Before the Storm : Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2002-04-15
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang
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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.

Author Biography

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.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. xi
The Manionitesp. 3
Merchant Princep. 17
Working Together for the Worldp. 43
Consciencep. 61
The Meeting of the Blue and White Nilep. 69
Quickeningp. 99
Stories of Orange Countyp. 120
Apocalypticsp. 141
Off Yearp. 158
Suite 3505p. 171
Mobsp. 201
New Mood in Politicsp. 247
Granite Statep. 265
President of All the Peoplep. 299
United and at Peace with Itself...p. 313
Golden Statep. 333
Dutyp. 356
Conventionsp. 371
Don't Mention the Great Pumpkinp. 409
Campaign Trailsp. 429
Citizensp. 471
Foregone Conclusionsp. 488
Notesp. 517
Selected Bibliographyp. 627
Acknowledgmentsp. 635
Indexp. 639
Table of Contents provided by Syndetics. All Rights Reserved.


Chapter One

The Manionites

Imagine you live in a town of twenty, or fifty, or one hundred thousand souls--in Indiana, perhaps, or Illinois, or Missouri, or Tennessee--with a colonnaded red-brick city hall at its center, a Main Street running its breadth, avenues rimmed with modest bungalows and named for trees and exotic heroes and local luminaries, interrupted at intervals by high-steepled churches. On the outskirts of town are factories. It is June 1959, and, three shifts a day, they throw up great clouds of smoke, churning out vast pools of cement, cords of lumber, spools of rolled steel, machine parts of every size and description. Although no one who didn't have to would ever venture inside one of these factories, locals point to them with pride, because they are what make their little town prosper, and because all over the world foundries use machine parts inscribed with the town's name.

    Imagine you are the proprietor of one of these concerns. Your father founded it; perhaps to start things up he cadged a loan from the father of the man you bank with now. Probably, by dint of their shared membership on any number of company boards and fraternal orders and community chests and church committees, the bank let it slide when your father--who had made sacrifices to expand his plant in the hopes that the town's grandchildren, too, might enjoy its fruits--was late a time or two paying off a note.

    You grew up reading the adventure novels in the "Mark Tidd" series by Clarence Budington Kelland, an author prominent in the national Republican Party, and your favorite was the story in which a group of boys take over a rundown sawmill and get it to turn out a profit: "Up till then a river didn't mean anything to me but a thing to fish or swim in," the narrator said, "but before I was many months older I discovered that rivers weren't invented just for kids to monkey with, nor yet to make a home for fish. They have business, just like anybody else, and they're valuable just like any other business, getting more valuable the more business they do." Calvin Coolidge once said, "The man who builds a factory builds a temple; the man who works there worships there." You agreed. You liked Calvin Coolidge.

    By the time you took over the plant, the additions you built were too expensive to finance through any of the banks in your town, which was now a small city. More and more you found yourself trudging to New York, hat in hand, for money. New York, after all, controlled over a quarter of the nation's banking reserves. Your letterhead soon bore an address in Manhattan as well as the one in your town, but it galled you what it took to get the Wall Street boys to take you seriously (you had worked much harder than any of them when you went to college with them back East).

    When the union rep came by to try to sign up your men (there are hundreds, but you know most of them by name), you told the workers stories of the sacrifices your father made for their fathers; you reminded them of the times you kept everyone on the payroll when business was slack, of how you were always ready with an advance to help with the new baby or a sick mother. For fifty years they had seemed perfectly happy without a union, but when FDR signed the Wagner Act, the organizers came again, this time with a slogan: "The President wants you to join a union." A union came.

    You hated Franklin Roosevelt. In 1932 he ran on a platform of balanced budgets, less bureaucracy, and removing the federal government from competition with private enterprise. Then the New Deal threw money at everyone and everything--everyone and everything, that is, but you and your plants. You thought it was a godsend to industrialists who managed thousands of workers, instead of hundreds, and their friends on Wall Street. Roosevelt's National Recovery Administration authorized executives in every industry to regulate their own. The men he picked were inevitably from the biggest companies, no one you knew. You had no say when they set floors so high that they destroyed the only edge you had over them in accessing the market--you could no longer undercut their prices. You had no say when your taxes ballooned to pay for Roosevelt's deficits, which you knew would only bring inflation.

    Bigger companies licked at your heels all through the Depression. Government regulations--whose application was the same for large and small firms, but which invariably fell heavier on the small--began to feel more burdensome to you. The armies of unemployed were as uninterested in fine distinctions as the New Dealers were: when Roosevelt attacked the "economic royalists" at his acceptance speech in 1936, you found yourself as much the object of the poor's resentment as was the company that wanted to bury you. You felt like a victim.

