years after the Civil War there was a very odd exception to this rule : blacks, even poor blacks, who would normally be expected to adhere to the party of big government, were instead loyal to the Republican Party which had freed the slaves.  On the other hand, White Southerners, though culturally conservative, devoutly religious, stubbornly independent, and relatively economically advantaged, at least in comparison to their black neighbors, remained loyal to the Democrats, who, even under FDR, reciprocated by defending their right to maintain Jim Crow segregation.  The result of all this was that the Republicans remained mostly a party of the North, despite immigration and industrialization which should have benefited Democrats.  Meanwhile, the Democrats completely dominated the South, even though their natural constituency in the black population voted, when allowed, against them.  But this was a situation that was inherently unstable.

Then, in the wake of the Great Depression, the delicately balanced numbers did shift and tilted in favor of the Democrats.  Although obviously simplistic and ultimately mistaken, it is easy to see why people blamed capitalism for the collapse of America's economy in the late 20s and early 30s and the Republican Party, the party of the unfettered Free Market, was understandably made to pay the price for the calamity .  Given this context it is also easy to see why many in the Republican Party became little better than me-too New Dealers, accepting without question the mammoth expansion of the role of government in the economy.  But as recovery came, with the rebirth of industry to supply armaments to first the Allies and then our own Armed Forces, and as the GOP shifted Left, the balance did not return.  Blacks had at last followed their perceived economic self-interest and transferred their allegiance to the Democratic Party.  However the corresponding shift of Southern whites to the GOP failed to occur right away because the rather patrician Republican Party was, somewhat to its credit, resistant to playing the race card in the same way that the Democrats had for so long in the South.  Because of this strange convergence of unusual political forces, the Democratic Party was the majority party in American politics, at least at the legislative level, for sixty years (until the 1994 Republican landslide).

This central fact was obscured to some extent by the victories of Eisenhower in 1952 and of Nixon in 1968.  They gave the illusion that the GOP was competitive at the national level.  But if you dig just a tiny bit deeper you find that both were elected only when Democrats had gotten the country mired in intractable foreign wars; one was a war hero, the other his Vice President; both agreed to leave the Welfare State largely intact or even to expand it; both agreed to leave the Soviet Union intact; and both were, largely thanks to these moderate/liberal positions, anointed by the Eastern Establishment of the Party.  Lost in all this was the genuine voice of the Party, the Robert Taft style conservatism which distrusted powerful domestic government and foreign entanglements.

It was the great insight of those who organized the conservative revival and the Goldwater candidacy that you could win the Republican nomination by giving vent to that true voice.  Perlstein has a great section featuring Clarence Manion, one of the may unknown heroes of the movement who are here given their due.  Manion's plan for 1960 was : build movements behind both a Republican and a Southern Democrat running on conservative
    platforms, watch as both were turned back at their respective party conventions, then merge the two
    organizations 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 their
    electoral college majority.

This did not, of course, happen in 1960, but with the increasing racial divisiveness of the Civil Rights struggle, folks in the movement soon realized that they did not even need the third party, that they could use the same strategy to remake the Republican Party into a conservative party, and make the Party competitive in the South.

In Goldwater they found a vehicle to test their theory, but the candidate's shortcomings--such as temper, bluntness, woeful communication skills, lack of decisiveness and organization, etc.---which Perlstein does a good job of demonstrating, and the "tragic" circumstances of the Kennedy assassination (which as Perlstein notes was cynically exploited by the Press and Democrats to discredit "Right Wing Extremism", much as the Oklahoma City bombing would be brilliantly manipulated thirty years later by Bill Clinton and the Press to bring Newt Gingrich to heel) ) created a climate in which their great experiment would fail miserably.  But at the end of the 1964 campaign there emerged the nearly perfect candidate, a figure who would achieve the conservative apotheosis : Ronald Reagan.   In due time, and admittedly taking advantage of another disastrous Democratic presidency, Reagan would restore conservative Republicanism to its natural place in the public debate, in rough balance with the liberal Democrats.  Then in 1994, the generation of Republican leaders who had imbibed these lessons would finally restore the balance in Congress, largely on the strength of a resurgence of the Party in the South.

