Wednesday, October 22, 2008

BMBS Book Club: The Conscience of a Conservative by Barry Morris Goldwater

I too was on my lunch break the other day at Borders when I came across this cool new title. Actually, wait, that's a total lie. This book was written 48 years ago and I've already read it cover to cover at least 15 times since college when I wrote my senior history thesis on the 1964 election and its impact.

I first encountered Conscience my junior year at Georgia when I checked it out at the library late one night. Written at the height of the Cold War, this short 150-page masterpiece made the case for conservatism during a time of liberal dominance in Washington. Goldwater, a Senator from Arizona, was the first prominent Republican politician to seriously question the New Deal and scathingly attack the "Me Too" Republicanism that was prominent in his party. He argued that Social Security should be voluntary, that taxes and spending should be slashed, that power unconstitutionally usurped by FDR should rightfully be returned the States, and that Soviet Communism should be defeated, not merely contained. Here is a sample quote from the book's first chapter:
I have little interest in streamlining government, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones that do violence to the Constitution, or that have failed in their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden. I will not attempt to discover whether legislation is "needed" before I have first determined whether it is constitutionally permissible. And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents' "interests," I shall reply that I was informed their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can.
Man wouldn't it be cool if Arizona senators running for president still talked like this today. Anyway, Goldwater would later run for president in 1964 and lose in one of the biggest landslides in American political history. This was due largely to Kennedy's assassination less than a year before and to Johnson's ability to portray Goldwater as a far right, anti-poor extremist who would ignite World War III and kick elderly dependents out of their homes and into the streets. The Johnson campaign's "Daisy Girl" ad, probably the most famous political TV ever made, suggested that Goldwater would provoke all-out nuclear war.

To be fair, Goldwater didn't help matters with a series of off-the-cuff remarks made during the course of the campaign, including ones like "We ought to lob one into the men's room of the Kremlin" and "Sometimes I think this country would be better off if we just sawed off the Eastern Seaboard and let it float out to sea." Goldwater supporters used the theme "In your heart, you know he's right," to which Johnson's people of course countered "In your gut, you know he's nuts." Johnson devastated Goldwater 61% to 38% on election day. I am happy to report that all 4 of my grandparents were in this 38% minority.

Anyway, Goldwater ended up being the most important losing candidate of the 20th century. He led the Sunbelt in a conservative takeover of a party previously dominated by Northeastern, country-club liberals. He is one of the primary reasons why the South started voting Republican after a century of unwavering Democratic allegiance. The grassroots, anti-establishment nature of his movement laid the foundation for GOP successes decades later. As George Will likes to say, "Goldwater won the '64 election, it just took 16 years to count the votes."

I would recommend this book to basically anyone who already thinks like me and actually cared enough to read the past 5 paragraphs.


Donnie said...

Of the 10 or so different professors I've had for a Political Science class here at Georgia, about 8 of them have had huge hard-ons for Barry Goldwater. Would I be way off in saying that he was a true "maverick"?

I wrote a paper about him last semester and came across an interesting quote from Bob Dylan.
"My favorite politician was Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, who reminded me of Tom Mix, and there wasn't any way to explain that to anybody. I wasn't that comfortable with all the psycho polemic babble."

Not that I like Bob Dylan or anything.

Barstool69 said...

Cut taxes AND spending. So often, I feel like Republicans think one part of that equation will suffice.

Patrick said...

Well, I would agree with that in princple. The problem is that Congress never seriously cuts domestic spending. Ever. Won't ever happen. Never ever never ever. Doesn't matter if it's Republican or Democrats in charge.

So the only way to force Congress' hand is to force huge budget deficits on them. If we had a surplus right now the Dems would undoubtedly be dreaming up countless new spending entitlements and programs. So I'm glad we have a big deficit right now, because it will make it that much harder for Obama's health care plan to pass.

Barstool69 said...

Can you really claim that they care about the deficit at this point? I hope you're right but that's a really long term issue and those guys are just living for the next election.

Patrick said...

Oh no doubt about it. Agree w/ you totally that's all they care about. My point is imagine we were running surpluses right now under Bush (I know, quite hard to imagine).

That would make all of the new spending proposals by Obama & Co. much more palatable to voters. Republicans would left with saying "we don't need universal heathcare because it's socialist." Some people will agree with that, but it just sounds stingy to mainstream voters when you're running surpluses.

But now, w/ these deficits, we'll be able to say "we don't need universal healthcare because we can't afford it." And more mainstream voters/constituencies (i.e., Blue Dog Dems) are much more likely to agree with that.