Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Goldwater by, Lee Edwards

From its present state, its hard to imagine how small, how irrelevant, how insignificant conservatism was in the early 1950's. National Review did not exist, the future editor of The American Spectator was only a boy. There were no conservative think tanks - no Heritage Foundation, no Cato Institute, no Center for Strategic and International Studies. There was no talk radio. There were only a handful of conservative intellectuals and their works; F.A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom was the most quoted source. In 1951, William F. Buckley, Jr. made a big splash with God and Man at Yale, but not much had been heard from him since (he founded NR in 1955). In short, it seemed as though liberalism would be the dominant ideology for years to come.  This is the climate in which Barry Goldwater was elected to the Senate for the first time in 1952.

Lee Edwards' Goldwater: The Man Who Made A Revolution traces Goldwater's career and shows how the seeds of Ronald Reagan's victory and the 1994 Republican Revolution were sown in Goldwater's historic defeat at the hands of LBJ in 1964. He shows that Goldwater was a man who stuck to his principals (rather than playing politics), and inspired a generation plus of conservatives to speak out for what they believed in.

Goldwater is more a political biography than a personal one.  Edwards starts with tracing how the Goldwater family came to America and Barry's early life, leading to his decision to run for the Senate in 1952. From then on, he goes into great detail about the 1964 campaign and the Senator's dealings with various presidents (from LBJ to Carter) after his return to the Senate.  I wish there was more time spent on Goldwater the man, but what's here is very interesting.

Goldwater described himself as a "Jeffersonian", by which he meant he adhered to five basic principles:

1) individualism, stemming from the belief in the ability of man to govern himself
2) republicanism, reflecting a faith in the people and a conviction that government should be kept close the people
3) anticentralism, based on a distrust of executive power and the protection of the rights of the individual states
4) strict constructionism, that the government has only the powers prescribed to it in the Constitution
5) frugality and simplicity, calling for economy of government, paying of debts, and the cutting of taxes.

During his 30 years in the Senate, Goldwater said the better legislator was one who repealed laws rather than passed them.  This reminds me of Calvin Coolidge's famous statement "It is much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones".  Goldwater also gave the best definition of conservatism I've ever heard; one that modern politicians would do well to learn. The conservative approach, he said, "is nothing more or less than an attempt to apply the wisdom and experience and the revealed truths of the past to the problems of today."

When we read about the past, we often find similarities in what has happened to what is happening today. Life, and politics, is nothing if not cyclical.  In July 1953, the administration wanted to increase the debt limit and Goldwater, then a freshman Senator, took to the floor to argue against it.  He felt it was Congress's job to say to the administration that it cannot spend money because the people don't have it. He warned his colleagues of the perils of deficit spending, something we don't bat an eye about these days.

In 1963, a group of influential Republicans formed a Draft Goldwater committee. They ginned up support across the country in an effort to get Goldwater nominated for President.  There were several large rallies held, including ones at New York's Madison Square Garden and a July Fourth rally in Washington, D.C.  The rally in D.C. was described like this:
It was a typical Goldwater crowd.  There were little old ladies in tennis shows, truck drivers with tattoos, professors who read Mises rather than Keynes, right-wingers who were convinced that Wall Street and the Kremlin were conspiring to run the world, Southern whites who had faith in the Cross and the Flag, retired people on Social Security who were worried about inflation, Westerners tired of catering to Easterners, anticommunists demanding action against Cuba and Khrushchev, small businessmen fighting a losing battle against government rules and regulations, readers of The Conscience of a Conservative, high school and college rebels looking for a cause - all of them believing that it was possible to solve problems as America had in the past...without federal bureaucrats.
That description reminds me very much of the present day Tea Party movement.

Goldwater presents a fuller picture of the times in which the man lived and his lasting impact on the country. By speaking plainly and sticking to principle, Goldwater was like a modern day Jeremiah. But, unlike other Old Testament prophets, Goldwater was able to see his ideas vindicated a mere sixteen years after his crushing defeat.

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