We are left today with the two parties occupying a position of near equilibrium.  Looking back from this point, it should be clear that the "American Consensus" was always a fiction, that it was a product not of broad political agreement, but of a series of historical/political aberrations.  It is perhaps helpful to view the campaign of Barry Goldwater as extending from the publication of The Conscience of a Conservative (read Orrin's review)--which was written for him by Brent Bozell, brother-in-law of William F. Buckley Jr.--to the Time for Choosing speech--delivered on his behalf by Ronald Reagan.  Without seeking to diminish the man in any way, one might say, not that had Goldwater not existed, the Right would have had to invent him, but instead, as Perlstein shows, that they did indeed invent him, or at least tried to.  It also seems fair to say that the events of the book represent a revolution only in the sense that they brought politics full circle, back to the traditional divide between liberty and security, back to the confrontation between liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans.

None of the foregoing should be taken in any way to suggest that the book is not eminently worth reading.  It is in fact one of the better political histories you'll ever read and I absolutely agree with him about the importance of Goldwater and the conservative movement in general.  Considering the amount of research that went into it and that the book already extends to 600 plus pages (with footnotes), it is certainly understandable that these sorts of contextual issues are not really taken up in the text of the book.  And I'm sure that, having finished what is already a splendid volume, Rick Perlstein wanted nothing more than to get on with the rest of his life.  But it would have been great to have an afterword or something where he drew some personal conclusions about what it all means.  Actually, there's probably a shorter book to be made out of this kind od discussion, one in which he could bring his own liberal leanings into play and present his arguments that there was, and presumably should have been, an American Consensus and that the conservative movement destroyed it.  He's a young man (one of the Voice Literary Supplement's Writers on the Verge) and I for one look forward to his future books, regardless of whether he addresses these questions or moves on to entirely new subjects.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Rick Perlstein (2 books reviewed)
Rick Perlstein Links:

