Skip to comments.THE GOLDWATER MYTH
Posted on 03/06/2009 4:35:47 PM PST by yongin
It's CPAC weekend - the grand rallying of the conservative clan here in Washington. It's a season where conservatives from across the country meet to compare notes, share stories, and seek political consensus. The consensus forming this year however is an ominously dangerous one - ominously dangerous to conservatives themselves that is.
Conservatives live in thrall to a historical myth, and this myth may soon cost us dearly.
The myth is the myth of the Goldwater triumph of 1964. It goes approximately as follows:
In 1964, after years of watered down politics, Republicans turned to a true conservative, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater. Yes, Goldwater lost badly. But in losing, he bequeathed conservatives a national organization and a new champion, Ronald Reagan. Goldwaters defeat opened the way to Reagans ultimate triumph and the conservative ascendancy of the 1980s and 1990s.
This (the myth continues) is the history we need to repeat. If we can just find the right messenger in 2012, the message that worked for Reagan will work again. And even if we cannot find the right messenger, losing on principle in 2012 will open the way to a more glorious victory in 2016.
The Goldwater myth shuts down all attempts to reform and renew our conservative message for modern times. And it offers a handy justification for nominating a 2012 presidential candidate who might otherwise seem disastrously unelectable. Altogether, the myth invites dangerous and self-destructive behavior by a party that cannot afford either.
What happened in 1964 was an unredeemed and unmitigated catastrophe for Republicans and conservatives. The success that followed 16 years later was a matter of happenstance, not of strategy. Thats the real lesson of 1964, and it is the lesson that conservatives need most to take to heart today.
1964 was always bound to be a Democratic year. The difference between Barry Goldwaters 38.5% candidacy and the 44% or 45% that might have been won by a Nelson Rockefeller or a William Scranton was the effect on down-ballot races.
Republicans lost 36 seats in the House of Representatives in 1964, giving Democrats the biggest majority in the House any party has enjoyed since the end of World War II. Republicans dropped 2 seats in the Senate, yielding a Democratic majority of 68-32, again the most lopsided standing in any election from the war to the present day.
This huge congressional majority - call it the Goldwater majority - liberated President Johnson from any dependence on conservative southern Democrats. In 1964, only 46 Senate Democrats voted for the great Civil Rights Act; 21 opposed. Without Republican support, the Act would not have passed. (And indeed while 68% of Senate Democrats voted for the Act, 81% of Senate Republicans did.)
While dependent on southern Democrats, President Johnson had to develop a careful, pragmatic domestic agenda that balanced zigs to the right (in 1964, Congress passed the first across the board income tax cut since the 1920s) with zags to the left (the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 which created Head Start among other less successful programs).
Then came the Republican debacle of November 1964. Goldwater's overwhelming defeat invited a tsunami of liberal activism. The 89th Congress elected in 1964 enacted both Medicaid and Medicare. It passed a new immigration law, opening the way to a surge of 40 million newcomers, the overwhelming majority of them from poor Third World countries. It dramatically expanded welfare eligibility and other anti-poverty programs that together transformed the urban poor of the 1950s into the urban underclass of the 1970s and 1980s.
Suppose history had taken a different bounce in 1964. Suppose somebody other than Sen. Goldwater had won the Republican presidential nomination. Suppose his narrower margin of defeat had preserved those 36 Republican seats in the House or even possibly gained some seats. (The big Democratic gains in 1958 and 1962 were ripe for a rollback in 1964 and indeed were rolled back in 1966, when the GOP picked up 47 seats in the House and 3 in the Senate.)
Under those circumstances, the legislation of 1965 might have looked a lot more like the more moderate legislation of 1964. The Voting Rights Act would surely have passed, and so too would some form of health insurance measure for the poor a measure supported by the American Medical Association and health insurers as well as by congressional liberals. But Medicare might never have happened, or might have taken a less costly form. The immigration bill might have been more carefully written so as to achieve its declared purpose: eliminating racial discrimination in immigration without expanding the overall number of immigrants from the modest level prevailing in the 1950s and early 1960s.
True, the liberal triumph of 1964 set in motion the train of disasters that laid liberalism low in the 1980s. But those disasters followed from choices and decisions that liberals made not from some multiyear conservative grand strategy for success in 1980. It was not Goldwater who made Reagan possible. It was Carter. Had Carter governed more successfully, the Goldwater disaster would have been just a disaster, with no silver lining. And there was nothing about the Goldwater disaster that made the Carter failure more necessary, more inevitable.
And anyway, as the years pass, the consequences of Reagans victory look more temporary and provisional, at least in domestic policy while the consequences of Goldwaters defeat look more enduring and more consequential. The Reagan tax cuts are long gone. Medicare is still here.
Its important for Republicans to absorb and remember this history as they prepare to make their next political choices. Right now, Republicans are gripped by a strong martyr complex. They want to stand up for their beliefs, damn the consequences in fact the worse the consequences, the more it proves the rightness of our beliefs. If this mood persists further into the 2012 cycle, we will pay a heavy price. 2010 is already shaping up as an inhospitable year for Republicans, especially in the Senate, where the map favors the Democrats. 2012 could be much better unless we doom ourselves by our own bad choices.
