The Other Side of the Sixties
From The Mason Historiographiki
Andrew, John A. The Other Side of the Sixties: Young Americans for Freedom and the Rise of Conservative Politics. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1997.
In this book, John Andrew explains the rise of the conservative movement through his study of the Young Americans for Freedom. Andrew begins his book by explaining the beginnings of a conservative movement in the 1950’s. Young conservatives were especially active in the beginning of the movement. After conservatives were unable to get Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater picked up as Richard Nixon’s Vice-Presidential nominee, conservatives continued their quest for recognition and influence within the Republican Party. One of the new leaders of the conservative movement was William F. Buckley, who had published several conservative-themed books in the 1950’s, and had also started a conservative magazine, the “National Review”. After the 1960 Republican convention, Buckley meet up with several young conservatives and began to lay the foundation for a nationwide young conservative’s organization.
In September of 1960, at Buckley’s estate in Sharon, Connecticut, a group of young conservatives signed the “Sharon Statement”, outlining their conservative principals and laying the groundwork for their new organization, which would be called the Young Americans for Freedom. The organization was to be based in New York City and affiliated with Buckley’s “National Review”. During the Kennedy Administration, the Young Americans for Freedom grew throughout college campus and attracted financial support, but not without conflict on controversy.
Like the conservative movement as a whole, the Young Americans for Freedom had many differing opinions and subsections. In the Young Americans for Freedom there was the same conflict between those who were more mainstream, such as William F. Buckley, compared to members of the John Birch Society. This conflicts, combined with the fact the most members were young students, made the Young Americans for Freedom a volatile organization. At the same time the Kennedy Administration was using the Internal Revenue Service to probe conservative non-profits for violations of tax laws. Although the Young Americans for Freedom never faced any serious charges, this certainly did not help the organization.
Despite these problems, the organization continued to grow, and played a role in the campaign of Barry Goldwater for the presidency in 1964. Although Goldwater lost in a landslide to Lyndon Johnson, the conservative movement had been established and by the election of 1968, the country had swung toward the right, electing Nixon president. Unlike in 1960, Nixon had to court conservatives, even going so far as to appoint former YAF members to positions in his administration. The effects of YAF continued through the election of Ronald Reagan, who replaced Barry Goldwater and the standard-bearer of the conservative movement, in 1980, and the Republican capture of Congress in 1994.
Jim Sweeney, Fall 2006
Personally, I would argue that this book gives the reader an interesting look at an organization that played an important role in the beginnings of the conservative movement. What I find to be very interesting is how the problems facing the Young Americans for Freedom organization mirrored the problems faced by the conservative movement as a whole. This is especially true of the problem conservatives faced with the John Birch Society. Although the organization was extremist, and not supported by Buckley and the “National Review”, it nevertheless attracted support from some members of the Young Americans for Freedom. An aspect of this book that I appreciated was that the book, which was written in 1997, continued, to a certain extent, through to the Republican victories in 1994, which one could mark as the point in which the conservative movement truly came to power. With that being said, it is interesting to note that several former members have been elected to Congress, including Jim Kolbe from Arizona, who was elected in the Republican victories of 1994.
Pat Kelly, Fall 2007
When one thinks of the political groups of the 1960’s, organizations such as the Students for a Democratic Society and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee are most likely to come to mind. In this book, writer John A. Andrew III, takes an interesting look at the other side of the political spectrum, the right, notably the Young Americans for Freedom. Andrew has produced an interesting book with his argument that it was from this group that the new Republican conservative movement started. It is an area overlooked by historians who tend to focus on the bigger aspects of the decade. Andrew makes many interesting comparisons between the groups on the left and right, noting that they all wanted change from the politics of the older elite groups of the post war years. Both the SDS and YAF started out as grassroots movements within their larger political parties.
One of the first things the reader has to deal with is Andrew’s writing style, which tends to be on the stiff and boring side. He also tends to repeat himself at times. Andrew spends too much time going into small aspects of groups’ actions and not enough on how the YAF reacted to the larger historical events of the sixties going on around them. Andrew speeds over the Kennedy assassination by just mentioning the transfer of power. (p.180) The Civil Rights Movement is mentioned because the YAF, like Senator Barry Goldwater, opposed the government getting involved.(p191) In chapter five Andrew deals with divisions within the conservative ranks of YAF. Citing all sorts of memos from different people and meetings, this chapter would make the most passionate YAF supporter yawn and perhaps doze off.
Race and gender and the conservative movement are not brought up at all. Yet many historians such as Kenneth Durr believe it was out of this movement that the Republican conservative view of reverse discrimination or backlash was developed and helped carry Ronald Reagan into the White House in the 1980’s. Andrew mentions various women who are part of the committees and then the women just get lost in the storytelling. It would have helped if Andrew had looked at the role of women in the YAF more. By only looking at the years between the 1960 and 1964 presidential elections, Andrews keeps the book focused. Yet in the conclusion he mentions individuals, both men and women, who either served in the Reagan administration or won elections as conservative Republicans. It would have helped the book if Andrew had included a chapter on what happened after the election to members of the Young Americans for Freedom. The book is worthwhile for anyone interested in where the conservative movement started and how it affected the future of the Republican Party.