Political Animal


March 21, 2013 12:23 PM The 50-Year March

By Ed Kilgore

I’m glad there’s a renewed interest in reassessing the Iraq War thanks to this week’s Tenth Anniversary of its formal initiation. But there’s another anniversary this year that bears recognition and discussion: the 50th anniversary of the public launching of the Draft Goldwater effort of 1963.

You can read Rick Perlstein’s fine 2001 book, Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, for the background and details. But its basic theme is that the Goldwater campaign unleashed cultural furies and empowered within the Republican Party previously marginal ideological points of view that together would haunt conservative and national politics for a long, long time. How long? It’s not at all over, despite repeated burials.

This matters right now not just for an accurate understanding of American history, but because the connection between the first attempted conquest of the GOP by the conservative movement Goldwater led and its all-but-consummated triumph much more recently is so often missed. Here’s the lede from a new “Behind the Curtain” column by those avatars of the snail’s-eye view of politics, Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen, heralding the rise of the “Rubio and Rand Party:”

Forget John Boehner. Ignore Karl Rove. The real action in the GOP is coming from the newest wing of the party, the one born in the spring of 2009 — the offspring of tea party activists who almost single-handedly propelled Republicans to control of the House.

If there’s a better example of reaching the right short-term conclusion without understanding the long-term reasons for it, I’ve never seen it. Put aside the highly debatable hypothesis that the “tea party activists” made the GOP takeover of the House possible (more accurately, the “tea party activists” took charge of the GOP and then inherited power when Republicans won a big victory for reasons that had little or nothing to do with Tea Folk ideology or activism). The idea that this movement was “born” in 2009 is laughable when you consider the vast overlap of its tenets and its composition with the militants who spearheaded Goldwater’s campaign and then uneasily co-existed with other Republicans until a shrinking party and a radicalized electoral base broke through in the runup to 2010.

Is there any element of the Tea Ideology that wasn’t present within the Goldwater movement, often not in embryo but in full? There was the frank rejection of the New Deal legacy that “establishment” Republicans had long accepted (supplemented by the Tea Folk by rejection of the Great Society legacy Goldwater’s calamitous defeat help usher in). There was the hatred of “bicoastal elites,” expressed often via conspiracy theories. There was the packaging of reactionary cultural and economic impulses in constitutional originalism and state’s rights theories. And of course, the Goldwater Movement spearheaded the regional realignment that eventually made the South the preeminent Republican base region and the GOP the “White Man’s Party.” Moreover, Barry’s activists were characterized by a tight fusion of libertarian, social-traditionalist and anti-communist ideologies in the conservative movement that viewed the “three legs of the stool” not as a transfactional coalition but as a new creed in which all these old points of view became mutually reinforcing.

It’s fashionable to think of Rand Paul and his supporters as representing an abandonment of one “leg” of the conservative movement “stool” because of their non-interventionist posture on foreign policy. They are young, hip libertarians free of the old-school hyper-nationalism of the Cold War Right. But seen from another perspective, Randpaulism really represents a throwback to the pre-Cold War conservative commitment to truculent unilateralism. It’s been all but forgotten given later conservative support for the Vietnam War, but Goldwater and his campaign frequently attacked LBJ for waging a “no-win war” in southeast Asia that should be ended immediately:

In a very real sense, the forces that dominate the conservative movement and the GOP today are the same as those that created and sustained the Goldwater campaign and then engaged in a 50-year “long march” that finally reached the borders of the Promised Land and then, in the best paleo-conservative tradition, donned revolutionary war garb and prepared for the final battle against the twentieth century. So it’s not a fad; not a temporary product of the Obama presidency; and it’s not going away any time soon.

UPDATE: The aforementioned Rick Perlstein discussed the connections between the Goldwater Movement and the Tea Party Movement—and the “historical myopia” that made the latter seem “new”—in a New York Times column back in 2010.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on March 21, 2013 12:30 PM:

    The Tea Party was a cover organization for fugitive Republicans who didn't want to admit they'd supported W, or to get away from the disasters.

    Unfortunately, the Kochs, and other organizers, hadn't counted on the old John Birchers, the members of "The He-man Woman Haters Club," and the KKK Konservatives, taking such a prominent role.

    And now, they're stuck with them.

  • Bill on March 21, 2013 12:44 PM:

    Good overall point but I think that the far-right position on Vietnam in the 1960s was escalation, even if it meant war with China. Keep in mind that Goldwater talked about using tactical nukes. That's quite a way to "end" a conflict

  • Rabbler on March 21, 2013 1:00 PM:

    At what age group or grade level is this targeted? I'd hate to think more than a very few Democratic moderates don't already know this, although it might explain a few things.

