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Goldwaterism

There's this narrative out there that goes something like this: Barry Goldwater runs and loses, but in losing the battle he wins the war. The conservative coalition he mobilized takes over the Republican Party in the late 1970s, the presidency in the 1980s, the congress in the 1990s, and then dominates the whole country in the 2000s. This either proves that "conservatives are awesome!" in the rightwing formulation, or that "liberals need a Goldwater moment" in the leftwing formulation. If there were one thing I could accomplish in the realm of changing people's ideas about politics, it would be undermining this narrative somewhat. Brad Delong does some of the work:

Goldwaterism had other consequences: the damage it did to Republican congressional power were the only things that made the Great Society possible: the Johnson-era expansions of the social insurance state and the Nixon and post-Nixon-era expansions of the regulatory state were possible only on congressional foundations that had been created by Goldwater's Samson act directed against the Republican establishment.

To make possible the Great Society--and then to cheer when Ronald Reagan rolls back 10% of it--Goldwaterism was the greatest own-goal and act of political delusion by conservatives in the twentieth century.

Quite so. Meanwhile, George W. Bush, while on the one hand starving the government of revenue has, on the other hand, pretty much gutted small government ideology as both a policy project and even a rhetorical trope.

February 24, 2005 | Permalink

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» Goldwater Redux from Political Animal
GOLDWATER REDUX....Rick Perlstein emails some thoughts about Barry Goldwater, the birth of modern conservatism, and the transformation of modern liberalism — all inspired by the blog discussion that's been going on over the past week about his book Bef... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 2, 2005 4:58:27 PM

» Goldwater Redux from Political Animal
GOLDWATER REDUX....Rick Perlstein emails some thoughts about Barry Goldwater, the birth of modern conservatism, and the transformation of modern liberalism — all inspired by the blog discussion that's been going on over the past week about his book Bef... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 2, 2005 5:00:09 PM

» Goldwater Redux from Political Animal
GOLDWATER REDUX....Rick Perlstein emails some thoughts about Barry Goldwater, the birth of modern conservatism, and the transformation of modern liberalism — all inspired by the blog discussion that's been going on over the past week about his book Bef... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 2, 2005 5:02:39 PM

Comments

As a rhetorical trope?

Where are you?

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis | Feb 24, 2005 3:53:55 PM

"or that "liberals need a Goldwater moment" in the leftwing formulation. If there were one thing I could accomplish in the realm of changing people's ideas about politics, it would be undermining this narrative somewhat."

Hallelujah!

As DeLong correctly notes, there would be no Medicare/Medicaid without the Republicans' lemmings imitation in '64.

And it's also interesting to note that a young and vigorous Reagan could well have been elected President in '68 were it not for the Goldwater debacle, instead of the conservatives having to wait 12 more years until a fossilized Reagan could take over.

Back in 2003, nothing sent chills up my spine as much as Dean supporters arguing that it would be OK if Dean got the nomination and got blown out by 20 points - always citing Goldwater as a positive precedent. Those kinds of elections are how fundamental legislation gets changed in this country.

-----

And can we have a thread on the NBA trade deadline? So many trades...

Posted by: Petey | Feb 24, 2005 3:54:15 PM

The Republican rise to power since the eighties has many, many causes -- so many, in fact, that one could point to almost any big event and build an elaborate justification for that event being the seminal one. Here's a list of potential candidates -- Goldwater, Nixon's Southern Strategy, the civil rights revolution, Reagan, Newt, and on and on.

If left-leaning Democrats ever capture all three branches of government, I'm sure we will be hearing that McGovern's crushing defeat in 1972 was actually the beginning of liberalisms long march to national dominance.

Posted by: Charlie | Feb 24, 2005 3:56:03 PM

Strictly speaking, even if the conservative coallition brought the GOP to power in '94, it lost that power to the party pragmatists shortly thereafter. Call it "The Empire Strikes Back". The conservatives haven't been in control since Gingrich was bounced, even if the people currently in control like to call themselves such.

