This relates to the recent posts on conservatism — Ron Chusid of Liberal Values has a post up about Barry Goldwater called â€œMr. Conservativeâ€ Became a Liberal Compared to Todayâ€™s Conservatives.” Which is pretty wild, considerng that Goldwater was considered a right-wing extremist back in 1964. Ron links to another blogger, Jim Lippard, who writes,
In his later life, he was outspoken in his support for a woman’s right to abortion, for gays to serve in the military, and for the religious right to stop pushing their religious views into politics. The film reveals that he supported his daughter obtaining an abortion before Roe v. Wade, and that he has a gay grandson. Several of the more liberal interviewees say that they thought Goldwater became liberal later in life (and some in the audience seemed to have a similar view), but Goldwater himself is shown making a statement that preempts this claim, back in 1963–that he is a conservative, but that at some time in the future people will call his views liberal.
He was a supporter of individual liberty who wanted the government’s role in private life minimized across the board, on both economic and social issues–it wasn’t he who changed, but the political environment that changed.
I don’t want to over-sanctify Goldwater. In the 1964 presidential campaign Goldwater really did call for the bombing of North Vietnam and the dismantling of Social Security. He also engaged in some race-baiting, as I remember. But by the time he retired from the Senate in 1987, the nation’s hot-button issues had changed, and conservatism had moved much further right than it had been in 1964.
On the surface, contemporary conservatism has seemed a patchwork of unlikely allies. I wrote a couple of years ago,
For all its famous message discipline, contemporary conservatism was always an improbable beast made up of myriad political movements with often conflicting agendas. Somehow, the movement patched together small-government conservatives dedicated to limiting the federal government’s ability to encroach on citizens’ lives with social conservatives dedicated to using government power to enforce morally correct behavior. It married isolationist paleo-conservatives to neocons–quoting Ian Welsh, “trotskyites who decided that their utopian vision required an iron fist and spilling a lot of blood, and that the rest of the left wing didn’t have the stomach for it – but that the right could be convinced by appealing to their militarism and worship of strength.”
But it’s really much muddier than that. One of the most common incongruities on the Right is the guy who sings the virtues of “small government” but supports the Patriot Act, warrantless surveillance, black site detentions and the War in Iraq.
Some people aren’t thinking things through.
I keep thinking of what Susan Sontag said about American religion — it’s “more the idea of religion than religion itself.” I think a lot of self-described “conservatives” are into empty rhetoric — liberty, freedom, rule of law — utterly disconnected from what they actually want government to do.
I well remember back in the 1960s, when the nation was roiling over voting rights, desegregation, and other racial equality issues, some right wingers tried to frame racism as purely a moral issue, and government shouldn’t be in the business of enforcing morals. Really, some said that. Now that they think they’re on the side of morality (I disagree) regarding abortion, stem cell research, and gay marriage, they want government to enforce morals.
Ron Chusid continues — and I’m not sure about this —
There has been a considerable change in definition of liberal versus conservative in recent years. Social issues and views on Iraq have largely replaced economic issues in separating liberals versus conservatives. Goldwater would clearly be on the liberal side on social issues. Without having him around to ask directly we can only speculate where the old cold warrior would stand in Iraq. My bet is that his response to Bush for invading Iraq following 9/11 would be, â€œYou idiot, you attacked the wrong country.â€
What do you think? I think economic issues will be huge in the 2010s.