    I'd be surprised if any true lefties don't know it.

  • John on March 21, 2013 1:06 PM:

    I guess Raymond Massey, Dr. Kildare's wise, upright boss in those days but a veteran actor who'd played Lincoln, must have become an American Citizen somewhere along the way.

    His brother Vincent was Governor General, that is, Canadian Head of State.

  • G.Kerby on March 21, 2013 2:00 PM:

    gulag: The Kochs are The John Birch Society.

  • boatboy_srq on March 21, 2013 2:05 PM:

    Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen: "Look, a tree!"

    "Hey, look, another tree!"

    "And another!"

    Hmmm.... maybe a forest there?

    ... and (taken entirely out of context) the phrase "the conservative movement 'stool'" just makes me giggle - particularly with Rand Paul in the same sentence.

  • mike reilly on March 21, 2013 3:49 PM:

    Agree..... Tea Party is just the latest reincarnation of the Liberty Leaguein 1936, the McCarthy era (who promoted Peress?), The John Birch society as in Dr Strangelove... the black helicopters of the UN during Clinton's time...

    In all these cases, it's always the establishment that tries to co-opt the movement. Sometimes it works, Nixon or Reagan or Ike.... sometimes it blows up in their faces, Landon, Goldwater, Bush 1, McCain, Romney.

  • Marc Valdez on March 21, 2013 4:28 PM:

    Here in Sacramento, in 2009, I was alarmed to see how obese many of the Tea Party protesters were at their State Capitol rallies. By 2010, however, many of those folks had vanished. I think they perished. I had the sense the crazy baton had been passed from one generation to their children.

  • Russell Sadler on March 21, 2013 7:56 PM:

    Rand Paul is the reincarnation of the late US Senator from Ohio, Jon Bricker. Bricker was that last deadender of U.S. Senator Robert Taft's Isolationism. Taft was defeated by Eisenhower for the Republican nomination in 1952. Bricker proposed constitutional amendments putting strict limits on the Presidential treaty-making and war powers. The US had just won World War II and we had not yet lost the Korean and Vietnam so such restrictions and Bricker's philosophy of non-interventionism were not considered a wise course for the country. The experiences in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan an resurrected non-interventionism in people, parties and interest groups that did not embrace it in the 1950s. Rand Paul is trying to build a new coalition out of these new participants, but the world view is nothing new at all.

  • Rick B on March 21, 2013 8:42 PM:

    Let's go back even further before the 5 Texas oil millionaires funded the rise of the John Birch Society.

    I think Digby caught the dynamic of the current Republican Party quite well. America is politically split between two tribes, one of which is the Resentment tribe. The Resentment tribe is completely irrational. Here is how their tribal behavior was conducted before the Civil War.

    "...it was in the political arena that the problems between the sections were fought out until the South decided that political solutions, reached by a process of give and take, were no longer adequate to protect its "honor and self-respect.�

    Bear in mind that middle and upper class Southerners were politicians by birthright. Active participation in politics was, in the South, a way of life. One would expect, therefore, to find a much greater degree of political skill and acumen there than in the North. What one finds there instead is demagogy, bombast, irresponsibility, incompetence, a childish refusal to come to grips with realities, and a habitual substitution of slogans, symbols and bogeymen for facts. These are strong statements, but hardly strong enough to fit the situation."

    And why were the "insults" the Southerners suffered so severe that they demanded War?

    "became an emotional issue in which it was important to "crack the whip over the heads of the northern men" and they began to make enemies of their allies in the territories. As Starr says, "this tale of political ineptitude, the habitual misreading of the minds of opponents, the misjudging of the practical possibilities of a given situation, the purposeless striving for effect, the substitution of arrogance and threats for rational discussion, could be expanded many fold."

    Starr's view is that the south behaved irrationally prior to the civil war because of it's defensiveness about its culture of slavery."

    If you substitute guilt over Racism for guilt over Slavery this is much the same today.

    There is more in the Digby post. Go read it.

  • Ted Frier on March 22, 2013 1:03 PM:

    The timing of the Tea Party "movement" is what gives it away as a sham. Just three weeks after a new Democratic president takes office and the "tea party" was furiously organizing to stop the "runaway federal spending" they'd helped to facilitate with their support of the GOP. The Tea Party can try all its wants to pretend its protests were about something as racially neutral as debts and deficits. But the dead giveaway is that the Tea Party stood immobile and mute while George W. Bush was doubling the national debt in just eight years and only sprung to life when a black man became president; and as much as the Tea Party now tries to throw George W. under the bus and distance itself from the disaster of those years, it's a strange movement that tries to punish a party by giving it their votes.