Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The true legacy of "Mr. Conservative"

Someone named Eric Rauchway, of The New Republic, is rather upset. And CBS decided to reprint Rauchway’s little complaint. Rauchway appears to be one of those Left-wing Statists who can’t stomach the idea that anyone who might want to increase individual freedom is getting any positive publicity at all -- even if they are dead.

What has Rauchway so pissed is that the new edition of Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative had an afterward by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and that “Goldwater gets glowing praise from Democrats Edward Kennedy and Hillary Clinton.” Rauchway whines about an “unseemly outpouring of liberal affection for a right-wing icon”. Kennedy even had the audacity to “declare Goldwater ‘a man of principle.’” And no one, who isn’t a raving Leftist, can be a man of principle.

That a Kennedy wrote the afterword is actually fitting. While Goldwater disagreed with JFK on many issues, he planned to run against the man. But he had a great deal of respect for him. And he and the President joked about traveling the country debating one another. Goldwater was horrified when Kenendy was killed and disappointed that he had to run against Johnson, who he considered to be a scoundrel, with good reason.

Rauchway doesn’t get Goldwater. He also doesn’t get the political spectrum. He’s still caught up the antiquated and deficient notion that there is Left and Right and they are the opposites of each other. That idea was debunked decades ago but Rauchway wasn’t told. And that leads to Rauchway making juvenile accusations such as Goldwater “standing well to the right of Adam Smith.”

The reality is that Mr. Smith was a liberal and so was Goldwater. They were true liberals not socialists. The founding giants of liberalism were advocates of limited government. They all wanted to expand social, political and economic freedom. The conservatives opposed that trend, they wanted to protect state power which was basically power for themselves. They were the representatives of the status quo -- the advocates of conserving things precisely as they were. Almost 90 years ago Oliver Brett wrote his masterpiece In Defense of Liberty where he argues quite strongly that socialism is merely another form of conservative power.

During the founding of liberalism thesocialists were nothings. They basically weren’t there. The debate raged between the forces of liberalism and conservatism and in that battle Smith and a host of others like Cobden, Bright, Bastiat, Jefferson, Madison, Turgot, et. al., were with the liberals. Goldwater was in the same tradition. But liberalism scared people. The very idea of allowing people to be free scares the bejesus out of the conservatives. But many people found the liberal goals of economic prosperity, equality of rights and so forth appealing. Out of that was born a reactionary movement that attempted to blend conservative means with liberal goals -- socialism, or what today people like Rauchway erroneously call liberalism.

Rauchway is horrified that Goldwater actually wanted to limit the state, that he didn’t believe in government doing “everything” as the Prohibitionist/Socialist Francis Willard would put it. So Rauchway laments that the evil Goldwater “advocates (sic) cutting welfare, agriculture subsidies, and laws permitting unionizaiton.” Gee, Clinton cut welfare and the results were positive and remain so this many years down the road. And God forbid we don’t subsidize agribusiness and let corporate entities and relatively wealthy farmers live off the taxpayers. Apparently Rauchway believes both rich and poor deserve a piece of the pie.

But the idea that Goldwater wanted to cut “laws permitting unionization” is dishonest. Goldwater was a liberal and believed any individual had the right to join a union if they wished. What he opposed was not laws permitting unions but laws forcing individuals to join them if they didn’t wish to do so. He didn't think unions should be granted rights not afforded to everyone else. Rauchway is apparently as confused about Goldwater’s views as he is about the history of liberalism.

Rauchway then gets downright dishonest, more so than already apparent, and vicious. He tries to distort Goldwater’s view on federalism and convert it into racism. He does acknowledge that “pretty much everyone, including Martin Luther King Jr., Roy Wilkins and Julian Bond is willing to concede that Goldwater was not personally bigoted.” But, he quotes someone claiming that “Goldwater is merely a crowd pleaser.” He is saying that Goldwater took his views on federal versus state powers merely to please the crowd. Apparently Rauchway is unwilling to see Goldwater as being nothing more than a typical politician who will say anything that is popular. The problem is that any moron who has read anything about the 1964 election will know this is just so much bull.

Goldwater said precisely what he felt was right regardless of whether it pleased the crowds or not. If he wanted to be a crowd pleaser he would have run on LBJ’s platform not his own -- precisely what I think Rauchway would have preferred. When Goldwater died the New York Times referred to him as “recklessly candid”. Apparently Goldwater mastered the art of being a recklessly candid crowd-pleaser. Or maybe Mr. Rauchway is just engaging in a smear job?

Rauchway goes even lower, he climbs into the mud and starts flinging it when he says: “Apparently, whatever race-baiting Goldwater encouraged it was not sincere.” So not only was Goldwater merely a crowd-pleaser but he engaged in “race-baiting” to please the crowd even though he was not a racist. In fact, Goldwater was a supporter of the NAACP and had been for years, he made sure the family business in Phoenix was desegregated in the 1930s. And when he founded the Arizona Air National Guard he did so as an integrated organization. And he did so two years before Truman integrated the US military. Goldwater was desegregating when Democrats were still wearing sheets.

Rauchway’s smear heavily depends on Goldwater’s opposition to the Civil Rights of 1964, which Goldwater felt went further than was Constitutionally allowed. Rauchway ignores Goldwater’s support of the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960. That would be inconvenient for the smear job.

Rauchway stretches even further. Goldwater was a well known anti-Communist who said that the US should only “engage the enemy at times and places, and with weapons, of our own choosing.” That statement is called, by Rauchway, a “strategy of aggression”. Rauchway argues that opposing the idea of communism means “you’ve committed yourself to maintain a permanent war footing and a first-strike capacity anywhere at will” and this means you have “no kind of libertarian principles at all.” There is a reason Rauchway isn’t teaching logic.

Real liberals, and progressives alike, have many reasons to be glad for Goldwater. He did hold forth to principles meant to limit state power. He did think that the government was facing a conflict with the Soviets and needed to be prepared -- the Soviets thought the same thing. I was never a hawk and thought the US exaggerated Soviet military might -- in part because the political Left was constantly lying about the power of the Soviet economy. Goldwater’s error was little different from the errors of Democrats like Truman and Kennedy.

Goldwater was often a prophet in the wilderness, especially within the Republican Party. Long before the Left put out a slew of books on the dangers of the Religious Right, Goldwater was opposing them and warning people they were dangerous. In 1989 he warned the Republican Party had been taken over by “a bunch of kooks” and said that ministers like Pat Robertson were trying to turn the Republican Party into a religious organization. He once suggested that Christians “kick Falwell right in the ass.” He told the Republican Right: “Do not associate my name with anything you do. You are extremists, and you’ve hurt the Republican Party much more than the Democrats have.” (And that was well before King George besmirched the Party with his presence.)

Goldwater was always a supporter of choice when it came to abortion. He also was a vocal supporter of allowing gays to serve openly in the military saying: “Everyone knows that gays have served honorably in the military since at least the time of Julius Caesar.” Even today the Democratic top-contenders are shy about the topic. Goldwater was donating money to Planned Parenthood long before Roe v. Wade. He desegregated the family business and the Air National Guard while the Democrats were still wooing the Klan vote. He endorsed measures to legalize medical marijuana. Barry Goldwater has no reason to be ashamed, though Mr. Rauchway can’t say the same.