In fact, you can pin down the exact moment of th loss: When Dole snuck back into Washington during the budget standoff, and with no quorum present, voted with the Democratic leadership to end it. And DIDN'T get removed from his leadership position.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Feb 24, 2005 4:06:16 PM

"In fact, you can pin down the exact moment of th loss: When Dole snuck back into Washington during the budget standoff, and with no quorum present, voted with the Democratic leadership to end it. And DIDN'T get removed from his leadership position."

It's a measure of just how degraded the modern Republican party has become that a loony like Bob Dole was the voice of reason during the budget standoff...

Posted by: Petey | Feb 24, 2005 4:15:16 PM

It's a measure of just how degraded the modern Republican party has become that a loony like Bob Dole was the voice of reason during the budget standoff...

Dole's had his scummy partisan moments....eons...but he's not a loony.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis | Feb 24, 2005 4:32:49 PM

I'm sorry, I am still speechless from Bellmore implying that Tom DeLay is not a conservative but a party pragmatist.

Just kidding. There is a perception of DeLay that fits, but I think he is even more radical than appears, and just believes the Republicans do yet have enough control, and that the country is not yet broke enough, to make the move for the brass ring.

Everyone expects DeLay to be vindicated this year, and SS to lose with consequences. I remain skeptical and pessimistic.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Feb 24, 2005 4:43:06 PM

Winning office is obviously important. and if Goldwater did result in a short term loss of Republican Congressional power that allowed Johnson's Great Society and Nixon's regulations (especially environmental regulations), then he did help the Democrats majorly.

But isn't the point people make about the Goldwater "revolution" that there was this long term cultural backlash that elected Nixon, Reagan, Bush and gave the Republicans eventual control of the Congress.

I'm not saying that this should be applied as a model for the Dems or anything. I'd rather win today. But the Goldwater revolution is important in understanding this cultural backlash politics of how we got where we are today.

Also, I should add into the equation the decline of civic participation that Robert Putnam and Theda Skocpol and others study. The environmental movement was at its hey day back in the Johnson/Nixon era. There were all sorts of poor people's movements and civil rights movements. People were more involved in trying to enact progressive legislation. The decline of citizen involvement (largely due to the rise tv and suburbia) coupled with the Goldwater cultural backlash explains where we are today.

Posted by: Phil | Feb 24, 2005 5:01:37 PM

I'm sure that Dole thought of himself as "the voice of reason". But he reasonably killed the Republicans' last real effort to impose budget discipline. After that, they just gave up on the idea of controlling spending.

So if you think that was a wonderful thing to do, I'm gonna laugh the next time you complain that Republicans don't ballance the budget. They tried, once, after gaining the power to, and got kneecapped from behind by their own Senate leadership.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Feb 24, 2005 5:06:45 PM

"So if you think that was a wonderful thing to do, I'm gonna laugh the next time you complain that Republicans don't ballance the budget. They tried, once..."

So let's see.

For the past 25 years, the official Republican dogma has been that Deficits Don't Matter.

And since their one sincere effort to balance the budget on the backs of the poor failed, we have no one to blame for the fact that one of our major parties believes that Deficits Don't Matter other than Bob Dole?

OK, then.

Posted by: Petey | Feb 24, 2005 5:38:17 PM

So if you think that was a wonderful thing to do, I'm gonna laugh the next time you complain that Republicans don't ballance the budget. They tried, once, after gaining the power to, and got kneecapped from behind by their own Senate leadership.

I'm confused. Didn't Clinton defy conservatives and balance the budget?
Seems to me, whatever it was that Republicans were holding out for in 1996 wasn't critical to fiscal solvency.

Posted by: WillieStyle | Feb 24, 2005 5:56:30 PM

Didn't Clinton defy conservatives and balance the budget? Seems to me, whatever it was that Republicans were holding out for in 1996 wasn't critical to fiscal solvency.

