The Perfect Microcosm
by Happy Daze
A perfect sampling is a rare occurrence. Variance alone will see to that. In the casino game of Baccarat, I can tell you that if an 8 deck shoe is played out there will be, on average, 75 hands dealt in which a Banker or Player decision wins. 38 of those will be Bank, 37 Player. Again, on average. You could go through a thousand shoes and not see the distribution play out.
The current Republican Primary is one of those once in a lifetime examples of the sample being accurate. The perfect microcosm. Romney, Santorum, Paul and Gingrich all represent the current and historical segments of the GOP. Where it is, and how it got there.
Frontrunner Mitt Romney represents the old East Coast Establishment of which Goldwater and Nixon complained. Ivy League. Wealthy. Country Club. Patrician. Moderate. The only reason they’re not Democrats is because they’d have to hang out with the poor and minorities. If the Whig Party was still around, they’d be members. The only reason I don’t say that he is the reincarnation of Nelson Rockefeller is because he is the actual issue of George Romney. Mitt gets it honest. It’s in his blood. Or upbringing. Or both.
Speaking of Nelson Rockefeller, he looked like a shoo-in to be the GOP nominee in 1964. Barry Goldwater, carrying the torch of Robert Taft, said “My ass!” Literally, that’s what he said. OK, I don’t really know that for a fact, but for those who knew Goldwater, they wouldn’t be surprised if he had. Anyway, there had been a movement at the Convention in 1960 to draft Goldwater, but he gave them his famous “grow up conservatives” speech. They did, forming a grass roots effort that would propel him to the nomination four years later.
Ron Paul is this generation’s Barry Goldwater. None of the other candidates can make that claim. Goldwater was a non-interventionist at heart who only supported the Cold War “with a heavy heart,” realizing, rightly or wrongly, the unique nature of the Soviet threat. He had a libertarian streak a mile long, supporting drug legalization, gays in the military, abortion, and states’ rights. He railed against the takeover of the GOP by the Christian Coalition, and before his death said that the conservative movement in the GOP was dead.
Of course, Goldwater got his butt handed to him in 1964. However, the conservatives took control of the party, culminating in the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and they’ve controlled the party ever since.
At least that’s the popular version. In reality, the “conservatives” have never controlled the party. I’m an old fashioned guy who thinks that whoever coined the phrase gets a say in how it’s defined. The old limited government, constitutionalist, 10th amendment, non-interventionist, hard money, anti-New Deal, honest to god conservatives have always been a minority. Sure, the GOP has paid lip service to conservatism when it’s convenient, but today’s GOP has co-opted that term and bears no resemblance to its essence.
What actually happened in 1964 was that the East Coast Establishment lost control of the party. Where the Establishment Republicans had resembled Democrats in all but name, the new breed of Midwestern, Southern, and Western Republicans believed that the country had been soft on Communism. They not only saw the Communist threat in terms of foreign policy, but also as a war for the heart and soul of America. They were the consummate Cold Warriors. It really was the only plank in their platform. Other issues obtained importance only in relation to it. Civil Rights? An attempt by the Left to stir up minorities. Feminism? An attempt by the commies to destroy the traditional family structure. A War On Drugs was declared to combat the socialist influence of narcotics. The MPAA and FCC would do everything in their power to fight the anti-American messages in music, film, and television.
I like to call this the “asshole” wing of the party. Richard Nixon became their standard bearer in 1968 and 1972. He created the EPA, OSHA, imposed wage and price controls, took the U.S. off the Gold Standard and proudly proclaimed “We are all Keynesians now.” Hardly Robert Taft.
Newt Gingrich is the Richard Nixon of this generation. He talks of being a conservative, but his record has jumped all over the place. Just as Nixon and others saw a chance to take control of the party when opportunity arose, so did Gingrich. When he came to Congress in 1978 he had been an adherent of “Rockefeller Republicanism.” When Reagan was elected, he saw the changing tide and went with it. Got out in front of it, in fact. He has been a relentless critic of the Left, of the Press, of anyone in his own party that would dare stand in his way. He even isolated Bob Michel to set himself up for the Speaker’s position after the 1994 elections.
