- Nut Country: Right-Wing Dallas and the Birth of the Southern Strategy by Edward H. Miller
Nut Country: Right-Wing Dallas and the Birth of the Southern Strategy documents how conservative extremists of many varieties in the North Texas city managed to seek out strategic alliances and effectively remade the [End Page 274] state—and national—Republican Party in their own image. The book is chockful of useful and interesting information, and the author tells his story well. That having been said, it is at its heart a small piece of a larger story. And that story is incomplete: Dallas has in the last half century gone from being a bastion of conservative Democrats, to a bulwark of very conservative Republicans, back to a center of fairly liberal Democrats. Who, indeed, fifty years ago would have been so foolhardy to suggest that within the lifetime of many residents Dallas County would elect an openly gay Hispanic woman sheriff, yet it did. But that is another story for another book.
Although this volume tells a self-contained story well, it could profitably be read in conjunction with several recent studies on the rise of conservatism in America. Chief among those works would be two volumes by Rick Perlstein, Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the unmaking of the American Consensus and The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan. Also useful would be Geoffrey Kabaservice, Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of the Republican Party from Eisenhower to the Tea Party and E. J. Dionne Jr., Why the Right Went Wrong: Conservatism from Goldwater to the Tea Party and Beyond. In the case of all of the above Nut Country will add depth and fill in some of the blank spaces that these more general volumes have left vacant.
But what sort of a review would this be without a quibble or two and a suggestion for improvement? There are some errors, both of omission and commission. For example four, not three, senators from the South, two from Texas and two from Tennessee, refused to sign the Southern Manifesto. This is worth mentioning because it fits into an undertone that runs through the volume starting with its title. On the matter of the title, I would not describe the subjects of this book as “nuts,” even if I might disagree with them. The author is quite right when he notes that the KKK was fairly strong in the Dallas area in the 1920s, but he could have added a paragraph noting that many in the Dallas establishment at the time led by the Dallas Morning News strongly opposed the Klan. To be sure W. A. Criswell was a very powerful clerical spokesman for the forces Miller is discussing, but there were strong clerical voices preaching moderation at the same time. The author cites a Fortune magazine article noting that schoolchildren cheered at the announcement that schools would be closed for the afternoon of November 22, 1963, but does not note that the announcement of the school closing preceded the announcement of JFK’s assassination. On a more significant note the author discusses the election of John Tower to the U.S. Senate and its importance as though it was the result of the growing alienation of Texans with the national Democratic Party and that alone. The fact is that Tower was aided in this very significant victory by the actions of many prominent liberals within the Texas Democratic Party who openly argued, “Better 6 Years of Tower than 60 Years of Blakely.” These are, however, at best quibbles. Overall the [End Page 275] volume fills in some important gaps in an important story and that makes it a worthwhile read.