Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Reading notes

I'm making a rather slow start on Before the Storm [link], despite its excellent research and -- in many passages, though not all -- very good writing.  Learning a lot about the details of U.S. politics around the time when I was born.  Where else, for instance, would I be likely to find out that "in 1957, Republican National Committee chair Meade Alcorn put one of his best men, the affable Virginian I. Lee Potter, to building a [Republican] rank and file in the South in a project called 'Operation Dixie'" (p.47)?

However, the author's skills notwithstanding, so far I'm not thoroughly engrossed, the way one sometimes can be by a good novel or even a work of history.  I'm hoping that will change as the narrative moves into the early 1960s and then the 1964 campaign.

ETA: One thing (among others) that comes through clearly in the first 50 pp. or so of the book is the extent to which the emergent or reconstituting U.S. Right in the 50s and early 60s found a key constituency in family-owned and/or privately-held manufacturing and other businesses, a sector that still exists but is presumably a good deal smaller today than it was then. Indeed Perlstein opens the first chapter with a sketch of the political views and trajectory of one such (hypothetical) businessman. Here's one actual example of many: In '59, on the eve of Khrushchev's visit to the U.S., we're told that "Milwaukee's Allen-Bradley Company bought a full page in the Wall Street Journal: 'To Khrushchev, "Peace and Friendship" means the total enslavement of all nations, of all peoples, of all things, under the God-denying Communist conspiracy of which he is the current Czar.... Don't let it happen here!'" (p.52)  Pretty clearly only a family-run or closely-held business would have felt able to spring for this kind of full-page ad in the WSJ -- a big publicly-traded company presumably would not have done this sort of thing, even if some of its executives might have shared the same views. (I use the word "presumably" because I'm not sure that this speculation is correct, but it seems fairly logical.)

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