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The Liberal Victory

A Liberal is a person who thought Goldwater “might win,” just as in 1936 a Liberal was a person who thought Alf Landon was a “fascist.” But in fact Goldwater got six states and less than 40 per cent of the vote, just as realists had predicted in July. (Landon got two states, as predicted.)

By closing ranks and muffling criticism, however, the Liberals allowed Johnson and Humphrey to spout through a long campaign without explaining what was meant by the words Peace, Education, Urban Reconstruction, War on Poverty, and so forth. They did not embarrass the candidates, or themselves, by asking whether the Great Society did not mean business as usual, only more so. And incidentally they could urge suspending the Negro demonstrations that had some life in them. Predictably, by the end of four months of the United Front against Goldwater, we had the amazing spectacle of Professors, Scientists, and Engineers, and Fellows of the Institute for Policy Studies hailing the “lesser evil” as if he were Gandhi, Talleyrand, and Lorenzo de’ Medici rolled into one.

The actual poll had one heartening factor. From coast to coast there was an unmistakable, though inarticulate, sentiment against nuclear war. It was evident during the spring primaries, when mention of the Test Ban evoked enthusiasm even at Goldwater rallies. It was clear in July that Goldwater had irrevocably ruined himself by his careless talk about the bombs. And in November the pacifism held strong. It seems that Johnson won not only the Women’s Strike but most of the other women, in spite of “disorder on the streets.”

That is, the only sense in which Johnson’s landslide was a mandate—except for business as usual—is that the Americans, like any people who are not insane, will support steps toward disengagement and disarmament. Goldwater’s accurate complaints about our actions in Vietnam met no response because people are cold about Vietnam altogether. Unfortunately, we do not have a commitment that Johnson and Humphrey or the other elected Democrats will take steps toward disengagement and disarmament. But the hour is very late and the overkill is many hundreds.

The novel and significant element in the vote for Johnson was his sweep of the middle-class suburbs, previous Republican territory, even though they still backlashed, when it was possible, just as they adventurously voted for Wallace in the spring. (E.g. in California, Proposition 14, permitting segregated real estate sales, carried by more than 2 to 1, while Johnson won by 3 to 2. The same thing happened locally in Ohio and New York.) As I predicted in 1961, the middle-class suburbs have joined the hard center of the new Liberalism. These people are immensely satisfied and want more of the same.

Let us spell out their program, as it was not spelled out during the campaign, but as we have gotten it and as we shall get it. “Education” means subsidizing schools to train National Science Foundation grade-getters for higher status and salaries in Research and Development, and as professional institutional personel. “Urban Reconstruction” is the cabal of Washington, city party-bosses, real-estate promoters, and automobile manufacturers to destroy neighborhoods and communities for Universities, highways, and shopping-centers. “Agriculture” is the underwriting of chain-grocers and latifundiae, pesticides, the eradication of farmers, and the enclosure of the countryside for motels and resorts. “Political Economy” is the galloping Gross National Product, stepping up TV-advertising, the unchecked aggrandizing of the broadcasting networks (including the bartering away of Telstar), and more highways when there are already too many cars. “Social Welfare” is the proliferation of social engineers and the reduction of whole populations to being permanent clients, and the establishment of isolation-camps for dropouts and other deviants. “Civil Liberties” is more power to the FBI and a Warren Commission report that was a brief for the prosecution of a dead man. And finally “Peace” is the continued accumulation of hardened missile-sites, contracts for new bombers, billions for moon shots. The Americans as a whole might want disarmament, but I venture that the suburbs, Aerospace, General Dynamics, and assorted Ph.D.’s are just as happy with the Cold War. Professors Melman and Benoit assure us that we can reconvert without much economic set-back, but why bother?

In an economy whose structure is already badly distorted, somehow all the remedial measures of the Liberals—whether the tax-cut or the campaign against dropouts—tend to increase the take of the suburban middle-class, the diplomates, the school-monks. Against the beautiful new industries of Universities, Electronics, Social Work, and so forth, the old Republican standbys of Steel and Chambers of Commerce simply could not avail. Aircraft was divided.

I am not being unfair. In the teeth of this magnitude of bucks, one cannot seriously point to the minimum wage of $1.25 (excluding many categories) or 10,000 in the Peace Corps (after three years and $300 million) or the antidiscrimination housing order (applied to a minority of cases). Indeed a good synonym for Liberalism is Tokenism. But where are good neighborhoods or clean rivers, or rural reconstruction, or liberating education, or an effort to improve the quality of the standard of living, to countervail regimenting and brainwashing, to broaden rather than narrow civil liberties? It is insulting to hear these people talk of a Great Society.

