A Liberal Lectures Conservatives on Goldwaterism

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From a Rick Perlstein speech to a conservative gathering at Princeton:

I'm working on the sequel to my book Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus now. It's going to be called "Nixonland," and it covers the years 1965 to 1972. And it wasn't long into the research before I found myself wrestling with a historiographic problem.

What to make of the fact that some of the names who pioneered this anti-Nixonian movement of principle showed up in the dankest recesses of the Nixon administration? People like Douglas Caddy, of course, the co-founder of the effort to draft Goldwater for vice-president in 1960 and YAF's first president, who was the man the White House called on to represent the Watergate burglars in 1972. And people like the guy inaugurated as YAF's chair in the 1965 with those stirring words about truth: Tom Charles Huston–who, as the author of the first extra-legal espionage and sabotage plan in the Nixon White House, can fairly be called an architect of Watergate.

It is a thread one finds throughout the annals of the Nixon presidency. The notion that what they were doing was moral, the eggs that need be broken in the act of redeeming a crumbling West. […]

Perhaps that is why it has becomes my thesis that the Republicans are less the party of Goldwater, and more the party of Watergate–and this not despite the operational ascendecy of the conservative movement in its councils but in some sense because of it.

Interesting stuff; more of it here, link via Atrios.

I made a qualified case for Goldwater Liberalism back in March.

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  1. The notion that what they were doing was moral…

    Its hard to find a true nihilist.

  2. Hak:

    Nice.

  3. We believe in nossink, Lebowski. Nossink! And tomorrow we come back and we cut off your chonson.

  4. The modern libertarian movement developed out of Goldwater conservatives becoming disenchanted with President Nixon. That was the origin of the Libertarian Caucus in YAF, and of the Libertarian Party.

    Since that time, many libertarians have become involved in the Republican Party again, and libertarian institutes work with conservative think tanks. The hope was that the conservatives would renew their commitment to limited government that characterized the Goldwater campaign.

    Instead, we have President Bush, whose commitment to statism leaves Nixon in the dust, and too many libertarians backing Bush because they think he is committed to a freedom oriented foreign policy. But maybe the results of the Iraq will show once again that you cannot rely on government to promote freedom.

    As an ex-YAF Libertarian Caucus activist, it was nostalgic to read the Perlstein piece.

  5. The second Goldwaterarian Revolution is comming sooner than you think. The Johnson Campaign for President in 2008 will ignite the flame all over again.

    http://garyjohnsonforpresident.blogspot.com/

  6. It amazes me that anyone could claim that the Republicans are the party of Goldwater. Admittedly, the Reagan hype followed by the Contract with America, might lead the undiscerning to accept that the Republicans are really for limited government, but c’mon. By and large, supporters of the Republican party are just the opposite of the Anybody But Bush crowd…ABaD, Anybody But a Democrat.

    None of this makes Perlstein wrong, but he writes as if this is somehow a revelation.

  7. This was great
    As the Internet’s smartest liberal blogger, Digby, puts it, tongue only partially in cheek: “‘Conservative’ is a magic word that applies to those who are in other conservatives’ good graces. Until they aren’t. At which point they are liberals.”

  8. Gary Johnson is one of the few Republicans I’d be tempted to cross party lines and vote for.

  9. Collide-ascope, careful, don’t look down the wrong end.

  10. The Evolution of Voting
    by
    An Anarchist

    My first vote, in 1964, was for Goldwater. I even polished off a can or two of AU2O. Was present when Goldwater’s son campaigned for him in a fraternity house where his introducer was Chuck Muckenfuss. The name almost tripped him, but he was cool.
    My second vote, in 1968, was for Nixon because he promised to get my ass out of Vietnam (where I mysteriously happened to be at the time, through no fault of my own) mui pronto, but with honor and dignity… mumble, mumble.
    1968 was my last vote for Repug nor DemocRat.
    Slowly it began to sink in that voting, itself might be the steenking problem.
    … and I lived happily ever after. Even unto this very day, although Agent Orange causes an occasional twinge in the ability to communicate queerly. Agent Orange and a drop of straight bourbon.

  11. Gee, reading Perlstein’s piece, one almost could come to the conclusion that power corrupts, or something.

    His column shows why we need to vote Libertarians into office; they’re immune to the evil effects of power.
    (Cough, cough. Yeah, right.)