    Then came the Second World War. You hadn't asked for this fight; as a leader of the America First Committee you had agitated against U.S. involvement. You didn't pay your taxes so that Washington could fight England's quarrels. Lawyers from John Kenneth Galbraith's Office of Price Administration and the National War Labor Board, small, petty, jealous men who had never met a payroll in their life, now poked their heads into your plant, read your profit and loss statements, told you what to make and what to charge.

    By the time it was over, Roosevelt, not happy just to sell out this country to the collectivists, was busy selling out the rest of the world as well: first by tying MacArthur's hands in the Philippines, and then by handing over vast tracts of China to Stalin to get him to join the war against Japan. His striped-pants diplomats had been busy signing secret agreements at Yalta that would leave the countries of Eastern Europe in the hands of the godless Communists--and one by one by one they entered the ranks of the "captive nations."

    Japan's surrender did not end wartime price controls; it did, however, end wartime no-strike pledges. A rash of strikes swept your plants and plants across the country: 4,985 in the last six months of 1946 alone, during which 116 million working hours were lost to the labor bosses. The President wanted the workers to join a union. Now the factories were in the hands of the unions. So was the Democratic Party, now that the labor bosses could deliver them millions of votes.

    Meanwhile Wendell Willkie's Wall Street internationalists had taken over the Republican Party, and they were selling out the country right alongside the Democrats. You had read Willkie's gauzy tract One World back in 1943: "What we need now is a council of the United Nations," he wrote. Well, now we had it--and we were forking over our riches to every last Hottentot in addition to the billions General Marshall had committed to Europe.

    August 1949: China fell, Russia got the bomb. There would soon be an explanation. Russian spies had been at Los Alamos. Alger Hiss, architect of the United Nations; Harry Dexter White, wizard of Bretton Woods; Owen Lattimore, whispering in an enfeebled Roosevelt's ear as he handed over Poland to the Soviets--all were Communists. America was falling apart. You began spending more of your time serving on political committees, reading books, attending lectures; studying the newspapers, writing letters. You retired in 1952 to work for the Republican presidential nomination of Ohio's Senator Robert Taft, one of the few pro-Americans left in Washington--only to see him railroaded at the convention by the Wall Street kingmakers. Eisenhower talked a good game about returning government back to the states. Yet his first recommendation to Congress was to establish a new cabinet department of Health, Education, and Welfare! He left the heroic Senator McCarthy to twist in the gale-force winds issuing from the Eastern Establishment Press. He worked out a humiliating "truce" in Korea that tied us to the United Nations' war aims. You pledged to fight against our boys serving under any flag but the American flag, so long as you lived.

    But the fight was getting harder and harder. In 1958, recession set in, and practically every real Republican was voted out of Congress. You watched as the presumptive nominee for 1960, Richard Nixon--the man who brought down Alger Hiss!--announced a trip to Moscow. Worse, you heard rumors that the archinternationalist of them all, Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller, would be the only one to challenge Nixon for the nomination.

    You despaired of ever having a chance to vote against the socialistic Republocrats. You despaired of Washington ever balancing a budget. You despaired of ever again seeing a President who had read the Constitution. You despaired of real Republicans receiving anything but ridicule from Eastern "Republican" newspapers like the Herald Tribune , which wasn't too Republican not to run Eleanor Roosevelt's execrable column. You despaired for a country brainwashed into believing it was approaching paradise, and you despaired of anyone ever waking up. You sent more and more, bigger and bigger checks to any patriotic, pro-American, pro-Constitution organization, candidate, radio program, or publication that asked. Better they get your hard-earned money than the Internal Revenue Service.

    On the first day of June 1959, you received a letter marked "CONFIDENTIAL" from Clarence Manion of South Bend, Indiana. Manion was a conservative lecturer and weekly radio commentator, one of the most stirring you had ever heard. You opened a letter from Manion eagerly. It invited you to join a "Goldwater Committee of 100" to draft Barry Goldwater, the junior senator from Arizona, for President. You put it down. Goldwater in the White House--Goldwater winning the Republican nomination--was an incredible, impossible notion. You sent Clarence Manion a letter, on the stationery with your factory's and Manhattan office's addresses on the top, telling him that you wished him well, but that this was a lost cause, hopeless, that a conservative would never win the Republican presidential nomination as long as you lived. You were an old man, tired, and you were through with fighting impossible battles.