Goldwater’s campaign was not disappointing, since it was usually obvious that he was a ventriloquist’s dummy for Air Force officers, state troopers, lilywhite moralists, and tire-slashers. The Populist language that he sometimes seemed to want to speak could not possibly ring true if by “freedom of enterprise’ for the common man he had to mean a system that includes General Motors, U. S. Steel, the State of Mississippi, and Goldwater’s Department Store. In my opinion, in the present system of feudal baronies and the Washington monarchy and bureaucracy, more or less intervention of the Federal government is entirely irrelevant to freedom of enterprise in any human sense.

Nevertheless, Goldwater won two-fifths of the voters. Who were these? It is estimated that a half were ritual Republicans, and moss-backs though there was extraordinary ticket-splitting. A few million were fascists and a few million were certainly northern backlashers whose irritation outweighed their Liberalism. The southern votes speak for themselves. I doubt that many anti-Johnson votes—because of either “corruption” or plain distaste—went to Goldwater rather than to nobody. (Norman Thomas was not running.) My guess, however, is that there were some millions who meant something honorable when they voted for Goldwater, simply because he occasionally said something arresting and important, whereas Johnson said never an honest or interesting sentence. These were conservatives or populists.

Needless to say, Liberals did not believe that anybody could be sincerely conservative or populist. At least, in my experience, during the campaign they showed no signs of listening to or answering any proposition whatever. Yet to earnest people, our society is frightening and entrapping. We are rather steadily heading toward 1984. The over-commitment to ill-considered feats of engineering and methods of social-engineering is suffocating and fantastically wasteful of wealth and human beings. Excessive urbanization creates the symptoms of a population explosion while vast beautiful areas of the country are depopulating. There is rising anomie, permanent dependency, disorder on the streets, but the Liberal remedies, like the reactionary repressive remedies, make these things worse. For most people, freedom to initiate and decide has quite vanished; people are turned into personnel. We do not have democratic process but democracy-by-consent. The best youth are dissenting, para-institutional, even para-legal, Most of the acute social criticism is aimed at precisely the Liberal organization society; and there are few, if any, writers who would justify that society. The baroque nation-states are obviously inadequate to the facts of life, yet no major candidate dares face up to this reality.

Such are some of the problems—plain, gross—that might worry either earnest conservatives or Jeffersonian democrats. They deserved a candidate who would have concrete proposals to meet them. Goldwater was not that candidate, but I think that we still need a campaign that offers a choice and not an echo.

Nobody has asked me, but let me offer some free advice to the two Parties.

At the present juncture, the Republicans would do well to latch onto Robert Theobald’s Guaranteed Decent Income as a constitutional right—perhaps in the form of “Jobs or Income,” paying adolescents to be in school or to do useful but non-economic work in neighborhoods, and underwriting small farming. In modern technological and urban conditions, only the Guaranteed Income provides the basis of individual dignity that is essential for a conservative society, yet it allows a system of economic enterprise almost entirely free of governmental regulation, union interference, sociologists and agencies. (The notion that hardship is a necessary economic motivation is simply false.) The national productivity can afford it; indeed, as Henry Ford understood, it demands the purchasing power; and my guess is that Guaranteed Income would be a cheaper arrangement than the present proliferation of welfare. Finally, Theobald’s politics is very like Disraeli’s: initiative and order spring from an elite of wise economists and paternalistic businessmen. Conservatism has classically been—in England, Catholic countries, and even the United States—a coalition of patricians and the dignified poor against the rapacious middle class, sociological experimenters, coolie-labor, etc. This is certainly not the “moderate Republicanism” of Rockefeller or Lodge, but I think Romney or Lindsay might see the point.

Among the Democrats, on the other hand, the true liberals ought to start at once to crack the Party down the middle by fighting for grass-roots democracy; otherwise Liberalism is certainly going to end up as Big Brother. At present, grass-roots means Community Development instead of Social Agencies, lively ward politics to control Federal patronage, decentralization of Federal bureaucracy, Freedom parties like that in Mississippi, the reestablishment of the House of Representatives as the sovereign power. Let me give an example of what I mean. For a couple of months in New York City, Mobilization for Youth acted according to the correct principles of Community Development, namely to help the community to define and work out its own problems, rather making them subservient clients of know-it-all professionals. Naturally this led to immediate collision with vested interests: real estate, the Board of Education, city bosses, press. Soon the Mayor and Washington put a stop to it; they discovered the “subversives” who are inevitable—and probably desirable in any centrally administered social work. But true liberals would come to the rescue and slug it out. I don’t mean Robert Wagner nor Lyndon Johnson nor—I fear—Hubert Horatio.

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