I understand that you’ve been involved in the GOP civil war for some time.
Only 50 years or so. I came in late.
How did you first become involved?
I headed Youth for Goldwater in New York.
Wasn’t Goldwater’s principal opponent for the Republican nomination, Nelson Rockefeller, governor of New York at the time?
I had grown up in New York and at some point began to fear that Rockefeller would be governor for life. Mine, as well as his.
Why didn’t you support Rockefeller?
His big-government Republicanism was ’roided up. He treated the municipal-bond market like an ATM machine. If he had stayed in office another term — he served three and a half, before being named vice president by Gerald Ford — he would have bonded trash collection, not just landfills.
He’s been called a supply-side bureaucrat. What’s that?
It’s somebody who borrows money to build a huge development in the middle of nowhere in the expectation that government workers will fill the space available. They did, of course. The result was Albany, N.Y., which makes the Soviet-era parts of Bucharest look good.
You’re referring to his famous “edifice complex.”
Every conservative knows in his bones that the threshold question in politics is whether or not to enlarge city hall.
How would you characterize Rockefeller’s politics?
A classic liberal cocktail of class privilege with a splash of ideological presumption.
He wanted to open opportunities for all people to advance, he said urbi et orbi, but only in tiny, mincing steps that would never permit low-born types to approach his own station in life. The freezing of privilege seemed at times to be bedrock principle for him, unlike his other principles, which were ethically situational.
And the ideological presumption?
That he and his heavily subsidized entourage of academic experts, minority-group leaders, and nonprofit executives could design, implement, and enforce social arrangements superior to any that might arise organically from a benighted citizenry.
He must have done something right.
He hired competent people. If Rockefeller had been in charge of Obamacare, it would have been up and running and wrecking the health-care system on schedule.
Did he do anything else right?
Well, some people said he died heroically.
I thought he died in the arms of his 20-something mistress.
That’s never been confirmed, but he was 70 years old.
What was your relationship with Goldwater?
We were not close in the ’64 campaign. He seemed to think my name was Fred.
What drew you to him politically?
He was not a student of Madison, much less Tocqueville, but he was dead right attitudinally. He carried a giant chip on his shoulder about the intrusions of government. Over the years I heard him say dozens of times about one government program or another, “It’s none of their goddamn business!” Barry used a lot of exclamation points.