    -ARCHIVES: Perlstein (Brothers Judd Blog)
    -FACEBOOK GROUP: Nixonland
    Nixonland: How The Right Stole Populism
    -EXCERPT : Chapter One of Before the Storm
    -EXCERPT: Preface to Nixonland
    -EXCERPT: from Nixonland: "Then No One Would Be a Democrat Anymore": In 1970, Richard Nixon, inspired by a spontaneous construction workers' riot, settled on the political strategy that would win him the 1972 election by a landslide and dominate American politics to this day (Rick Perlstein)
    -INTERVIEW: The Age of Nixon: Rick Perlstein on the left, the right, the '60s, and the illusion of consensus (Jesse Walker, July 2008, Reason)
    -PROFILE: Historian bridges left-right divide (J. PATRICK COOLICAN, 5/15/08, Politico)
    -PROFILE: Sympathy for the Devil: Progressive scribe Rick Perlstein made his reputation finding the good in conservatives. Then they really started screwing up the country. (Harold Henderson, January 24, 2008, Chicago Reader)
    -INTERVIEW: Nixonland, Then and Now (Jon Wiener, 05/18/2008, The Nation)
    -INTERVIEW: An NRO Q&A: Navigating Nixonland: Rich Perlstein's most recent book takes a look at conservative history in the 1960s. (National Review, 5/23/08)
    -BOOKNOTES: Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus by Rick Perlstein (C-SPAN< June 3, 2001)
    -DEBATE: Rick Perlstein and David Frum (, 4/18/08)
    -ESSAY: All Aboard the McCain Express (Rick Perlstein, April 21, 2008, The Nation)
    -ESSAY: Getting Past the '60s? It's Not Going to Happen. (Rick Perlstein, February 3, 2008, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: The Myths of McGovern: Thirty-five years later, what the 1972 campaign can—and can't—teach liberals today: a review of Why the Democrats Are Blue: How Secular Liberals Hijacked the People's Party By Mark Stricherz and The Liberals' Moment: The McGovern Insurgency and the Identity Crisis of the Democratic Party By Bruce Miroff (Rick Perlstein, Democracy)
    -ESSAY: Not in his father's footsteps (Rick Perlstein, February 10, 2008, LA Times)
    -ESSAY: Smirk of the Union: A small and beaten man spoke to Congress and the nation last night, convinced in his own mind he's a hero (Rick Perlstein, 1/29/08,
    -ESSAY: Chinese Mirrors (Rick Perlstein, June 7, 2007, The Nation)
    -ESSAY: Whos Afraid of Peter Boyle? (Rick Perlstein, 2/08/07, In These Times)
    -ESSAY: The Best Wars of Their Lives (Rick Perlstein, October 15, 2007, The Nation)
    -ESSAY: Will the Progressive Majority Emerge? (Rick Perlstein, July 9, 2007, The Nation)
    -ESSAY: Why Democrats can stop the war: Pundits say if the party gets too tough with Bush, it will be blamed for "losing" Iraq. But the real political risk is going too easy on Bush, and losing the trust of war-weary voters. (Rick Perlstein, 1/24/07, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Heck-of -a-Job Myers? (Rick Perlstein, January 3, 2007, The Nation)
    -ESSAY: Fenced Out: A post–9/11 boom in immigration legislation hasn't stemmed the border flow, but it has created a flood of new approaches—most with built-in paradoxes. (Rick Perlstein, Jan/Feb 2007, University of Chicago Magazine)
    -ESSAY: Look Back in Anger: The Democrats won, but they shouldn't for a second let victory cause them to forget the Republicans' dirty tricks operation (Rick Perlstein, November 10, 2006, American Prospect)
    -ESSAY: The Odd Couple: Nixon and Lieberman: Nixon and Lieberman both supported pro-war policies while claiming to be anti-war. (Rick Perlstein, 11/03/06, In These Times)
    -ESSAY: Unf***ing the Donkey: Advice for weary, wandering Democrats (Rick Perlstein. July 26th, 2005, Village Voice)
    -ESSAY: A Socialist in the Age of Triangulation (Rick Perlstein, 7/06/05, In These Times)
    -ESSAY: Party Cannibals (Rick Perlstein, February 7, 2005, The Nation)
    -ESSAY: Inauguration 2005: The Eve of Destruction ...: Four more years to remake the world in his image. (Too bad for us, he already started.). (Rick Perlstein. January 11th, 2005, Village Voice)
    -ESSAY: The Case of the Ohio Recount: In the whodunit over who won it, the true villain is slipping away. (Rick Perlstein, December 14th, 2004, Village Voice)
    -ESSAY: Conviction Politics: One Democratic hero emerged from November 2. His fellow Democrats should study up on why. (Rick Perlstein, November 21, 2004, American Prospect)
    -ESSAY: Cast Away: It's the Wealth, Stupid: Right-wing class warfare swung the 2004 election (Rick Perlstein, November 2nd, 2004, Village Voice)
    -ESSAY: It's Mourning in America: The Ohio debacle and the death of our civic life (Rick Perlstein, October 26th, 2004, Village Voice)
