Posted on Wednesday 29 April 2009

I think I’m one of those people who probably ought to keep his mouth shut about the political party thing, having been a fairly reliable Democratic voter for most of my voting life. It didn’t start out that way. My first ever vote was for Barry Goldwater in 1964. I met my now wife not long after that [a rabid Democrat] and she must really have liked me because that vote of mine was a big hurdle for her to go over. But I think I’d vote for him today if the alternative were Lyndon Johnson. It wasn’t about political party. It was about integrity. But that was long ago, and who knows what goes on in the mind of a 22 year old medical student, even if it’s your own mind? Come to think of it, as a sixth grader, I was entranced with Eisenhower. I had no clue about the philosophies of either party. I just couldn’t imagine that people like my mother weren’t going to vote for the General who had saved western civilization. What was she thinking? And I could not for the life of me figure out why he didn’t get to wear his uniform anymore.

Now, it’s different. It’s been different since Ronald Reagan. For me, it was originally about the tax thing. He cut the taxes and kept on spending. The math of that was clear as a bell to me. The National Debt went up like the Rockies and government services went down. How could that work, I thought? Well, it couldn’t work. But it kept them in office for twelve years. I had the distinction between the Party philosophy down pat by then, and during the Reagan years, I began to think that what they said they believed in wasn’t true. Not that I agreed with what they said, but it seemed to me that they didn’t believe it either. When they crowed that he’d beaten the communists by outspending them, I thought they were crazy. They might as well have taken credit for the sun coming up in the morning. I thought communism fell because it was a bad idea, poorly executed. And I thought that Iran Contra was the same as Watergate, a sign of a lack of principles that made me ashamed.

With the ascendancy of Newt Gingrich in 1994, they lost me forever. And if they hadn’t lost me with him, I’d say the same thing about George W. Bush. It makes me question democracy that those two guys got elected to high places. It’s not because of their political party affiliation. It’s because they aren’t people of conviction, particularly Newt. Bush is just "limited." Gingrich is a smart, well-spoken guy wrapped around a reptilian soul. Both are aptly named.

But right now, the Republican Party has moved beyond my comprehension. After eight years of corruption, financial ruin, criminal government, a disastrous set of wars, and almost universal failure in every dimension, they are riding the high horse of self-righteous principles that in no way characterize what they’ve done. They claim they are championing the Conservatism of Barry Goldwater. Here‘s what Barry thought about them:
After his retirement in 1987, Goldwater described the conservative Arizona Governor Evan Mecham as "hardheaded" and called on him to resign, and two years later stated that the Republican party had been taken over by a "bunch of kooks". In a 1994 interview with the Washington Post the retired senator said,
    When you say "radical right" today, I think of these moneymaking ventures by fellows like Pat Robertson and others who are trying to take the Republican party and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye.

In response to Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell’s opposition to the nomination of Sandra Day O’Connor to the Supreme Court, of which Falwell had said, "Every good Christian should be concerned", Goldwater retorted: "Every good Christian ought to kick Falwell right in the ass." Goldwater also had harsh words for his one-time political protege, President Reagan, particularly after the Iran-Contra Affair became public in 1986. Journalist Robert MacNeil, a friend of Goldwater’s from the 1964 Presidential campaign, recalled interviewing him in his office shortly afterward. "He was sitting in his office with his hands on his cane…and he said to me, ‘Well, aren’t you going to ask me about the Iran arms sales?’ It had just been announced that the Reagan administration had sold arms to Iran. And I said, ‘Well, if I asked you, what would you say?’ He said, ‘I’d say it’s the god-damned stupidest foreign policy blunder this country’s ever made!’", [though aside from the Iran-Contra scandal, Goldwater thought nonetheless that Reagan was a good president]. Also, in 1988 during that year’s presidential campaign, he pointedly told vice-presidential nominee Dan Quayle at a campaign event in Arizona "I want you to go back and tell George Bush to start talking about the issues."

Some of Goldwater’s statements in the 1990s aggravated many social conservatives. He endorsed Democrat Karan English in an Arizona congressional race, urged Republicans to lay off Bill Clinton over the Whitewater scandal, and criticized the military’s ban on homosexuals: "Everyone knows that gays have served honorably in the military since at least the time of Julius Caesar." He also said, "You don’t have to be straight to be in the military; you just have to be able to shoot straight." A few years before his death he went so far as to address the right wing,

    "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."
In 1996, he told Bob Dole, whose own presidential campaign received lukewarm support from conservative Republicans: "We’re the new liberals of the Republican party. Can you imagine that?
Rereading this reminds me of why I liked him back then. In private, I’m kind of proud of that vote, though even then I was a ‘librul.’ He was right on target that the Republican Party has been taken over by a bunch of Kooks – in my opinion, unAmerican Kooks and lightweights. They might bring it off again. Who ever knows? But this last round was the worst ever in our history. And their ranting about their principles after that last performance is in the range of tragic-comedy…
    April 29, 2009 | 9:00 AM

    I was a few years older than you during Goldwater’s run for the presidency, and I was immersed in Unitarian social activism and social justice — so we thought LBJ was great with his Great Society programs and his civil rights advocacy.

    I remember my wife and I got invited to a supposedly social evening by a couple we had just met. We were horrified when it turned out to be a political meeting of Goldwater groupies, who seemed not too far removed from John Birchers. At the time, we tended to lump them together, but that was unfair..

    In retrospect, however, I came to respect Goldwater’s integrity and independent thinking. He was the true, principled conservative, perhaps the last of them before the manipulators and the Rovian ilk took over the party.

    Goldwater really earned my gratitude and respect when he took the position on gays in the military (marraige wasn’t even on the radar then, but he would probably support it today.) It turns out that his grandson was gay, and he had a good relationship with him. He might have taken that position anyway, but having a loved one who is gay has changed more positions than all the reason and rhetoric.

    April 29, 2009 | 9:07 AM

    I recall struggling at the time because of the Birchers, the 1960 version of Republicans at their worst. But I just thought Johnson, for all his right policies, was a sleaze. Barry Goldwater was a principled guy. One night on television, he said something about Viet Nam to the effect that we ought to either win or leave. It was widely interpreted that he wanted to “nuke them.” I thought he was just stating the obvious, which I liked. I guess he was my kind of cowboy…

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