Clinton "balanced the budget" mostly by presiding over a rip-roaring economic bubble. Granted he also raised taxes a bit which didn't hurt.

Posted by: Jeff the Baptist | Feb 24, 2005 6:15:46 PM

"Clinton "balanced the budget" mostly by presiding over a rip-roaring economic bubble. Granted he also raised taxes a bit which didn't hurt."

Good lord.

First of all, why do you put "balanced the budget" in quotes?

And second, it's worth noting that the rip-roaring economy was in large part triggered by Clinton's willingness to undergo short-term pain in '93 and '94 by raising taxes and reigning in spending.

Posted by: Petey | Feb 24, 2005 6:21:48 PM

If conservatives actually did balance their budgets instead of always giving the store any to cronies or patrones, they would have a legitimate mandate to govern.

But, nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnoooooooooooooooooo, force IRS auditors to go after minority single moms.
Meanwhile, Ken Lay still walks around a free man.

Posted by: bartkid | Feb 24, 2005 6:22:37 PM

The reason that modern Republicans have an easier time with the electorate is that they want your money while the Democrats want your soul.

As evident on the abortion thread, Democrats are ready to jump ship if ideological consistency is forsaken. Republicans have no problem putting their fingers to the wind and exploiting hot-button issues, but it's just the patter of a con man while he picks your pocket.

Bush came to office pledging humiliity in foreign policy, simultaneously pandering to Christians and isolationists. But this principle of his was no such thing, just electioneering.

Bush claims to be pro-life, but his one chance to show he had the courage of his convictions, he failed, allowing federal money for stem cell research.

Bush claims to be hard-nosed about ruthless dictators, but he includes China in the WTO.

He HAS succeeded on his real mission: transferring wealth from the middle class to the rich. Suckers.

Posted by: epistemology | Feb 24, 2005 6:48:47 PM

Meanwhile, George W. Bush, while on the one hand starving the government of revenue has, on the other hand, pretty much gutted small government ideology as both a policy project and even a rhetorical trope.

For the moment. But after the economic meltown of that government everybody will be a believer in the same ideology.

Posted by: modus potus | Feb 24, 2005 8:41:19 PM

Its a tempting argument, but I dont' think it matches the historical evidence that well. The real year of disaster for congressional republicans was 1958, not 1964. The Republicans lost a crushing 12 seats in the senate and 51 in the house, leaving them with 35 and 153 respectively. By 1964, they had gained some seats back in the house (177), but none at all in the Senate (33). The Goldwater blowout did
lose them 37 house seats and 1 in the Senate. But the question has to be, just how much better would a Nelson Rockefeller or William Scranton have done against an LBJ riding a wave of popular feeling for JFK? 20 seats better in the House? 25? Would that have been decisive in the historic 89th Congress? If LBJ had had 10 points cut off his '64 victory margin would he have been any less ruthless and effective in seizing his greatest chance for policy reform? The fact of the matter is that the '58 blowout cut the heart out of the old Midwest stronghold of traditional Republicanism, the Republicanism committed to isolationism abroad and a ferocious rearguard action against "socialism" at home, leaving a "me too" Rockefeller wing and an emerging southern and western wing standing. The party had to go one or the other,and its hard to see how Rocky would have really been the guy yelling "stop" at the march of history.

Posted by: rd | Feb 24, 2005 9:04:27 PM

If LBJ had had 10 points cut off his '64

It's important to note that LBJ had the same reelection % as Nixon and Reagan, 60%.

Posted by: Troy | Feb 25, 2005 3:51:42 AM

LBJ was not reelected in 1964, since he was not elected (at least to the presidency) in 1960.

On the point of the post, it should be evident that what has been passing for conservatism since Reagan's election in 1980 has nothing to do with Goldwater-style conservatism. Huge deficits and expanding government is not what Goldwater was advocating.

Posted by: raj | Feb 25, 2005 9:39:40 AM

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Posted by: Mahan Atma | Feb 27, 2005 2:19:51 PM

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