    -ESSAY: The Reagan legacy: He was a true believer who moved the country divisively to the right. But compared to the current president, Ronald Reagan looks like a moderate (Rick Perlstein, 6/07/04, Salon)
    -ESSAY: The Jesus Landing Pad: Bush White House checked with rapture Christians before latest Israel move (Rick Perlstein, May 11th, 2004, Village Voice)
    -ESSAY: Tribal Warfare in America: A 30-year-old book by a progressive journalist finds that the passions of reformers can sometimes betray a contempt for the common sense of ordinary people. Sound familiar? (Rick Perlstein, November 16, 2004, Columbia Journalism Review)
    -ESSAY: Sucking Democracy Dry: The End of Democracy: Losing America's birthright, the George Bush way (Rick Perlstein, October 12th, 2004, Village Voice)
    -ESSAY: Passionate Conservatism: Karl Rove's Republicans swerve right on the way to the middle (Rick Perlstein, August 31st, 2004, Village Voice)
    -ESSAY: Get Mad. Act Out. Re-Elect George Bush: Protesters risk playing into GOP hands. (Rick Perlstein, August 17th, 2004, Village Voice)
    -ESSAY: The End of Republican Rule: Righteous populism holds the key to vanquishing Bush forever. (Rick Perlstein. July 27th, 2004, Village Voice)
    -ESSAY: The Church of Bush: What liberal infidels will never understand about the president (Rick Perlstein. July 13th, 2004, Village Voice)
    -ESSAY: The Divine Calm of George W. Bush: So Iraq's a mess and half the country hates you. Just keep praying. (Rick Perlstein, April 27th, 2004, Village Voice)
    -ESSAY: The Jobs of the Future Are a Thing of the Past: Outsourcing and the sad little movement to stop it. by Rick Perlstein, March 23rd, 2004, Village Voice)
    -ESSAY: Flight of the Bumblebee: Howard Dean May Be Dying, but He Sure Packed a Sting (Rick Perlstein, January 27th, 2004, Village Voice)
    -ESSAY: Last Copter Out of Baghdad: Bush Flees Iraq Mess On The Campaign Express. (Rick Perlstein, January 6th, 2004, Village Voice)
    -ESSAY: Attention, Wal-Mart Voters: Lost Jobs and Military Funerals Haunt Bush in the Heartland (Rick Perlstein, December 2nd, 2003, Village Voice)
    -ESSAY: Day of the Spoiler: Inside Joe Lieberman's Kamikaze Campaign (Rick Perlstein, October 21st, 2003, Village Voice)
    -ESSAY: Patriot Act?: Wesley Clark says he knew the Iraq War was wrong. So why didn't he say something -- before it was too late? (Rick Perlstein, October 15, 2003, American Prospect)
    -ESSAY: Come Out Fighting: Boxing George Bush Into a Corner in 2004 (Rick Perlstein, September 16th, 2003, Village Voice)
    -ESSAY: The Fringe on Top: Extremists Help the GOP Muscle In on the Golden State (Rick Perlstein, August 12th, 2003, Village Voice)
    -ESSAY: Orange County Anguish: Searching for Someone, Anyone, Who Loves Governor Gray Davis (Rick Perlstein, September 2nd, 2003, Village Voice)
    -ESSAY: Howard Dean's Youth Machine: Not since McGovern has a Democratic candidate drawn a youth following the size of Howard Dean's - and that's got some in the party worried. (Rick Perlstein, July 16, 2003, Mother Jones)
    -ESSAY: The TV Campaign (Rick Perlstein, November 30, 2002, American Prospect)
    -ESSAY: As Reviewed on Amazon (Rick Perlstein, November 30, 2002, American Prospect)
    -ESSAY: The 'Safety' Trap: Tuesday's loss gave Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt plenty to ponder: Democrats followed the party's center-seeking presidential hopefuls into an ideological no-man's land. (Rick Perlstein, November 11, 2002, Mother Jones)
    -ESSAY: A Surrender to Trust: Richard Nixon taught the nation a painful lesson about secrecy and the White House. How soon we forget. (Rick Perlstein, July/August 2002, Mother Jones)
    -ESSAY: The Historical Present: What has superseded the academic culture wars of the 1990s? It's not what you think. (Rick Perlstein, July 14, 2002, American Prospect)
    -ESSAY: The Two Faces of Ralph (Rick Perlstein, January 15th, 2002, Village Voice)
    -ESSAY: The Media Muzzled: Vietnam and Afghanistan Show why Limiting Press Access to War is Unpatriotic (Rick Perlstein, December 11th, 2001, Village Voice)
    -ESSAY: Pundits Who Predict the Future Are Always Wrong (Rick Perlstein, April 23, 2001, The Nation)
    -ESSAY: What's the Matter With College? (Rick Perlstein, NY Times Magazine)
