John Edwards

Political Devolution: From Goldwater to Rove

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The competition for the vote-rich middle of the electorate has turned formerly conservative Republicans into social welfare Democrats. Many in the party of Reagan apparently see no conflict between anti-government rhetoric and middle class neo-populist pandering (of the kind former Democratic Sen. John Edwards is peddling, in his perpetual presidential campaign.) A party that used to rail against socialized medicine has embraced prescription drug legislation, due to bloat an already busted-budget next January—to satisfy both the ravenous appetites of elderly entitlement consumers and the corporate welfare aspirations of pharmaceutical manufacturers.

A party once steered by the conservative conscience of Barry Goldwater is now guided by the moral authority of electoral technologist Karl Rove.

So sayeth self-described "libertarian Democrat" Terry Michael here.

NEXT: We Can Now Kiss Don Young's Ear!

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  1. I proudly cast my very first vote for Goldwater. I haven’t voted in many years.
    Talk about a slippery slope! And it’s getting slipperier and slopier.

  2. Heh: “entitlement consumers”. Nothing new there, obviously, but a neat turn of phrase.

  3. I agree with the guy but haven’t a thousand people said this a thousand times already?

  4. independent worm,
    The more people say it, the better. The faster to incite a libertarian backlash.

  5. Is “libertarian Democrat” in scare quotes because Michael in particular has given reason to doubt the description or because you don’t believe that political class is possible?

    If the latter, that’s kind of weird, since the Democrats as a party at least share some kind of desire for civil liberty with libertarians, while modern Republicans share nothing.

  6. Yawwwwn! Tell me something I don’t know.

  7. Many in the party of Reagan apparently see no conflict between anti-government rhetoric and middle class neo-populist pandering

    Horseshit says I. We haven’t heard an anti-government squeak out of a Republican in over a decade. Before becoming the majority, Republicans use to regularly spew small-government rhetoric. Even at the time I could tell they were lying because their lips were moving. Republican opposition to government excess, is just another universally excepted myth utterly divorced from reality.

  8. This is old old news. He forgot to mention the huge push to federalize education even more by Bush. That push is leading to curriculum reviews and the achievement of a greater goal – politicizing science curricula. The trial in PA about ID vs. evolution is extremely important yet few are focused on it.

  9. If the latter, that’s kind of weird, since the Democrats as a party at least share some kind of desire for civil liberty with libertarians, while modern Republicans share nothing.

    As I have noted elsewhere, it is difficult to find an issue where the Democrats are not more hostile to libertarian thinking than the Republicans. The possible exceptions include reproductive rights, and possibly some civil liberties issues (although I am hard pressed to think of anything the Dems have done or attempted to protect civil liberties in recent years).

    On the big issues (taxes, spending, gun control, free speech), the Dems range from as bad as Republicans to much worse.

    Sad, but there it is.

  10. It’s a great opportunity for Libertarian candidates to make hay. True fiscal conservatives can’t be pleased with the GOP, and they aren’t going to be voting Democrat any time soon.

  11. News Flash:

    Pandering works. Pork works. There is no significant constituency that is ideologically small government. Neither of the two parties have philosophies, they just have running sums of constituent wants.

  12. R C Dean,

    I’m not sure thats true. A good case can be made that democrats are better than republicans on free speech and spending/taxes (depending on your particular slant of liberterianism). Speech because while they push inane PC type ideas there is a vanishingly small possibility that these would ever become law, while the republicans are attempting to pass a speech limiting ammendment (flag burning), and are overly fond of secret courts/ not tell warrants etc. On spending/taxes republicans are on par with democrats in spending money, but they just prefer to accrue deficits rather than tax us now. They talk a good game, but without cutting spending (which they never do unless forced) its all just hot air. Deficits are taxes on future generations, and I would argue that such a tax is worse than an actual tax, as the benefits of such a tax will accrue mostly to those currently living (barring special circumstances).

    I’m not arguing that the democrats are uniformly better, or even better on the whole, but rather that the case is not nearly clear as you present. Depending on the weight you place on different libertarian concerns, as well as how likely you think certain policies are to be enacted a libertarian could quite rationally believe that the democratic party was preferable.

