The Conscience of a Conservative
Blue Cross and Private Health Insurance Coverage of Older Americans [Medicare] Committee on Aging, U.S. Senate, together with Minority and Individual Views by Senators Dirksen, Goldwater, Carlson, and Fong.
Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, the War on Poverty Bill together with minority and individual views by Senators Goldwater, Tower, Javits, and Prouty. 88th Congress 2d S ession, Report No. 1218
These works, by Arizona’s leading political scientist, seem to be a must this summer, though not for reading aloud at public meetings in Harlem. There they might unwittingly prove as unsettling as Malcolm X. Take the chapter in The Conscience of a Conservative which sets forth the evils created by the Welfare State. “One of the great evils of Welfarism,” Senator Goldwater wrote, “is that it transforms the individual from a dignified, industrious, self-reliant spiritual [his italics] being into a dependent animal creature without his knowing it.” This launches an original theory for the high incidence of juvenile delinquency and narcotics addiction in Negro ghettoes.
How much of the credit for all this should go to Senator Goldwater is not easy to determine. A Jefferson, a Lincoln, or a Wilson may be reconstructed from his writings. What a public figure today is supposed to have written may sometimes be less revealing than the men he picked to ghost-write it for him. In the Introduction to Why Not Victory? Senator Goldwater admitted with engaging candor that Brent Bozell “was the guiding hand” in writing his earlier book, The Conscience of a Conservative. L. Brent Bozell was co-author with William F. Buckley, Jr., of McCarthy and His Enemies, the leading defense of the late Inquisitor. Bozell is the right wing of Buckley’s rightwing weekly, National Review. He has moved down in recent years from an editor to a contributor. His enthusiasm for Franco Spain and his predilection for holy war and statism may have proven a little gamey even for the tastes of Buckley’s “conservatives.”
The introduction to Why Not Victory? gives credit for help on that book to a longer list, including Buckley, Russell Kirk, and Dr. Gerhart Niemeyer of the University or Notre Dame. Dr. Niemeyer fights the cold war as if he were reliving the bitterest controversies of medieval theology. He writes with the pedantic fury of a Thomist attacking William of Occam and Nominalism, with which he identifies modern Positivism and links the evils of Liberalism. It is hard to believe that Goldwater could follow Dr. Niemeyer’s intricate polemics more than fifteen minutes without propping up his eyelids. But he writes that this dogged casuist’s “views on the Communist War have proved an invaluable help in my research.” At one point Goldwater refers to himself metaphorically as a cripple: “These are but a few of those who provided me with the crutches I so badly need…The fight for conservatism requires the thoughts and the efforts of many.” Another collaborator who turned up at the convention was Karl Hess, author of those phrases in the Goldwater acceptance speech which defended extremism, a subject on which he can claim to be an expert, after long association as editor and organizer with extremist publications and movements, including Counter Attack, which compiled the blacklist of suspected Leftists in the entertainment industry; the American Mercury, during its degenerate latter years under Russell Maguire; and the liaison committee for anti-Communist groups set up by the evangelist, Billy James Hargis in 1963. It’s nice to know that Goldwater would bring to the White House experience in mobilizing such expertise.
Goldwater’s two books, and these two post-Convention minority reports in which he opposes Medicare and the President’s anti-poverty program, provide a comprehensive picture of the ideas on which he will campaign. They are, if the Senator will excuse the expression, the fruits of collective enterprise; to be read, by his own admissions; as a composite creation, the reflection as much of a movement as of a man. The man himself is curiously indistinct. His advisers try to discourage newspaper interviews because he has proven notoriously capable of expressing quite contradictory opinions on the same subject in the course of the same interview. His one press conference before the nomination at San Francisco was the only press conference of which no transcript was made; his aides handled the one tape recording as if top secret. After a long history of foot-in-mouth trouble, they would like him to campaign, if that were possible, not just from a front porch, like Warren Gamaliel Harding, with whom he shares many intellectual characteristics, but from a sound-proof room. Remarks which coming from any other man would seem sinister often have a quality of innocence when uttered by Goldwater; the man has an extraordinary gift for not realizing what he’s saying.