    -REVIEW: of PRESIDENT NIXON: Alone in the White House By Richard Reeves (Rick Perlstein, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of AMERICAN FASCISTS: The Christian Right and the War on America By Chris Hedges (Rick Perlstein, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of WHAT A PARTY!: My Life Among Democrats: Presidents, Candidates, Donors, Activists, Alligators, and Other Wild Animals. By Terry McAuliffe with Steve Kettmann (Rick Perlstein, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of FOR THE SURVIVAL OF DEMOCRACY: Franklin Roosevelt and the World Crisis of the 1930s By Alonzo L. Hamby (Rick Perlstein, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: Blumenthals First Draft of History: Princeton University Press has published a compilation of articles by Sidney Blumenthal called How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime (Rick Perlstein, In These Times)
    -REVIEW: The Flaw of Averages: How polls obscure America's many social patchworks: a review of The Averaged American: Surveys, Citizens, and the Making of a Mass Public By Sarah Igo (Rick Perlstein, Columbia Journalism Review)
-REVIEW: of Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan By Edmund Morris (Rick Perlstein, Village Voice)
    -REVIEW: of The Trial of Henry Kissinger By Christopher Hitchens (Rick Perlstein, Village Voice)
    -REVIEW: of Views From the South: The Effects of Globalization and the WTO on Third World Countries Food First Books and the International Forum on Globalization and Five Days That Shook The World By Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair (Rick Perlstein, Village Voice)
    -REVIEW: of Jane Fonda's War: A Political Biography of an Anti-war Icon by Mary Hershberger (Rick Perlstein, London Review of Books)
    -ESSAY : The Prophet Motive : Daniel Bell's take on capitalism, 20 years later (Rick Perlstein, Nov. 19, 1996, Slate)
    -ESSAY : Just the Artifacts : A cultural history of cultural histories (Rick Perlstein, March 12, 1997, Slate)
    -ESSAY : Who Owns the 60s ? : The opening of a scholarly generation gap (Rick Perlstein, May/June 1996 , Lingua Franca)
    -ESSAY : LEISURE WORLD (Rick Perlstein, November 1997 , Lingua Franca)
    -ESSAY : Labor of Love : Can Labor and Academia Get Along (Rick Perlstein, October 23, 1996, Feed Mag)
    -ESSAY :  When Smart Kids Attack : We all thought that TV had played its gaudiest hand with Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire? But then Fox upped the ante,exploiting precocious youngsters for fun and profit. Rick Perlstein wades gamely into the muck. (05.19.00, Feed)
    -ESSAY : Go North, Young Man  (Rick Perlstein, May/June 2001 , Lingua Franca)
    -REVIEW: of What Liberal Media? by Eric Alterman (Rick Perlstein, CJR)
    -REVIEW : of Abuse of Power : The New Nixon White House Tapes edited by Stanley Kutler (Rick Perlstein, Slate)
    -REVIEW : of Mutual Contempt by Jeff Sheshol  (Rick Perlstein, Slate)
    -REVIEW : of THE LAST INNOCENT YEAR:  AMERICA IN 1964: The Beginning of the "Sixties" by Jon Margolis (Rick Perlstein, Dissent)
    -REVIEW : of Microserfs by Douglas Coupland (Rick Perlstein, The Nation)
    -REVIEW : of The Wilkomirski Affair: A Study in Biographical Truth, by Stefan Maechler (Rick Perlstein, NY Observer)
    -Writers on the Verge : Rick Perlstein (Voice Literary Supplement,  June 2000)
    -PROFILE : Perlstein vs. Goldwater : Wonk called political "must read" (Judith Steininger, GM Today)
    -WEDDING : Vows: Kathy Geier and Rick Perlstein  (EMILY PRAGER, May 6, 2001, NY Times)
    -ESSAY : Reading Around : Part of an Occasional Series (Ronald Radosh, May 8, 2001)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: True Colors: Was Jimmy Carter an outlier? (Rick Perlstein, OCTOBER 4, 2021, The Nation)
-ARCHIVES: Rick Perlstein (The Nation)
    -ARCHIVES: perlstein (Salon)
    -ARCHIVES: rick perlstein (Newsweek)
    -ARCHIVES: Rick Perlstein (In These Times)
    -ARCHIVES: Rick Perlstein (AlterNet)
    -ARCHIVES: perlstein (Village Voice)
    -ARCHIVES: perlstein (American Prospect)
    -ARCHIVES: perlstein (Mother Jones)
    -ARCHIVES: "perlstein, rick" (Find Articles)
    -Kicking Around Nixon...and more (Alex Beam, 5/06/08, Boston Globe)
    E Pluribus Nixon: A sweeping new social history portrays Richard Nixon as the president his fratricidal country deserved—and perhaps the best we could have hoped for: a review of NIXONLAND: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America By Rick Perlstein (Ross Douthat, Atlantic Monthly)
    -REVIEW: of Nixonland (George F. Will, NY Times Book Review)
In Perlstein's mental universe, Nixon is a bit like God — not, Lord knows, because of Nixon's perfect goodness and infinite mercy, but because Nixon is the explanation for everything. Or at least for the rise of the right and the decline of almost everything else. This is a subject Perlstein, a talented man of the left, has addressed before.