It is this alternative possibility of success or failure down the ballot as well as up that makes it so urgent to disenthrall ourselves of the 1964 myth. Goldwaters defeat was a prelude to nothing except defeats on the floor of Congress in 1965-66. As the next presidential cycle begins, our priority should be to identify presidential candidates who can run strongly in every region of the country not because we expect to win every region of the country, but because we want to help elect Republican congressional candidates in every region of the country. Our present strategy is one that is paving the way not merely to another defeat at the presidential level, but to a further shriveling of our congressional party and an utterly unconstrained Obama second term that will make LBJs ascendancy look moderate and humble in comparison.
Frum discounts the Flower ad against Goldwater.
I don’t care what Frum thinks. We don’t field a RINO to win over the electorate.
Frum, that was already tried and it failed. Now, shut the heck up, you idiot.
Bull Frum. It was Reagan who made Reagan possible.
Goldwater was absolutely correct. You don’t go fight and pussyfoot around. You go to win or you don’t go.
Nobody likes Frum anymore..doesn’t he get it?
Who cares what he has to say?
Would this rat-faced Canadian milksop please shut his yap?
Don’t you go talkin’ ‘bout Goldwater like that.
What's his suggestion? More watered down ceeding the debate to the liberals and acting like we're just not quite as guilt-ridden as those other whiney-assed bedwetters?
One word Mr. Frum, ENOUGH!
I've had quite enough of seeing the inmates in charge of the asylum
I've had quite enough of watching immature children pretend to know how to lead a nation and the world
We just tried Frum's strategy last year. We ran a moderate maverick who was supposed to appeal to Democrats. Didn't work out too well.
The assassination of President Kennedy killed Goldwater’s chances. Revisionist history notwithstanding, Goldwater brought energy and ideas to a Republican Party that needed both. I guess you had to be there to appreciate the enthusiasm he generated.
ANNNHHHH! Wrong! Tax rates are way lower than where they were when Reagan took office in 1981 and comparable (if not lower for many people) than where they were in 1989 when he left office. Either way, federal taxes are far lower than during the dark day of Carter.
Frum is a fool. If you don't have principles, why bother? You must first have principles before you can articulate and sell others on them. That's what Reagan excelled at. He was the great communicator and champion of conservative values because he believed in them. Reagan didn't need a teleprompter to tell you how he thought.
Americans (most of us, anyway) are still fiscally conservative and care passionately about being good stewards of our money, land and other precious resources. Reagan knew how to connect with fiscal conservatives of all parties and walks of life.
Republicans failed in 2006 and 2008 because voters perceived them to be no better than Democrats when it came to fiscal conservatism. They saw Bush's $5 trillion debt and said enough is enough. I'd never be stupid enough to be duped into voting for Obama based on that evidence (as though liberals are ever fiscally conservative) but it's easy to see why many have lost faith in the GOP and doubt its credibility on fiscal issues.
Abandoning our principles is what got us into the fix we're in. Frum is a fool if he thinks reinventing our principles and becoming poll driven populists (like the Democrats) is the answer for the GOP. Our principles did not fail us, our failure was failing to adhere to them.
It's no different than a God fearing Christian who has lost the faith... it wasn't the principles of Christianity that failed them, it was their failure to live the Word through works and not merely recite the Word while failing to live it.
I watched McCain last night on TV trying to wrap himself in the Mantle of Barry Goldwater. He failed miserably.
I will give McCain credit for being against most Pork legislation. But not much else.
Don’t agree with him on Immigration, Don’t agree with him on big government, Don’t agree with him on where the Republicans need to direct the party.
I wished I did not feel that way, but none the less I do.
Interesting take on the man McCain replaced in the Senate.
After Goldwater left the Senate, he turned into a full blown liberal.
Indeed. Barry contributed greatly to conservative thought. Not the eloquent speaker and communicator that Reagan was, but Barry would hit you right in the gut and make you think hard about what he was saying. A true fiscal conservative and a social libertarian (which in the post Roe v. Wade world means he would never get very far in today's GOP). We could use a lot more real fiscal conservatives who understand that states shouldn't be welfare queens begging for federal handouts. We need the GOP to grow some cojones and stop feeding the unsustainable growth of the federal beast before we go the way of the Roman Empire and collapse from the weight of massive debt, taxes, overspending and resource depletion.
Frum was born in 1960. In Toronto. He comes from a generation that believes: if it didn't happen to me, it didn't happen.
As a consequence, he has no idea who Barry Goldwater was, what he believed nor what his followers believed (I'm one of them).
Nor does he have any knowledge of the paramount importance of Kennedy's assassination, nor it coitus interruptus impact on politics.
In short, David Frum is an over-educated, misinformed fool.
I was there. We said:" In your heart you know he's right! The left said: "In your guts you know he's nuts". Two years later when LBJ was tanking, billboards throughout the mid west proclaimed: "Now you know he was right."
Frum is not Frum. Deport this RINO back to Canada.
I know. I was on the Board of NY Youth for Goldwater.