To read these works after attending the Republican convention in San Francisco makes them more understandable and gives them a fresh interest. Most newspapermen, myself included, were surprised to find that the bulk of his supporters were solid citizens, not the “kooks” or little old ladies in tennis shoes we had been led by the California primary campaign to expect. Most of them were unmistakably upper class, country club, suburbanite America. The inner core of his support is from a section which likes to think of itself as rugged and “frontier” because Western and Southwestern. But the covered wagons in which it travels are Cadillacs and its wide open spaces have been air-conditioned. These Lone Rangers, like Goldwater in his ten-gallon Stetson, seem strictly dude ranch. Their idealized image of themselves, molded perhaps by too long an addiction to TV Westerns, may have affected their foreign policy views. Even the Southern Republican contingent in private interviews put a stronger foreign policy second only to fiscal responsibility—i.e., spending less money—among the urgent issues of the campaign, ahead of civil rights. It would be a mistake to believe their views are uniformly belligerent, or necessarily sanguinary. But to a man they seem to see the world with the pristine purity of Wagon Train, where good and evil are sharply and unmistakably juxtaposed and the hero’s six-shooter brings the triumph of justice at the end of each episode. Like Goldwater in Why Not Victory? they do not understand why a quick draw with the H-bomb cannot in the same way cow the wicked and pacify the world. The desire, not for war, but for a showdown with the Communists, was evident in almost all my talks with the Goldwaterites at the convention.
Although Rockefeller was not warmly received, another liberal Republican was cheered, albeit posthumously. Abraham Lincoln’s lack of moderation on the race issue threatened the party’s hopes of carrying the South, but speaker after speaker resolutely acknowledged him as the father of the G.O.P. The candidate, too, refused to disown his humble origins. Goldwater risked loss of the Jewish vote by admitting he was half Episcopalian. The biased radical Eastern press never credited these courageous manifestations of conservative conscience. Not a single columnist or TV commentator considered the possibility that the booing of Rockefeller might only have been a vestigial outburst of Western Populism. One of those present, the Texas radical, H. L. Hunt, went so far as to suggest in a letter to the San Francisco Chronicle that Wall Street’s moneyed oligarchy was stacking press and polls against Goldwater. We have indeed reached a sorry pass when an oil multimillionaire is driven to adopt the language of William Jennings Bryan.
But these, more seriously speaking, were mere lapses of language. Judged by the sources from which the respective factions drew their funds, the party schism was a conflict between the new money of the oil fields, raw and impetuous, and the old money of the Eastern counting houses, which is sophisticated and wearily reconciled to the Welfare State. It bore no relation to Populism, except in geography. Goldwater’s works show no kinship whatsoever with “the sons of the wild jackass,” as Senate conservative Republicans a generation ago dubbed their maverick Populistic Republican colleagues from a West which was then not at all affluent. Nor does Goldwaterism derive from Lincoln, despite the pious tributes paid him at the Convention. Lincoln’s letter of 1859 gibing at the Democrats for abandoning Jefferson by putting property (in slaves) ahead of liberty and boasting that Republicans put “the man before the dollar” would be regarded as subversive by the Goldwaterites, for whom property comes first, a nose ahead of God.
Their objection to the Welfare State is that it takes from them and gives to the poor. Liberalism advocates Welfarism as the only effective way to combat Communism. But the Goldwaterites object to Liberalism as being liberal with their money. The ideological barricade thrown up by The Conscience of a Conservative is to deny “that a man’s politics are determined by the amount of food in his belly.” For them man is a spiritual being and therefore, presumably, can live on wind. “A man’s politics are, primarily, the product of his mind,” Goldwater writes in The Conscience. “Material wealth can help him further his political goals, but it will not change them.” Hamilton and Madison in The Federalist Papers were more frank. “Those who hold and those who are without property,” they wrote, “have ever formed distinct interests of society.” The people, for Hamilton, were “a great beast” and government was to protect the propertied classes from them. Conservatism, whether Federalist or Whig, was openly anti-democratic down to Jackson’s time when Chancellor Kent could still attack free public education and universal manhood suffrage as a menace because (as he argued) the poor if taught to know their interests and given the right to vote would vote themselves the property of the rich.
