Sunday, February 12, 2012

Changing Face of Conservatism in America

I think back to the election of 1964, when we young Turks thought the contest was a matter of truth against radical conservatism of the most dangerous sort.
by Charlie Leck

In 1964, at 23 years, I guess I was a mere lad. I certainly didn’t know much about politics and I was feeling my way along in this presidential voting business because I hadn’t done it before. In 1960, when JFK was elected to the office, I had been too young to vote. In debates around the campus during the campaign, I had indicated a leaning toward Richard M. Nixon. (As I admit that, something vile tasting sticks in my throat. I shudder and thank goodness that I was too young to know better.)

Vaguely, I remember that ’64 election. JFK had pulled me easily over to the Democratic side of the issues – and so had 4 years of college education. The attitude was universal (it seemed) in the graduate school I attended. We all shook our heads at Barry Goldwater and we watched the polls grow and grow against him as the weeks moved along toward Election Day. He was considered extremely conservative and the very large majority considered him a dangerous option for the highest office in the land.

In today’s political climate, Barry Goldwater would be considered a moderate. In a column in the Washington Post (Feb 10), Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson write,

“…Goldwater, the Arizona senator was an ideological outlier. The average Senate Republican then was roughly as conservative as Indiana’s Richard Lugar is today. Now, though, Lugar is one of the few remaining GOP moderates, which makes him a prominent target for the party’s emboldened conservative base. According to an analysis of roll-call votes, the GOP has moved dramatically away from the center on economic policy since the early 1970s, with the House making a greater shift than the Senate. And, yes, the ideological swing has been larger for Republicans than for Democrats.

Back in those golden days of Barry Goldwater, one of his Republican rivals in the Party was George Romney (father of Mitt Romney), who was popular because he was generally seen as a moderate (especially in comparison to Goldwater). Hacker and Pierson’s column about the elder Romney is intriguing and interesting and paints a clear picture of how far to the extreme right conservative politics in America has swung. Woe to the nation!

In the ’64 primaries, the New York Governor, Nelson Rockefeller, often talked about Goldwater’s “extremism.” In the presidential campaign, Lyndon Johnson often referred to him with the same language.

Today, I yearn for such moderate conservatism. Back then I never dreamed I would get to such a place.

Goldwater died in 1998. I can remember being greatly saddened by the news. We didn’t have bad feelings for opposition politicians in those days. Republicans and Democrats were civil to each other and didn’t attack each other as evil doers. It was a different and far better time in politics.

It does me absolutely no good to yearn for the good old days; but as my parents did it in the days of my youth, now I find myself doing it in the days of my children’s and grandchildren’s youth. The politics of these days is burdensome and tiring to me; but maybe that’s merely because of my age.

Back in ’64, while we waited for the returns to come in on that November evening, there was no suspense. Everyone, including Goldwater, knew that Lyndon Baines Johnson would win. It’s difficult to believe now how intensely the Democrats had gone after Goldwater as a radical conservative who was the leader of a right-wing conservative movement that could possibly lead us all into a nuclear war and might destroy the greatest social welfare idea in history (the Social Security system).

Yet, when the 80s came along in America, there was Barry Goldwater refusing to buy the rhetoric of the new Right Wing of the Republican Party. He was afraid of their ideas about limiting the power of the Courts and how dangerous that might be to the concept of balanced powers. The new, more radical conservative movement had begun and Goldwater didn’t like it.

At the time of Goldwater’s death, the President of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton, said of him: “He was truly an American original. I never knew anyone quite like him.” Clinton went on to call Goldwater “a great patriot and a truly fine human being.”

Indeed, he was!

Why not become a follower?
If you read my blog regularly, why not become a follower? All you have to do is click in the upper right hand corner and establish a simple means of communication. Then you'll be informed every time a new blog is posted here. If all that's confusing, here's Google's explanation of how to do it! If you don’t want to post comments on the blog, but would like to communicate with me about it, send me an email if you’d like.

1 comment:

  1. Age has nothing to do with it - the politics of these days is burdensome and tiring.