Of course, we don’t have the Cold War anymore. Now we have the Global War On Terror. Newt is willing to attack anyone who ever had anything bad to say about America, including other Americans. It is the focal point of his philosophy. He has declared that the war was a result of American weakness, and he holds the Left responsible. Therefore, he must destroy the Left, and his positions aren’t born of conviction FOR something, but opposition TO something. Still don’t like the Nixon comparison? Nixon said that when the President does it, it’s not illegal. Newt has said that the greatest impediment to governing is the Constitution. He wasn’t saying it like it was a good thing. It’s interesting that Nixon came to fame via the House Un-American Activities Committee. Hell, we’re all against being un-American. The problem is that he couldn’t define what America was, other than “great.” Same as Newt. It’s a belief based on an undetermined premise. Almost a circular logic. We’re great because we’re Americans. And Americans are inherently great. American Exceptionalism, which apparently means we can do anything we like, including murder a million innocent Muslims and expect the rest to be understanding. And if they’re not? Kill them too.
Which brings us to Santorum. He also believes in American Exceptionalism, but he is the lone social conservative in the race. Many Democrats and Independents incorrectly identify all or even most Republicans as social conservatives, but as a former Republican I can assure you it’s not the case. Plus, the numbers don’t bear that out. Romney pays lip service to faith, and may even be devout personally, but he doesn’t run on it. Paul is a devout Baptist, but is vehement about the First Amendment, on both sides. Gingrich may or may not be a social conservative, but like Nixon, is more concerned with power and realizes that social issues are a loser in the general election, and steers clear of it. Looking at the numbers, the social conservatives comprise just a third of the GOP. Yet they have to be considered if you’re a Republican candidate for President.
How the social conservatives came to represent such a powerful block in the GOP has always been confusing. Some like to point to the “Fusion” ideology of Frank Meyer, going back to the late 50’s/early 60’s. I’m skeptical. But I do know that after the New Left took over the Democratic Party in 1972, many fundamentalists and evangelicals felt isolated. At least the GOP wasn’t hostile to them, so they started a slow drift to the right. All I know is this. In 1976, evangelicals largely supported Jimmy Carter. By 1984 it was Ronald Reagan. Some think that Reagan actively courted them before 1980. “Active” is doubtful. In 1980 Reagan vehemently opposed a bill in California that would have prevented homosexuals from holding jobs in education and health care. A few years later he didn’t want to touch anything with the “gay” label. By 1988, with the impressive showing of Pat Robertson in the primaries, the social conservatives had become a force to be reckoned with.
So the big question is, how did the term “conservative” go from being nearly synonymous with “libertarian” to being synonymous with gay-baiting, porn banning, and forced prayer in schools? The answer? Politics as usual. Politics isn’t about a coherent philosophy. It’s about winning, and that requires building a coalition. And coalitions are never among people who agree;why else would they have to be built? For example, there are a ton of blue collar white union members in the Democratic party that could care less about minority, gay, and women’s issues, in fact disagree with their party’s stance, but they believe they’re voting their interest. Jewish Americans vote Democratic 75-80 percent of the time, as do 90 percent of black Americans, but 30 percent of black Americans polled express distrust and hatred of Jews. Yet the Democrats have built a successful coalition.
The Republicans are no different. After the Goldwater revolution in 1964, the only real Goldwater type Republican to represent the GOP was Reagan (although his true ideological foundations are debatable). Looking back, his election was the result of two things, none of which was the GOP’s overwhelming acceptance of conservatism. The obvious was the absolute mess of the late 70’s. The people were ready for anything but Carter. The other was the energy of the “real” conservatives in the primary, which caught the GOP off guard. They’ve never let it happen again. Kemp represented the free market side in 88. Buchanan, while not a Goldwater conservative, was a non-interventionist who ran in 92 and 96. Forbes’ flat tax proposal was intriguing, and he ran in 96 and 2000. Ron Paul is the closest thing we have to Goldwater, and he ran in 08 as well as this cycle. None won. None got the support of the party establishment.
My own assessment is that the GOP, after 1964, realized they couldn’t win without the Goldwater wing. However, instead of merely compromising and adopting some policies, the party bosses went one step further and adopted the “conservative” label as a marketing tool. Why not? Conservative is a nice, safe tag. Better than “Patronizing Elitist”, “Belligerent Warmongerer,” or “Religious Dictator.”
Real conservatives have never controlled the party, and Ron Paul’s dogged persistence is highlighting the historical divisions and contradictions within the GOP. Ayn Rand once said something about contradictions not being able to exist within the same man, or the same country. An individual trying to hold contradictory ideas will go insane, and a country trying to do the same will implode. The same thing applies to a political party. Paul’s campaign has been the catalyst that has boiled down the GOP to its essence for all the world to see. Raw, naked, exposed. I make no predictions as to how this will play out. Whether the GOP will self destruct. Or change. Or if a third party will gain prominence, or even replace them.
It will be interesting to watch.