Quick quiz: Who said, “Is this the time in our nation’s history for our federal government to ban Almighty God from our classrooms?” Or, “You will search in vain for any reference to God or religion in the Democratic platform”? Who lamented that “we permit the world’s greatest collection of smut to be freely available anywhere”? Who warned that, “We as a nation are not far from the kind of moral decay that has brought on the fall of other nations and people”?
Was it: George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Pat Buchanan, or Barry Goldwater?
You’ll be forgiven if you picked any of the first three. But everybody knows that Barry Goldwater wasn’t that kind of conservative. Right?
That’s certainly the way it seems these days. John Dean, a man whose capacity for deception has long been demonstrated by his high regard for himself, has a new book out claiming that conservatives have abandoned the Goldwater tradition. He recently wrote, “For more than 40 years I have considered myself a ‘Goldwater conservative,’ and am thoroughly familiar with the movement’s canon.” The Bush-Cheney White House, Dean assures us, has betrayed the Goldwater tradition: “Bible-thumping, finger-pointing, tongue-lashing attacks on homosexuals are not found in Russell Kirk’s classic conservative canons, nor in James Burnham’s guides to conservative governing.”
Where Dean isn’t dishonest — pray tell, what was the last tongue-lashing attack on homosexuals issued from this administration? — he’s flatly ignorant.
But don’t tell that to Goldwater’s own granddaughter, who has a made a documentary for HBO about Grandpa AuH2O that, judging from its press, portrays him as some sort of Bill Maher with cowboy boots. The New York Times says the film “rehabilitates (Goldwater) as a kind of liberal.” The Times says his rehabilitation — nothing loaded about that word — hinges on his belief that “government should stay out of our hair.”
Of course, when liberals say government should stay out of our hair, they mean Uncle Sam should offer an open bar on abortions and gay-marriage licenses. Beyond that, everything’s fair game. How else to explain the fact that Ms. Goldwater interviews Ted Kennedy, Al Franken, Hillary Clinton, and James Carville — people who support nationalized health care, smoking bans, gun control, hate-crime laws, and other libertarian wolfsbane — to testify about Goldwater’s libertarian enlightenment.
Truthfully, Goldwater himself is partly to blame for this nonsense. As he got older, “Mr. Conservative” became more libertarian on some social issues (largely due to his wife’s influence and his understandable personal distaste for some Christian Right leaders). But even so, Goldwater only abandoned his support for a constitutional ban on abortion in his final term in the Senate and didn’t change his opposition to gay rights until long after he retired.
Meanwhile, as Andrew Busch details in “The Goldwater Myth,” the Goldwater of 1964 was the founding father of today’s social conservatism. Virtually all of the leaders of the “New Right” — including Phyllis Schlafly — were veterans of the Goldwater movement. L. Brent Bozell, the ghostwriter of Goldwater’s 1960 classic The Conscience of a Conservative – in which they wrote “The laws of God, and of nature, have no dateline” — was a pioneering “theocratic” intellectual.
Theodore White, that great (liberal) chronicler of American politics, wrote in his 1964 classic The Making of the President that Goldwater’s “greatest contribution to American politics” was the legitimization of what Goldwater called “the moral issue”: “This will be his great credit in historical terms: that finally he introduced the condition and quality of American morality and life as a subject of political debate.”
White couldn’t have known in 1964 that Goldwater’s contribution would be even greater than that. Nonetheless, Goldwater was rewarded for his efforts with denunciations and slander. LBJ vilified his 1964 opponent as an avatar of hate. Today, the Times calls him “a half-Jewish cowboy from Phoenix.” In the ‘60s, the entire liberal establishment smeared Goldwater as a crypto-Nazi. “We see dangerous signs of Hitlerism in the Goldwater campaign,” Martin Luther King ludicrously warned.
Liberals, of course, have an inexhaustible capacity to lecture conservatives about what “real” conservatism is. Still, what confuses many people is this idea that social conservatism and small-government conservatism are inherently at odds. They surely can be — and I’d love for this administration to channel more of Goldwater’s libertarian sentiments. But Goldwater understood something this crowd doesn’t. “It is impossible to maintain freedom and order and justice,” he declared in 1964, “without religious and moral sanctions.”
©2006 Tribune Media Services, Inc.