What happened to the US? Where did a rational, middle of the road country that led the world in science and progressive thought suddenly turn into a country where political candidates have to have a favourite piece of scripture?
The answer was 1964, incidentally the highwater mark of American Liberalism.
Rick Perlstein’s “Before The Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus.” tells the story of how a group of well organised young conservative activists basically stole the Republican Party in 1964, from the Wall Street “New Deal Lite” Rockefeller wing of the party, and haven’t looked back since.
Goldwater, a maverick senator from Arizona (Who eventually ceded his senate seat to that other Arizona maverick, John McCain. What are they putting in the water down there?”) wasn’t their leader but became their figurehead, and lead the party to a crushing defeat in the 1964 presidential election against President Johnson. Incidentally, Goldwater ran under the slogan ” In your heart, you know he’s right.” Johnson’s people replied with “In your guts, you know he’s nuts.”
Although they lost the election, the conservatives had seized the party, and would eventually triumph in 1980 with the nomination of Ronald Reagan.
Interestingly, in later years Goldwater turned out to be quite moderate in his views, having no time for the Christian Right, defending a woman’s right to choose and even on gays in the military remarked that it was far more important that they be able to shoot straight rather than be straight!
A detailed tome, but reads well, and a fascinating insight into how a small group of well organised people can achieve extraordinary things.