The Reluctant Candidate

As a conservative undergraduate student during the early 1960's, I spent many a long night engaged in animated political argument with a close friend whose supercharged IQ was exceeded only by his condescending manner. The fellow never tired of reminding me that, yes, there were a few responsible Republican public officials. He would always tick off a very short list of them, which routinely included such liberal GOP icons as Sen. Clifford Case of New Jersey, and, of course, Nelson Rockefeller. My friend summarily dismissed conservatives as denizens of the netherworld, characterizing them as either Southern bigots who believed that blacks, women, Roman Catholics, and Jews should be kept in their place, or as benighted boors who occupied the lower rungs of the evolutionary ladder.

Then, in 1964, a cantankerous Arizona senator confounded pundits and Republican leaders alike by capturing the GOP presidential nomination. Barry Goldwater's sudden ascendance, and the national conservative movement that he helped set in motion, are the subject of Rick Perlstein's provocative yet sympathetic book.

Rather than resorting to boilerplate explanations for Lyndon Johnson's landslide victory, Perlstein concentrates on the shifting political landscape. He keelhauls the pundits for smugly dismissing Goldwater's candidacy, citing their premature postmortem as "one of the most dramatic failures of discernment in the...

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