Sunday, January 28

Conservatives Without Conscience

There's been an attempt on the part of old-style conservatives to resurrect the memory and recover the reputation of Senator Barry Goldwater. There was a documentary made last year with the cooperation of his family. I've been listening to the unabridged book on tape version of John Dean's Conservatives Without Conscience. Dean roomed with Goldwater's son in college, was friends with the Senator for decades, and initiallly expected Goldwater to co-author this book, in which Dean claims Goldwater as a model of conservatism's better past.

I've been thinking along these lines myself, particularly like Dean, comparing the civil and educated discourse of a Goldwater, or even moreso, William F. Buckley, with the screaming clowns on Fox News today. Dean is actually downright funny when he writes about the cottage industry arising from fact-checking the Blond Who Must Not Be Named.

So I'm on the plane to Seattle listening and nodding to Dean's call for a more civil and even possibly intellectually honest brand of conservatism when it is time to take off the headphones and return the seat backs and tray tables etc. So I put away John Dean and pull out this academic article on Richard Hofstadter, the historian and author of the seminal "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life." (I know, I know. I'm making all you "intelligence is an aphrodisiac" boys totally hot right now. Moving on.) In the article is this little gem on Hofstadter's opinion of Goldwater:

The Sun Belt conservatism of the 1960's discovered in the iconic Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater a symbol of the frontier individualism it prized, a foe of the welfare state it loathed, and a hawk determined to roll back rather than contain international communism. The nature of this new conservatism seemed to Hofstadter far removed from the Republican policies of the 1930's and 1940's, and he emphasized how litte it shared with its putative ancestor."

John Dean rightly (no pun intended) portrays looking to the past as a better place, seeking a return to earlier values, as one of the hallmarks of conservatism. As it ever was, for many of Goldwater's contemporaries, especially those known as "Rockefeller Republicans," Barry Goldwater was a radical and unwelcome departure from an earlier and better politics.

As a left-wing blogger I have to praise Dean and some others for wanting conservatives to have a conscience, though I suspect even Dean would agree that it's probably too late. Rupert Murdoch ironically has consciously destroyed the kinder gentler and indeed, pedigreed conservatism of John Dean and I would even argue Bush 41, in the name of anti-liberalism, television ratings, and a desire to appeal to the unsophisticated masses. But I also regret that in defense of his definitively conservative call for a return to a better form of politics, lionizing Barry Goldwater is the best Dean can do.


  1. I remember when Goldwater was running for president, and many of our neighbors were frightened by the possibility that he might win. They were convinced he would use the atom bomb, even before the Dems ran their infamous television ad. Given that my parents were die-hard Republicans I imagine they voted for him.

    What made Goldwater less frightening to me as an adult was his stand on some of the social justice issues I care deeply about -- reproductive rights and lifting the ban on gays in the military.

    While I'm still not sure exactly how I feel about him, I would say he seems more moderate that many of the evangelical Republicans who hold public office today.


  2. B G was always being defined by other people with different agendas.

    Yes he was militaristic, but he believed in individual rights. The smaller government aspect seemed to be left over from the FRD days, which was a huge change in the federal government.

    You would have liked BG, affabale and open to new ideas, even if he did not agree with them.

    Remember he lost his senate race because he was labeled a liberal. Which speaks volumes about how far right the winngers have gone.

  3. Thank you for the reference to Hofstadter. I'm going to dust off my bookshelf copy and re-read him. Do you think there's any connection between reading Hofstadter and falling into bed with the professor who assigned the book?
    Just asking . . .

    Get home safe, BG.

  4. BlueGirl, the most important discussion in the book is about the Right Wing Authoritarians. It completely explains the radical right in perfect clarity. I know I went from these people are totally crazy, to finally having a name for the insanity and with a little research a new way to attack the problem. This book a must read for any liberal who wants to get inside the true motivations and goals of the radical right. It's definitely too late for them to change directions as a party, but if you want to make sure they don't take the country down with their plunge into the depths it helps to understand their motivations.

  5. As you pointed out rightly, Blue Gal, you could actually have some discource with the Rockafeller/H20Au Republicans.

    These sort are beyond crazy.

  6. I agree with J that the most important aspect of Dean's book is his description of Right Wing Authoritarians, that the "authoritarian" "social controller" personality is what drives the new nasty right wing conservatives without conscience. It's why they don't have a conscience. I was just struck more by the Goldwater stuff, though that is not the jist of this very well-written book.

  7. Mickey Finn4:07 AM

    Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Act, he was a saber-rattling hawk. He was an extremist in many ways, but compared to the fringe-dwellers who now walk among us, he looks good.

  8. Hi blue gal, I read CWoC when it first came out and what I found difficult to understand was Dean's description of the roots of conservatism. The whole basis of it seemed to morph multiple times and Dean holds up Goldwater as THE example of conservatism when it seems to have no solid base. At least that's what I think after reading it a few times.

    So yeah, "lionizing Barry Goldwater is the best Dean can do."

    On RWA, I read an article recently that quotes a passage (at the bottom) from Dr Bob Altemeyer's, 'The Authoritarians,' that is down right scary.


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