Barack Obama has recently gained the support of conservative defectors, including several of the late Barry Goldwater’s kin. C.C. Goldwater, the 1964 Republican nominee’s outspoken granddaughter, said the “Republican brand has been tarnished.” This begs the question: Which candidate would Barry Goldwater really have supported? Rather than take anyone else’s word on this, I dusted off and re-read my copy of Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative. With all due respect, C.C. Goldwater and the Obamacons should do the same.
Barry Goldwater might have — no, surely would have — criticized many of the policies of George W. Bush and John McCain. However, Goldwater would have objected that neither has remained true enough to conservative ideology. President Bush has overspent federal tax dollars and presided over a breathless expansion of government. McCain has advocated proposals like a $300 billion federal-mortgage-purchase plan and sponsored campaign finance reforms that limit free speech by curtailing campaign contributions.
Nonetheless, there is little question that Goldwater would have shuddered at Obama’s agenda and likely preferred the man who succeeded him in the Senate. Do not take it from me; take it from Goldwater’s own words.
Barry Goldwater, recognizing the disingenuousness and opportunism of politicians like Obama, wrote, “Where is the politician who has not promised his constituents a fight to the death for lower taxes.” Goldwater opposed the growth of the welfare system and the tendency to tax success, calling the graduated income tax “a confiscatory tax.” When he denounced the aim of the progressive tax “to bring down all men to a common level,” he was opposing the premise behind Obama’s promise “to spread the wealth around.”
Goldwater was an ardent advocate of states’ rights and acknowledged even in his time that neither Democrats nor Republicans truly were committed to that principle. While C.C. Goldwater recently wrote that her grandfather “would never suggest denying a woman’s right to choose,” I would argue that that the pro-choice Barry Goldwater was far more principled than to read his personal views into the Constitution. The Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade was a federal intrusion into issues properly left to the 50 states. Goldwater often saw the expansion of federal power as a contraction of freedom.
Mr. Conservative also supported a “prompt and final termination of the farm subsidy program” and opposed “the enormous economic and political power now concentrated in the hands of union leaders.” Meanwhile, Obama supports farm subsidies and endorses the highly problematic ethanol program. His central labor proposal is to deny workers secret ballots in union-representation elections, thereby increasing Big Labor’s power and possibly their use of coercive organizing tactics.
Goldwater opposed free federal health care, arguing, “I am unaware of any moral virtue that is attached to my decision to confiscate the earnings of X and give them to Y.” He was not opposed to the notion of helping the less fortunate. To the contrary, he strongly advocated generosity and charity at the private level. He opposed the bureaucracy and wastefulness of federal education, favoring instead more accountability, not more money.
However, more than anything else, Goldwater would have supported John McCain over Obama because of the key foreign-policy differences that separate this year’s nominees. Goldwater realized that “American freedom has always depended, to an extent, on what is happening beyond our shores.” During the Cold War, he recognized that because the Soviet Union’s goal was hegemony, we were at war with the Kremlin. He was disenchanted that U.S. leaders “[had] not made victory the goal of American policy.”
“Victory” is a word rarely uttered by Obama, who seems far more interested in restoring America’s reputation in Western Europe and the Middle East than in winning the War on Terror, along with the War in Iraq. Goldwater felt that war was a necessary evil at times, and he even opposed certain negotiations with the Soviets, arguing that “there is harm in talking under the present conditions.” I wonder what he would have thought about Obama’s proposal to sit down with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Goldwater was skeptical of the United Nations, and he said, “Peace has never been achieved, and it will not in our time, by rival nations suddenly deciding to turn their swords into plowshares.” He would have realized that Western society is engaged in a war, both real and ideological, with Islamofascists, and it is a war in which victory is the only good option.
John McCain is no Barry Goldwater, but there is little doubt that Goldwater would have embraced him over Barack Obama. Goldwater once said that “moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” To those Republicans suddenly jumping ship, he might have said that fecklessness in the face of danger is no virtue, either.