In 2001, he published the best book yet on the social ferments that produced Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential candidacy. Subtle and conscientious, "Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus" demonstrated Perlstein's omnivorous appetite for telling tidbits from the news media, like this one: When Goldwater was campaigning in the 1964 New Hampshire primary, The New York Times ran a photograph with the snide caption "Barry Goldwater, aspirant for the Republican presidential nomination, with the widow of Senator Styles Bridges in East Concord. She holds dog." Oh, the other person must be the conservative presidential candidate. [...]

Now comes the second installment of Perlstein's meditation on that era's and, he thinks, our current discontents. "Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America" completes his inquest into the death of the "cult of 'American consensus'" and the birth of "American cacophony." Perlstein's chronicle, which begins with the Watts riot of August 1965, is itself riotous: even at its calmest, his pell-mell narrative calls to mind a Pieter Bruegel painting of tumultuous peasants; at its most fervid, it resembles one of Hieronymus Bosch's nightmares.

Do we need another waist-deep wallow in the 1960s, ensconcing us cheek by jowl with Frank Rizzo and Eldridge Cleaver, Sam Yorty and Mark Rudd, Lester Maddox and Herbert Marcuse and other long-forgotten bit players in a period drama? Do we need to be reminded of that era's gaseous juvenophilia, like Time magazine's celebration of Americans 25 or younger as 1967's "Man of the Year": "This is not just a new generation, but a new kind of generation. ... In the omphalocentric process of self-construction and discovery," today's youth "stalks love like a wary hunter, but has no time or target — not even the mellowing Communists — for hate."

Well, this retrospective wallow does increase the public stock of harmless pleasure, as when Perlstein revisits the 1972 Democratic convention that nominated George McGovern and heard 80 nominations for vice president, including Mao Zedong and Archie Bunker. But Perlstein's high-energy — sometimes too energetic — romp of a book also serves, inadvertently, a serious need: it corrects the cultural hypochondria to which many Americans, including Perlstein, are prone.

Because the baby boomers' self-absorption is so ample, there already has been no shortage of brooding about those years. We do, however, benefit from the brooding by Perlstein, who is not a boomer, for two reasons. First, he has a novelist's, or perhaps an anthropologist's, eye for illuminating details, as in his jaw-dropping reconstruction of the Newark riots of July 1967. Second, his thorough excavation of the cultural detritus of that decade refutes his thesis, which is that now, as then, Americans are at daggers drawn. [...]

Perlstein repeatedly explains Nixon's or other people's behavior as arising from an Orthogonian resentment of Franklins, including establishment figures as different as Alger Hiss and Nelson Rockefeller. Nixon "co-opted the liberals' populism, channeling it into a white middle-class rage at the sophisticates, the well-born, the 'best circles.'" By stressing the importance of Nixon's character in shaping events, and the centrality of resentments in shaping Nixon's character, Perlstein treads a dead-end path blazed by Hofstadter, who seemed not to understand that condescension is not an argument. Postulating a link between "status anxiety" and a "paranoid style" in American politics — especially conservative politics — Hofstadter dismissed the conservative movement's positions as mere attitudes that did not merit refutation. Perlstein, too, gives these ideas short shrift.

