Progressives for Goldwater?

I'd meant to say something about last week's debate at Campus Progress over Barry Goldwater, with my friend Dana Goldstein defending her soft spot for the late Arizona senator and Brown student Justin Elliott ridiculing the idea that Goldwater's legacy contains anything for progressives to admire.

I tend to think they both rather miss the mark. Dana, who wants to celebrate Goldwater's secular vision of politics and support for reproductive rights, manages to brush off both his hawkishness and his strident support of limited government in a two-sentence "to be sure" in which she concedes "there's no excuse at all for his reactionary stance on civil rights, or his opposition to New Deal programs such as Social Security and welfare." As a purely stylistic matter, there's something a bit galling about seeing a coherent, principled theory of the proper role of the state, whether one agrees with it or not, dismissed in the kind of language one might use to chastise a toddler for finger-painting on the wall. More to the point, it skews what was central to Goldwater's politics and legacy, both in terms of his influence and how he himself probably would've conceived it. If Hitler had been a tireless crusader for animal welfare who happened to hold some appalling anti-Semitic views, you might reasonably be willing to consider him an OK fellow on net anyway; given the actual history, I'm not sure how much credit he ought to get for being a vegetarian who loved dogs on top of the whole Holocaust thing.

But Justin Elliott gets it at least as backward. First, he seems to think that the retrospective evaluations of a variety of folk from across the political spectrum are only apt to confuse things. Instead, he chooses to cut and paste huge chunks of a hit piece on Goldwater written by socialist journalist I.F. Stone in the heat of the '64 presidential campaign. One of these shows up in Elliott's multi-paragraph denunciation of Goldwater's cowboyish sartorial style, which I suppose he can be forgiven for dwelling on, if only because it's one of the few ways his claim that modern Republicans are "very much the heirs of Goldwater" pans out at all. Actually, as Ezra Klein notes, progressives less focused on cultural issues (where's Thomas Frank when you need him?) might notice that contemporary big-government conservativism (the source of so much dissatisfaction among the actual intellectual heirs of Goldwater) is much closer to their own view on the fundamentals than the Goldwater strain: The fierceness of the tactical dispute over the best methods by which an activist federal government should solve all social ills may, more than anything else, reflect the narcissism of small differences. [x-posted @ NftL]

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    They just miss conservatives who had no hope of getting elected president.

  • ||

    Justices Refuse to Ungag Gloria Allred

    http://www.cnn.com/2006/LAW/10/02/scotus.allred.ap/index.html

    That has nothing to do with anything relating to this thread. But that has to be the best headline in weeks. It wasn't a hit and run post, but it should have been.

  • Gimme Back My Dog||

    How good a friend could she be if you dont know her last name?

  • ||

    "...progressives...might notice that contemporary big-government conservativism...is much closer to their own view on the fundamentals than the Goldwater strain: The fierceness of the tactical dispute over the best methods by which an activist federal government should solve all social ills may, more than anything else, reflect the narcissism of small differences."

    One trick ponies incapable of seeing any issues beyond the size of the federal budget might find this statement interesting.

    People capable of thinking in as many as two dimensions realize that progressives do not support government spending as an end unto itself.

    All of the progressives I know despise standardized testing in schools, as an unnecessary layer of bureacracy that interferes with the ability of teachers to tailor their lessons to their classes' needs. For big govenrment conservatives, standardized testing is the central plank in their educational theory. This is not a minor difference; it is as significant a disagreement as that between those who want to spend more on schools and those who want to spend less.

    Just because support for smaller government is the defining value of your own ideology, Julian, doesn't mean that its opposite is the defining characteristic of those who disagree with you.

    All those Goldwaterites accused of racism by the anti-racist left could have taught you that lesson.

  • ||

    GBMD-
    D'oh! Too much "Goldwater" on the brain; fixed.

    joe-
    Well, Ezra doesn't share my ideology by a longshot, and he seemed to think there was something to the notion, which suggests it's not a pure function of my libertarian blinders. My last sentence was, obviously, a bit of deliberate hyperbole, but I do think there's clearly something of a qualitative difference between disagreements about whether the goverment should properly be involved in a certain sphere at all and disagreements about the best methods of pursuing agreed upon ends. Also, much as they often get tangled in practical debates, the question of government function or scope is a distinct one from the optimal amount government ought to be spending, so the "size of the budget" business is a red herring.

  • ||

    People capable of thinking in as many as two dimensions realize that progressives do not support government spending as an end unto itself.

    And Republicans aren't supporting government spending as an end unto itself, either.

    They just both have an unwholesome fondness for a tool - and the unfettered right to use it - that we don't want them using so much. Each are now happy to support prolifigate spending, with mild nattering about how the other guys' spending is really prolifigate.

    Or put another way, "Dude, you Rush-singing weenies need to understand that there's a totally huge difference between Death Cab for Cutie and the Postal Service."

  • ||

    I question the morality of "by any means necessary", even when the ends are good.

  • Paul||

    Barry Goldwater: The most misunderstood politican of modern time... period.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement