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Re: Lou Cannon on Goldwater


I had not seen Cannon’s review, so thanks to Ramesh for his post. I re-read Conscience of a Conservative the other evening and was particularly drawn to his take on “states’ rights.” He opposed civil-rights legislation largely because of his view of states’ rights. And he did so not only in his book, but he voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act on the same ground. And his position was hard-and-fast. No equivocation.

To dismiss Conscience of a Conservative as a book with little or no input from Goldwater, as Cannon does, is to rewrite history. But this is how Cannon and others, including perhaps even Goldwater’s son, try to square the Sixties’ Goldwater with his last days. But what they are doing is projecting their own more liberal or libertarian views onto Goldwater. I say this because to honestly examine Goldwater’s later views, such as they were, would require something more than claiming he was “for gay rights” and “pro-choice.” What does it mean to be for gay rights or pro-choice? For example, someone could be for same-sex marriage but opposed to its imposition by a state court, or raise federalism objections if one state tries to export its position on another. Someone could support abortion generally or, perhaps, with conditions (parental notification, 24-hour waiting period, in the first trimester only, etc.), so what does it mean to say that Goldwater supported abortion? More to the point, he could object to Roe v. Wade on constitutional and, specifically, federalism grounds. Where did the later Goldwater stand on any of this? I admit I have not studied Goldwater’s final years, but I am not impressed with efforts to praise his “brand” (my word) of conservatism as more liberal or even libertarian respecting social issues when the advocates of this view fall so short of their target.


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