As the pollster Samuel Lubell had already noted before the 1952 election, "the inner dynamics of the Roosevelt coalition have shifted from those of getting to those of keeping." Perlstein keenly sees that some liberals "developed a distaste" for the social elements they had championed, now that those elements were "less reliably downtrodden" and less content to be passively led by liberal elites.

The masses bought television sets and enjoyed what they watched. But Newton Minow, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (and formerly Adlai Stevenson's administrative assistant) declared television a "vast wasteland," thereby implicitly scolding viewers who enjoyed it. When New York was becoming a lawless dystopia, with crime, drugs and homelessness spoiling public spaces, August Heckscher, the patrician commissioner of parks under Mayor John Lindsay, sniffily declared that people clamoring for law and order were "scared by the abundance of life."

A Newsweek cover story on Louise Day Hicks, who led opposition to forced busing of school children in Boston, described her supporters as "a comic-strip gallery of tipplers and brawlers and their tinseled overdressed dolls ... the men queued up to give Louise their best, unscrewing cigar butts from their chins to buss her noisily on the cheek, or pumping her arm as if it were a jack handle under a truck."

Perlstein deftly deploys such judgments to illustrate what the resentful resented. Unfortunately, he seems to catch the '60s disease of rhetorical excess.

    -REVIEW: of Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America by Rick Perlstein: Author Blames a Divided U.S. on Nixon and His Era (Mary Ann Gwinn, Seattle Times)
    -REVIEW: of Nixonland (The Economist)
    -REVIEW: of Nixonland (BuzzFlash)
    'Nixonland,' Chronicling a Political Sea Change (CHRISTOPHER WILLCOX, May 29, 2008, NY Sun)
    -REVIEW: of Nixonland (Terry Hartle, CS Monitor)
    -REVIEW: of Nixonland (Harry Levins, St. Louis POST-DISPATCH)
    -REVIEW: of Nixonland (David Weigel, American Spectator)
    -REVIEW : Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus by Rick Perlstein  (William Kristol, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : May 17, 2001 Russell Baker: Mr. Right, NY Review of Books
       Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus by Rick Perlstein
       Suburban Warriors by Lisa McGirr
       Right-Wing Populism in America:Too Close for Comfort by Chip Berlet and Matthew N. Lyons
    -REVIEW : of Before the Storm (Sam Tanenhaus, New Republic)
    -REVIEW : of Before the Storm (William Rusher, National Review)
    -REVIEW : Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus by Rick Perlstein  (Alvin S. Felzenberg, Weekly Standard)
    -REVIEW : of Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, by Rick Perlstein : Goldwater the Refusenik: A Different Kind of Republican (Christopher Caldwell, NY Observer)
    -REVIEW : of Before the Storm (Steve Martinovich, Enter Stage Right)
    -REVIEW : Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus by Rick Perlstein  (Richard S. Dunham, Business Week)
    -REVIEW : Before the Storm by Rick Perlstein (Mark Greif, Village Voice)
    -REVIEW : of Before the Storm ( BILL BOYARSKY, LA Times)
    -REVIEW : of Before the Storm (John Aloysius Farrell, Boston Globe)
    -REVIEW : of Before the Storm (Todd Gitlin, Boston Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Before the Storm (David Gordon, Mises Review)
    -REVIEW: of Before the Storm (Mark Greif, Village Voice)
    -REVIEW: of Nixonland (Thomas J. Sugrue, The Nation)
    -REVIEW: of Nixonland (Dominic Sandbrook, Daily Telegraph)
    -ESSAY: The Durability of Nixon (DAVID SHRIBMAN, 8/01/08, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
-REVIEW: of Nixonland: Speaking for the silent majority (George Osborne, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of Reaganland (Gene Seymour, Bookforum)
    -REVIEW: of Reaganland (Michael Bobelian,

Book-related and General Links:

    see Orrin's review of The Conscience of a Conservative and the Goldwater links which follow it
    -ESSAY: The Goldwater Myth: He didn't become a libertarian until his twilight years (ANDREW E. BUSCH, January 11, 2006, Opinion Journal)