  13. Pandering works. Pork works.

    Indeed. There seems to be this notion that the middle actually thinks about politics or philosophy or ideology. They don’t.

    They want National Health because they want someone to pay their medical bills not because of some overwhelming compassion for the poor.

    They also want the queers stomped because they find gay sex repulsive and frankly they’re afraid of gays, not because of any overreaching religious belief.

    They want mass transit in their town so all the other yahoos will ride the bus and they won’t have endure traffic jams in their SUVs powered by artificially cheap fuel on heavily subsidized roads.

    I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point.

    Successful pols like FDR and LBJ thrive when they manage to connect with the gimme desires of the masses. Reagan succeeded to the extent that nobody ever actually believed he was going to derail their gravy train, and so has Bush.

  14. RC –

    “The possible exceptions include reproductive rights, and possibly some civil liberties issues (although I am hard pressed to think of anything the Dems have done or attempted to protect civil liberties in recent years).”

    You elevate ‘grudging’ to new heights. It’s pretty clear you’ve picked your poison and aren’t going to rethink it, but as a quick and sisyphean flyby: consider the partisan voting results for the PATRIOT act and followups, the relative stances on the drug war, the near universal appreciation among Republicans for sacrificing liberty and privacy for security, values-based censorship of broadcast content, and you can make a perfectly reasonable, though certainly not automatic, argument for voting Dem.

    “On the big issues (taxes, spending, gun control, free speech)”

    On free speech, you’re nuts. There’s still a problem with liberal speech codes, but those are increasingly divorced from electoral politics. Republicans are actually passing laws. Look at them. On spending, you’re nuts. On taxes and gun control, the Republicans are decidedly better, but you’re simply asserting that they are the ‘big’ issues. Like I said, you have to compromise to vote for one of the two, and whether you choose to compromise on economics or civil liberties depends on which you think is more important. You obviously think economics are more important. I disagree.

  15. “…haven’t a thousand people said this a thousand times already?” “Yawwwwn! Tell me something I don’t know.”

    god, you’re a harsh bunch….LOL

    I spent 17 years as a political press secretary, and — believe me — you have to say the same thing a hundred times before people begin to hear it. Ideas move slowly in our political process, particularly when you’re trying to reach the reactionary and the brain dead of the left and the right.

    And it seems to me obvious — unless you’re a total purist — that Democrats are nearer libertarian on social cultural issues, and most Republicans (outside the Beltway political culture) are nearer libertarian on fiscal/role of government questions.

    Of course, the center is pragmatic, which is why they’re called the center. But most pretty much want to be left alone — unless (and it’s a big “unless”) the government offers to give them free money, to take part of their parenting responsibilities, or to relieve them of caring for their elderly parents.

  16. “Like I said, you have to compromise to vote for one of the two, and whether you choose to compromise on economics or civil liberties depends on which you think is more important.”

    Unfortunately, they are so inter-related that you can’t have one without the other. Welfare State=Police State=Warfare State, and vice versa. All three terms are descriptions of symptoms arising from the same malady.

    However, I CAN say that I would rather have a tax and spend government over a borrow and spend government – inflationary monetary policy is more damaging to the economy than direct taxation, and further lines the pockets of the politically connected at the expense of the common man. Besides which, it is always better to have a more direct connection between benefit and cost.

  17. “There seems to be this notion that the middle actually thinks about politics or philosophy or ideology. They don’t.”

    Yah. That notion, held by many libertarians, has several negative outcomes from where I’m sitting.

    It makes libertarians think of themselves as a credible constituency when they (we) are not. A libertarian party is just not a good idea from the standpoint of political efficacy, because its existence rests on the notion that at some point, someone will incorporate a broad libertarian platform to get those votes. It won’t happen. The whole pill is antithetical to more substantial coalition members in each party.

