Goldwater had a philosophy that came from his upbringing, if I remember his memoirs correctly, and he held on to it quite stubbornly to the end. His defeat in 1964 was crucial to the emergence of Reagan sixteen years later. The Economist has a great article that contrasts today’s Republican Party with Goldwater’s views and the GOP comes off looking bad.
It’s a subscriber only article, but I’ll provide a quick excerpt here:
THE Goldwater Institute, a libertarian think-tank based—where else?—in Phoenix, Arizona, contains a striking photograph of the young Barry Goldwater, dressed in girlish clothes and accompanied by a tame monkey. The precise meaning of the photograph—was the monkey borrowed, or a permanent part of the maverick Arizonan’s household?—is lost to history. But for those with a taste for symbolism the photograph raises an intriguing question: is Goldwaterism anything more than an eccentric side-show in today’s Republican Party?
Although he went down to a huge defeat in the 1964 presidential election, Goldwater did as much as anybody to launch the modern conservative movement. Yet everywhere you look, the Republican Party is abandoning his principles.
One reason why Ronald Reagan had such an invigorating impact on his party is that he never allowed the Christian right to gain too much power at the expense of the Goldwater right.
The senator’s conservatism was rooted in small government. But today’s Grand Old Party has morphed into the “Grand Old Spending Party”, as the libertarian Cato Institute dubs it. Total government spending grew by 33% in George Bush’s first term. Goldwater’s hostility to big government also extended to government meddling in people’s private lives. He thundered that social conservatives such as Jerry Falwell deserved “a swift kick in the ass”, and insisted that the decision to have an abortion should be “up to the pregnant woman, not up to the pope or some do-gooders or the religious right”. For Goldwater, abortion was “not a conservative issue at all”. For many Republicans today, it often seems to be the only conservative issue.
This love affair with big government has been inflamed by the experience of power. Ten years ago, the champions of conservatism were anti-government radicals such as Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey. Today they are patronage-wallahs like Tom DeLay. The congressional Republican Party, once a brake on spending, is now an accelerator. Congress trimmed Mr Clinton’s budgets by $57 billion in 1996–2001; in Mr Bush’s first term, it added an extra $91 billion of domestic spending.
Despite this, it would be a mistake to dismiss Goldwaterism as a side-show. The Arizonan would have applauded at least some of Mr Bush’s policies, including his tax cuts, his strong defence of gun rights, and Social Security reform, a cause that Goldwater embraced in the 1960s. He would also have found something to like in some of Mr Bush’s conservative judges-in-waiting, particularly Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown, who have both been vigorous supporters of property rights.
Goldwaterism is also flourishing at the local level, particularly in the west. Thanks in part to the Goldwater Institute, Arizona has taken bigger strides towards school choice than any other state in the union. Last year, Seattle rejected overwhelmingly a do-gooder coffee tax. Florida recently passed a “right to shoot” law, giving citizens the right to shoot people who attack them in the street.
One reason why Ronald Reagan had such an invigorating impact on his party is that he never allowed the Christian right to gain too much power at the expense of the Goldwater right. Messrs Bush and Rove may have to pay more attention to that balance if they are to realise their dream of turning the Republicans into America’s permanent ruling party.
This is all another way of describing the possible split in the Republican Party: some say immigration is the issue and others say a distaste for the religious right’s influence. I see it as being split along the Goldwater lines. I favor immigration, like President Bush, but I'm increasingly uncomfortable with the RR's influence in the party. The Left immediately gave credit to the "values voters" and tried to denigrate the country because of it. Members of the RR were happy to accept credit because it would give them more influence. Don't get me wrong: I'm not one of the hysterics who thinks we are headed for "theocracy", but I do see the Party pandering too much to the RR.
I'm not in total disagreement with the religious right, but my disagreements are real and matter at the voting booth. Again, though, I'm not in total disagreement. For instance, I happen to agree with the religious right that Roe v. Wade should be overturned, but it ends there for me. Returning the issue to the states where it belongs is my goal. I suspect that the RR would be thrilled with a SCOTUS ruling that made abortion illegal in all states, whereas I would not be happy; not at all.
Bush's non-defense, non-homeland-security spending during the first term is still an embarrassment, along with the steel tariffs and the huge farm bill. In this respect, Bush looks a lot like Nixon. Not a flattering comparison, to say the least.
Bush signed McCain-Feingold though it was against his own stated principles (Nixonian also). He massively increased spending on the Department of Education and it’s so large now (over $50 billion) that the only way to get rid of it would be along the lines of welfare reform. He could propose that the Department be abolished and the huge budget spread among the states as block grants. I would be thrilled if this could be done.
If the alternative weren’t so hideous—the Democrats—I would have a hard time voting Republican these days.