These are the authentic springs of Goldwaterism. They also help to explain the sinister alliance within it of those who want less government and crypto-Fascists who want more. If the former can’t dismantle the Welfare State, then many of them are prepared, with the latter, for a strong, harsh hand to protect them from the creeping socialism they see implicit in democracy. Goldwater himself in his wooly way has expressed both tendencies. In The Conscience of a Conservative he deplored “our tendency to concentrate power in the hands of a few men.” But on ABC-TV’s Issues and Answers he once said, “I don’t object to a dictatorship as violently as some people do because I realize that not all people in this world are ready for democratic processes. If they have to have a dictator in order to keep Communism out, then I don’t think we can object to that.” This is the classic excuse for Fascism.
Neither Goldwater nor most of his followers are Fascist—yet just such solid but confused citizens were carried along by a strange tide in just such a direction in Italy and Germany. Their insecurities make them easy prospects for the wilder and wilier men in the Goldwater movement. Anti-democratic purposes cannot openly be avowed for fear of alienating not only votes outside but many within the movement. So extremism in the defense of property is cloaked as zeal in the defense of liberty. The most recent antecedent of Goldwaterism was the American Liberty League; in the 1936 campaign it sold the same line of anti-Welfarism in the name of anti-Communism. When Goldwater argues, with Dirksen and Carlson in their minority report against Medicare, that public health insurance would interfere with “the desire of older people to live independently and with maximum freedom of choice” it sounds like a cracked record of that earlier oratory against the New Deal. So does the Goldwater-Tower minority report against the President’s War on Poverty program. They protest that taking youngsters from the slums and putting them into a Job Corps would “consciously weaken the family relationship which has been the backbone of our free society for hundreds of years.”
In 1936, only Vermont and Maine bought this sanctimonious nonsense from the Republicans. The GOP might do better this time. They count on exploiting racism at home and frustration abroad. They are helped by thirty years of steady indoctrination in the belief that the Marxists are wizards. It is sometimes hard to tell in our country where the solid citizenry’s belief in a world-wide Communist conspiracy ends and paranoia begins: At San Francisco “Independent Americans for Goldwater” opened a headquarters of its own and brought under one roof a wide variety of far-out and far-gone splinter groups. Its impresario was Kent Courtney, a high-pressure salesman type who described himself as a Citizens Council member from New Orleans and a member of the Birch Society. The literature table cried out for the services of a psychiatrist. Pamphlets were available proving Rockefeller was the tool of an international socialist conspiracy and Nixon was soft on Reds. Goldwater himself sees plots at home and plots abroad; the graduated income tax is a plot and disarmament is a plot. One of the most diabolic in his opinion, as an Air Force Reserve Major General, is the plot to muzzle those “cold war seminars” jointly run by rightists and military men which Fulbright attacked in 1961. The Goldwater books faithfully follow the line of those seminars, particularly in denouncing that “craven fear of war” which has lamentably emerged in the wake of Hiroshima. Goldwater devotes an angry chapter to this in Why Not Victory? He blames the scientists and scolds them for their “guilt complex,” “their humanitarian distaste for the bomb,” and their “presumptuousness and conceit” in telling the generals what to do. Goldwater claims he would “holler just as vehemently” if the situation were reversed and the military were “encroaching on diplomatic territory, mouthing dangerous philosophies and trying to muzzle the scientists.”
Goldwater thinks world victory would be relatively easy. First we must “persuade the enemy that we would rather follow the world to Kingdom Come than to consign it to Hell under Communism.” Then we should, he believes (like the Birchites), use the methods of the Communists against them. “I would suggest,” he writes in Why Not Victory?, “that we analyze and copy the strategy of the enemy; theirs has worked and ours has not.” To advocate communism-in-reverse is a novel form of conservatism. Goldwater’s effort to sell it in the coming campaign will test the country’s sanity. I believe that despite “backlash,” white and black, the truly conservative and the more civilized will prove the majority, as they did in the Senate when McCarthy was censured, over Goldwater’s protest.
Stone on LBJ September 24, 1964