Mr. Conservative

I’m sorry that blogger’s limitations will force this post above the below one, instead of side-by-side, but I wanted to offer my own take on Mr. Conservative.

First, I think you can forget about the anti-New Dealism. Goldwater was wrong on the–by far–most important issue of the day, the Cold War. The aggressive approach suggested by Goldwater was wrong in policy and politics. In policy, it might have provoked a war; in politics, folks were still in shock from the Cuban missile crisis and the Kennedy assassination. (Though Goldwater wasn’t the type to worry about whether it was the right time to say it.)

When the threat of the world exploding in 30 minutes is kicking around in the conscience of every voter, you can’t be wrong on that issue and win an election.

As for the rest, I’m a little less hostile to the man himself. I think Goldwater may have been blinded by his supposed individualism, but he was at least an interesting person. I believe that he was at least genuine in his convictions.

Less noble were the followers. You see, Goldwater was drafted. He resisted running for a long time. But the people that created to so-called Goldwater movement were not very interested in his libertarian ideas. Most of them used them as a convenient framework to advance pro-wealth and anti-desegregation ideas. The classic example is the idea of “state’s rights.” In the 60s, this was code for states’ rights to continue the practice of racial segregation.

I don’t think it meant that to Goldwater himself, and it doesn’t mean that to libertarians. To them, it means that there is some metaphysical property of states, called “sovereignty” that they preserve, even notwithstanding the federal government’s existence. This doctrine began to bear positive fruits not long after Goldwater’s time. In environmental law, the so-called New Federalism left certain aspects of environmental regualtion to the states. This, and this alone, is responsible for California’s air being cleaner than it was in the 1970s. If all clean air regulation was centralized, the powerful lobbies against it would never have allowed for strict enough regulation to account for the climate patterns in California enough to make the air clean. In numerous ways, devolved power to the states makes for better policy. As diar and urgent, for example, as gun control is in urban centers, it is not a priority issue in places like Montana. Preserving that distinction in public policy is directly attributable to the non-cynical application of the idea of states’ rights that flourished thanks to Goldwater’s moevement.

Likewise, true libertarians, like Goldwater appeared to be in Mr. Conservative, would never oppose gay marriange or abortion rights. (Though I found it convenient that Goldwater was suddenly pro-gays-in-the-military after he found out about his grandson, but many people had this similar awakening.)

The Republican party, however, has no use for libertarians other than the aspirational rhetoric that speaks to the patriotic soul ith its Apple-pie, motherhood, and baseballesque aroma of Americana. That rhetoric provides convenient vehicles to cut taxes–but only on the rich–and to tie the hands of the federal government, fully aware of the consequences, such as segregation, criminalization of abortion, and so on.

Goldwater is culpable to the extent that he knew or should have known that what he said was going to have that effect. He was also completely detached from reality on nuclear weapons policy.

But I always wonder if he would have felt the need to accept the crap the men around Johnson were telling him about Vietnam.