What with the hysteria concerning the just passed sequester, I’ve been thinking about what the late Barry Goldwater — conservative Arizona senator and 1964 GOP presidential nominee — would make of it. So from the bookshelf I liberated (an apt word) my dog-eared paperback copy of The Conscience of a Conservative (The 30th anniversary Regnery Gateway-Young America’s Foundation edition (1990), co-written with L. Brent Bozell, Jr., and with an introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan). I was curious what Goldwater would think of the political machinations of the current president, despite the fact that he never met, nor likely even heard of, Barack Obama; but early in the book, he tells us: “The framers were well aware of the danger posed by self-seeking demagogues – that they meant to persuade a majority of the people to confer on government vast powers in return for deceptive promises of economic gain.”
The president’s background as a graduate of the Saul Alinsky school of Trotskyist community organizing would have horrified Barry Goldwater. Obama’s ideas about the function of government in relation to the private sector make him the anti-Goldwater. Even competing with his liberal antecedents, FDR and LBJ, never has a president worked so hard to transform America in the wrong ways.
Franklin Roosevelt governed a country ravaged by the Great Depression (economic misery that his policies actually exacerbated) that was multi-ethnic, yet was intrinsically American in its hopes and dreams for the future. Lyndon Johnson’s America was recovering from the national horror of the Kennedy assassination, and while Vietnam War and Civil Rights-era turmoil were negative aspects of his tenure, Johnson governed a prosperous and solvent populace that abhorred debt. In the 1960s, you couldn’t buy a home or a car without having the cash, proper credit, or collateral to do it.
Barack Obama governs (if you prefer to call it that) an America that’s in debt from top to bottom. The national debt, the federal deficit, state and local municipal deficits, credit cards, student loan debt, etc., etc. All this cannot be blamed on the current administration, of course; these are poor fiscal habits decades in the making. But never before in American history have we lived so far beyond our means. And, according to the U.S. census, there are 312 million of us doing it, compared to Roosevelt’s approximately 132 million and Johnson’s 195 million. Barry Goldwater would view this state-of-affairs as dangerous to maintaining a nation of laws adhering to our principles of constitutional liberty.
Goldwater was certainly wary of those whom he called the “gentler collectivists,” who offered citizens security in exchange for a small portion of their liberty, causing us to “succumb [to tyranny] through internal weakness rather than fall before a foreign foe.”
In Chapter Seven, titled “Taxes and Spending” (rather cogent considering our contemporary dilemma), Goldwater writes: “We have been led to look upon taxation as merely a problem of public financing: How much money does the government need?” Which has historically meant that the government is always in need of more. He continues: “We have been persuaded that the government has an unlimited claim on the wealth of the people, and that the only pertinent question is what portion of its claim the government should exercise.” Hence the cries from the modern American left that “the rich aren’t paying their fair share.” (My quote). Goldwater plainly states: “I don’t believe in punishing success,” and this view is echoed by the Barry Goldwater of our own time, Rush Limbaugh, who constantly attacks state persecution of “the achievers.”
Goldwater’s warnings found in The Conscience of a Conservative are eerie, considering that his book was published 53 years ago at the dawn of the 1960s, the single decade most responsible for the quasi-dystopia we now find ourselves living in. The author laments that “we are confronted, in fiscal 1961, with a budget of approximately $80 billion” (he was close, it was actually $81 billion). This statement is a jeremiad in that Goldwater was complaining that prominent Republicans through the 1950s, including President Eisenhower and Senator Robert Taft, worked to but failed to keep the budget in the $60 billion range. Eighty billion 1961 dollars is certainly not eighty billion 2013 dollars, but one can only speculate what Goldwater would have thought of our current $3.8 trillion dollar federal budget and its accompanying $901 billion deficit. There is also irony in that the 1961 budget is approximately the size of those dreaded sequester cuts, and that fact is one that Barry Goldwater in 1961 could not begin to comprehend. Though dying in 1998 (disabled by a stroke and Alzheimer’s disease in 1996), Goldwater lived long enough to understand what might be coming.
The collectivists have not abandoned their ultimate goal to subordinate the individual to the State — but their strategy has changed…. They understand that the individual can be put at the mercy of the State — not only by making the State his employer — but by divesting him of the means to provide for his personal needs and by giving the State the responsibility of caring for those needs from cradle to grave.
“Julia” anyone? I’m waiting for some irascible, silver-haired Tea Party guy to show up at a rally dressed in a natty gray suit and wearing a pair of ugly black-framed eye glasses, to have his photograph taken with the other guys dressed like Adams, Jefferson, and Madison. If there were a Mount Rushmore for constitutionalists, Barry Morris Goldwater would certainly be on it. Read The Conscience of a Conservative.