  12. Agent Orange and a drop of straight bourbon.

    … is half price during happy hour.

  13. His column shows why we need to vote Libertarians into office; they’re immune to the evil effects of power.

    No, it’s why we need to vote for liberals, since liberals would never use the power of government to pursue what they think is right. Or something.

  14. Eric the .5b —

    Thanks for the correction. Now I understand completely. Or something.

    (Hey, wait a minute… Are you implying liberals would use their power to pursue what they think is wrong? Damn, now I’m confused again.)

  15. If Gary Johnson or anyone like him had a chance at the nomination then I would probably already be a Republican.

  16. Douglas Fletcher — Dukes of Effin’ Stratosphere? Oh, man. You get a free pass on a year’s worth of Welch-slagging.

  17. No, the lesson is not “power corrupts.” The lesson is that even a commitment to an ideology apparently devoted to opposing the corrupting influence of power is not enough to stave off that influence. An important lesson for those who define “corrupt” in terms of political ideology. The facts Perlstein lays out go to the heart of the failure of modern conservatism – the belief that the triumph of anti-government, anti-liberal ideology is, itself, the end of corruption.

  18. the failure of modern conservatism – the belief that the triumph of anti-government, anti-liberal ideology is, itself, the end of corruption.

    I agree that ideology is no safeguard against corruption, but is modern conservatism really anti-government? A lot of them seem to worship the idea of an unlimited executive. Whatever you might call that ideology, anti-government is hardly the right label.

  19. “the belief that the triumph of anti-government, anti-liberal ideology is, itself, the end of corruption.”

    Or is it the failure of modern liberalism to believe that if only the right people were charge, it would be the end of corruption?

    Conservative/liberal – flip sides of the same coin, just having different values, but sharing a common belief that the state can create their utopia.

  20. thoreau, I think modern conservatism is anti-government in exactly the same was as Marxist-Lenninism: anti-government ideology is in its bones, it defines government as the enemy, and when its partisans seize power, they intend in good faith to exercise it only during a brief transational phase, which will last only as long as is necessary to hand off power and deconstruct the state. When the People stand up, they will stand down. But they’re sure as hell going to stay the course, and not back down when they’re under attack by the enemy. If you ask any conservative what he thinks about the govenrment, he’ll go on for hours about how bad it is and how much smaller it needs to be – and he’ll really believe it.

    quasibill, liberalism doesn’t abide by personalities, but by systems. The description of it as believing “if only the right people were in charge…” that you picked up form Hak bears no resemblance to actual liberalism in theory and practice, and stems from the fact that the conservatives whou currently hold all the powerful positions are so easy to criticize.

    The failure of recent liberalism was to have too much faith in the ability of humans to perfect those systems, and to be insufficiently sensitive to how messy human nature can gum up the works. It has nothing to do with positting that “the right people” need to be in charge.

  21. Goddamn, joe, that last post was good, meaty stuff.

    I think that, while your description of liberalism may have some merit, the current collection of left/liberal ideologues who actually wield political influence is nearly 100% about getting “the right people” (which would be themselves) in charge.

  22. I agree, R C. joe, that was an excellent analysis. Very thought-provoking.

  23. I think modern conservatism is anti-government in exactly the same was as Marxist-Lenninism: anti-government ideology is in its bones, it defines government as the enemy, and when its partisans seize power, they intend in good faith to exercise it only during a brief transational phase, which will last only as long as is necessary to hand off power and deconstruct the state.

    To some extent. I trust you’re excluding from that description “conservatives” like the religious right, who want “Christian” government.

  24. If Gary Johnson or anyone like him had a chance at the nomination then I would probably already be a Republican.

    When Goldwater won the nomination in ’64 because of the efforts of young libertarian minded activists. He wasn’t the choice of the party apparatus. Johnson could do the same thing. Or at the very least, make a respectable showing (which by itself would do more to advance the fight against the “war on drugs” than anything in the past 30 years). So join the fight. If you lose and the Republicans nominate McCain or somebody, you can always drop them again. We should support libertatian canidates. But if the opportunity presents itself to infiltrate libertarian leaning canidates into the major parties, we should do that too. Push on all the fronts.
    http://garyjohnsonforpresident.blogspot.com/

  25. is it just me or is joe starting to make some sense?

    …is that really you joe or just an impostor?

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