    Five years later, when you watched Barry Goldwater accept the 1964 Republican nomination for President with tears in your eyes, you wondered how it possibly could have come about.

The name of the man who started it all shows up in few history books. Clarence "Pat" Manion was a precocious kid from a small town in northern Kentucky, Democrat country, the son of a well-off sidewalk contractor with no particular interest in politics. Not long after Pat graduated from the local Catholic college after his twentieth birthday he traveled to Washington, D.C., to study philosophy at Catholic University. Woodrow Wilson had captured Washington from the stolid, stand-pat Republicans. The nation's capital was teeming with brash young intellectuals from all over the country who believed the progressive mood percolating through the states had finally found its fit exemplar in the former political science professor now in the White House. He had resisted the entreaties of Wall Street and had pledged that under his Administration no American would suffer entanglement in the blood feud then raging in Europe. Manion, too young to vote, was swept up in the excitement. The night before the 1916 election he stood in front of Democratic headquarters and led the chants for reelection: "We want peace, we don't want war. / We want Wilson four years more!"

    Wilson won a second term, and then he went to Congress to ask for a declaration of war.

    Pat Manion swallowed hard and elected to stick with the Democrats. Each party had its nationalists and its internationalists--and also its progressives and its stand-patters, its urban and rural elements, its reformers and its machine hacks. For an ambitious young man like him, demonstrations of party loyalty made more sense than demonstrations of principle. By the age of twenty-nine he was a law professor at Notre Dame, making his way up the ranks in the Indiana Democratic Party. In 1932 he lost his bid to be his district's nominee for U.S. Congress; in 1934 he failed in an attempt to win nomination for Senate--a New Dealer like him, at any rate, was unlikely to do very well in conservative, Republican Indiana. A textbook he wrote in 1939 for parochial school government courses, Lessons in Liberty , assured students that guaranteeing a decent standard of living to all Americans was government's sacred duty, and his few criticisms of Roosevelt fell foursquare within the emerging consensus of American liberalism: that the only things standing in the way of the federal bureaucracy efficiently spreading well-being to all citizens were problems of technique, their solution just a matter of time and governmental effort.

    When Roosevelt began making noises for military mobilization in 1940, Manion once again joined the anti-interventionist cause, taking a leadership position in the left-right coalition America First. The next year he was named dean of the Notre Dame Law School. And by war's end, Dean Manion, as his admirers would come to call him, had joined a multitude for whom disillusionment with FDR over the war became a bridge to despising the President's every work. Manion had been swayed by two of the New Deal's most prominent critics: America First's national chairman, General Robert E. Wood, CEO of Sears, Roebuck; and the baronial publisher of the Chicago Tribune , Colonel Robert McCormick, America First's chief propagandist--who daily declared in his blustery editorial that Roosevelt aimed to create "a centralized, despotic government different in no essential detail from Hitler's despotism."

    Exhibit A--one that Manion, a constitutional scholar, was particularly incensed by--was the Supreme Court's ruling in Wickard v. Filburn in 1942, one of the key cases institutionalizing the sweeping new powers Washington now claimed for itself. The defendant was a Montgomery County, Ohio, farmer who had made a custom of setting aside land on which he grew wheat to feed his poultry, livestock, and family, above and beyond the acreage allotted to him by the Department of Agriculture. He was assessed a $117.11 fine. When he refused to pay it, he was prohibited from selling his produce on the open market. "The power of Congress over interstate commerce is plenary and complete in itself, may be exercised to its utmost extent, and acknowledges no limitations other than are prescribed in the Constitution," the decision concluded. "It follows that no form of state activity can constitutionally thwart the regulatory power granted by the commerce clause to Congress." In Lessons in Liberty , Manion had assured high school students that the power given to Congress in Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution "to spend in the interest of the general welfare falls far short of the power to manage and control the general welfare directly." Now he had been shown the fool. His next book, Key to Peace , reversed his last with the zeal of the convert. "Government cannot make men good," he now explained; "neither can it make them prosperous and happy." When it tries, even--perhaps especially--"in the sweet name of ‘human welfare,’" it "begins to do things that would be gravely offensive if done by individual citizens": robbing the industrious Peters to pay the indolent Pauls. He led a movement for the American Bar Association to purge its rolls of present or former members of Communist-front organizations.


Excerpted from BEFORE THE STORM by Rick Perlstein. Copyright © 2001 by Rick Perlstein. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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