Why You Should Never Listen to the Pundits

From Rick Perlstein, Before the Storm:

At their 1964 convention in San Francisco, the Republican Party emerged from a corrosive faction fight between its left and right wings to do something that was supposed to be impossible: they nominated a conservative. Barry Goldwater went down to devastating defeat in November at the hands of Lyndon Johnson, and there, for most observers, the matter stood: the American right had been rendered a political footnote—perhaps for good.

The wise men weighed in. Reston of the Times: “He has wrecked his party for a long time to come and is not even likely to control the wreckage.” Rovere of The New Yorker: “The election has finished the Goldwater school of political reaction.” “By every test we have,” declared James MacGregor Burns, one of the nation’s most esteemed scholars of the presidency, “this is as surely a liberal epoch as the late 19th Century was a conservative one.”

Men like this did not detect the ground shifting beneath their feet.

It took this country a hundred years to get a weekend. These things take time.


  1. Joel in Oakland February 28, 2016 at 1:12 am | #

    Well said. Pundits generally just summarize convention wisdom or play some idiosyncratic riff off the conventional. Very Serious People, as other pundits call them.

  2. jonnybutter February 28, 2016 at 11:53 am | #

    Your work on black conservatism/Thomas is eagerly awaited. I haven’t been able to get the topic out of my mind starting with the run-up to the SC primary.

    • jonnybutter February 29, 2016 at 12:21 pm | #

      The Sphinx of First Street speaks!

  3. Harold February 28, 2016 at 11:54 am | #

    You can always tell when a pundit has their ear to the ground: they tend to be accurate in their opinions and don’t offer many predictions. Thus, most pundits don’t have their ear to the ground.

  4. LFC February 28, 2016 at 4:24 pm | #

    I understand the point of the OP, but J.M. Burns was right that Goldwater’s defeat punctuated a liberal period (if not “epoch”) in domestic policy (the dates of the major civil rights acts are 1964 (public accommodations, employment, etc.), 1965 (voting rights), and1968 (fair housing)). So I wouldn’t fault the Burns quote too much.

    p.s. Haven’t read Before the Storm.

    • LFC February 28, 2016 at 4:45 pm | #

      p.p.s. But am thinking about doing so.

  5. jonnybutter February 28, 2016 at 4:46 pm | #

    p.s. Haven’t read Before the Storm.

    You are in for a treat. It is (IMO) the best of the bunch, and just excellent

    • Roqeuntin February 29, 2016 at 10:03 pm | #

      I agree. I really want to read the other two in the trilogy as well. It prompted me to look up 1964 election TV ads on YouTube. They were all there.

  6. jonnybutter March 1, 2016 at 1:02 pm | #

    I liked ‘Nixonland’ too, and although I didn’t get all the way through ‘Invisible Bridge’, I see the value. I guess I just found these other two more sprawling than ‘BTS’, which managed to be not just an excellent piece of scholarship, but somehow simultaneously a vibrant and clarifying *political* document – a call to arms of sorts.

    • LFC March 1, 2016 at 6:05 pm | #

      I bought ‘Nixonland’ in pb and dipped into it here and there, but the length is somewhat off-putting, to me at any rate, and, perhaps more important, I think I would learn a lot more that I don’t already know from ‘Before the Storm’. (Which has something to do with the accident of birth date etc. and when I became old enough to start paying attention to politics.)

  7. jonnybutter March 1, 2016 at 6:49 pm | #

    What is so instructive about BTS is that it covers the period when the real groundwork was laid, a time when – as I recall his saying in the book – ‘there really was a liberal establishment’; it shows how movement conservatism went from laughable to re-alignment and power in 15-20 years – the dynamism of it; it shows how very complacent that liberal establishment was. BTS is a sympathetic reading – like what Corey does: without a sympathetic reading, you can’t really understand a person or a text. Anyway, that’s what BTS really does.

    • LFC March 1, 2016 at 8:12 pm | #

      Ok, you’ve persuaded me: I’m definitely going to read BTS, probably as soon as I finish the bk I’m currently reading (which is short, so shouldn’t take too terribly long). I don’t want to mention the name of that bk here, b/c the author is disliked by the majority of commenters here and thus the fact that I’m reading it will likely be misunderstood. Not that I’m a delicate flower who can’t take disagreement and/or abuse; I just don’t see the point in stirring up things for no particularly good reason.

      • LFC March 1, 2016 at 8:14 pm | #

        p.s. and it’s not someone like Burke or de Maistre that I’m reading to get inside ‘the enemy’s’ head — though that’s fine too. 😉

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