Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Have Republicans Become the Party of Watergate?

I am not in the habit of directing people toward essays by Rick Perlstein (although his 2001 book Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus is one of the best political histories I have ever read), particularly when they appear on Arianna Huffington’s blog, but this rumination on the state of conservatism strikes me at least of being worthy of our consideration. I think it’s pretty clear that many conservatives--certainly those in power--have abandoned the principles of Goldwater (and, by extension, of John M. Ashbrook) in favor of an agenda that views their own political power practically as an end in itself. Consider this:

Young Americans for Freedom distributed a pamphlet in 1965: the text of the inaugural address of their first chairman named after the Goldwater defeat. It excoriated conservatives "who abuse the truth, who resort to violence and engage in slander," and "who seek victory at any price without regard for the broken lives...incurred by those who stand in the way." That is the spirit of Barry Goldwater.... As he put it in Conscience of a Conservative--in italics: "we entrust the conduct of our affairs to men who understand that their first duty as public officials is to divest themselves of the power they have been given."

Who are the conservatives in Washington, or in Columbus for that matter, who are taking this view now? Perlstein continues by suggesting that conservatism has become "a strategy of psychological innocence":

If the first guy turns out to be someone you would not care to be associated with, you have an easy, Platonic, out:...well, maybe he’s a Republican. Or a neocon, or a paleo. He’s certainly not a conservative. The structure holds whether it’s William Kristol calling out Pat Buchanan, or Pat Buchanan calling out William Kristol.

As the Internet’s smartest liberal blogger, Digby, puts it, tongue only partially in cheek: "’Conservative’ is a magic word that applies to those who are in other conservatives’ good graces. Until they aren’t. At which point they are liberals."

Read the whole thing. Expect to get angry. But expect to think.

Discussions - 3 Comments

I find his comments about the Platonic out of naming people something other than conservatives. I may be wrong, but I seem to recall that the whole neo-con, paleo-con was made popular by democrats. Again, I may be wrong.

Still no one can come up with a working definition of such things....

Its certainly no suprise that Goldwater was fed up with the GOP by the time he exited. Even in the 1980s he seemed plenty disgusted with Reagan. The "spirit of Goldwater" is long gone from the GOP, if it ever existed. Disappointed, but not angry.

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