    It also makes libertarians and libertarian publications argue strangely at times. How much ink and how many electrons have been wasted pointing out that the parties are not ideologically consistent? The strategy seems to be to somehow shame one party or the other into conforming its platform to its narrative. That is the cart leading the horse. The narrative is a post hoc explanation of why all these people that want goodies X, Y, and Z vote together. The narrative changes to conform to the constituent base, and not the other way around. All this stuff detracts from what we should be doing IMO, which is focus on an issue at a time, trying to convince the coalition to accept that policy. If we can get enough single issues through, the coalition narrative will automatically have a libertarian flavor added to it.

  18. “All this stuff detracts from what we should be doing IMO, which is focus on an issue at a time, trying to convince the coalition to accept that policy.”

    You’ve heard me say that we must content ourselves here to simply being the Vestal Virgins.
    We can’t convince. We offer a product that is not in demand. Our product will always be only for specialized “tastes.”
    The best we can do is just say, “Here we Vestal Virgins are, and we ain’t going away.”

  19. Change that to:
    We’re here!
    We’re Vestal Virgins!
    Get used to it!

  20. There are no Vestal Virgins in the LP.
    I’ve checked.

  21. Pandering works. Pork works. There is no significant constituency that is ideologically small government.

    You’re probably right, but I’m curious why one party has, historically, tried to adopt some small government rhetoric. What advantage did they see in such rhetoric if the underlying idea isn’t popular? Surely there must be some voters that they were trying to woo?

    I’m not suggesting any strategy based on those voters, I’m just wondering why the rhetoric was adopted.

  22. thoreau

    When I was growing up the New Deal was unquestioned as the prevailing political doctrine.

    Barry Goldwater was trounced for using small government rhetoric and Nixon was as big a big spending liberal as LBJ.

    Before Reaganism gained the ascendancy neither party was engaging in much small government rhetoric. And I think Reagan was able to exploit the meltdown of the welfare/Keynesian/regulatory state as it was occurring under Jimmy Carter. I think enough people might have thought that going in the opposite direction might work.

    The interesting thing is that Carter was attacking said welfare/Keynesian/regulatory state in his own way, but history caught up with him so we remember him as a failure.

    As I said nobody really believed Reagan was really going to make government smaller. And hardly anybody actually wanted to happen.

  23. Correction:

    Barry Goldwater was not trounced exclusively for using small government rhetoric. He also lost on account of making some ill-advised statements about Vietnam which lead the people believing that LBJ was the “peace candidate”.

    He also opposed the Civil Right Act (although it could be said on small government grounds) which lead the people believing that LBJ was the “civil rights candidate” (The first time since the Civil ar that blacks overwhelmingly reject a Republican candidate*).

    Nevertheless, there was widespread rejection of Goldwater smaller government message.

    *although black support from Republicans had been declining since the Hoover Administration.

  24. “Many in the party of Reagan apparently see no conflict between anti-government rhetoric and middle class neo-populist panderin.”

    The current crop of Republican leadership doesn’t represent the party of Reagan. He left the Democrats, and if he were alive and coherent today, I suspect he’d leave the Republican Party too.

    …and I don’t think we should confuse support for the President with middle class Republican approval of “panderin'”.

  25. “He also lost on account of making some ill-advised statements about Vietnam which lead the people believing that LBJ was the “peace candidate”.”

    Isaac,
    Barry lost because LBJ’s Percy Dovetonsils, Bill Moyers, ruthlessly trashed him.

  26. Regarding spending/taxes, has anyone made a graph correlating divided government with it? I did a search on spending etc. and I came across this: http://www.filteringcraig.com/blog/archives/001427.shtml

    It has two graphs illustrating a rather disturbing trend with recent Republican presidents, but it would help to be able to correlate that with divided govt to know for sure whether it’s just Republicans that are prone to runaway spending or whether it’s the lack of divided govt.

  27. sidereal,

    …since the Democrats as a party at least share some kind of desire for civil liberty with libertarians…

    They do?

  28. Ruthless

    Well, Barry had a tin ear when it came to politics outside Arizona so he gave Moyers (what a smarmy self-righteous prick that one is) plenty of ammo.

  29. You’ve all heard the old joke, right?

    They told me if I voted for Goldwater, there would be half a million troops in Vietnam in two years. Well, I did, and there are.

    Ba dum bum. Is this a blog readership or an oil painting?

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