The Triumph of the Hard Right

tags: politics, GOP

Garry Wills is Professor of History Emeritus at ­Northwestern. He is the author, most recently, of "The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis." (February 2016)

Everybody told everybody early in this year’s presidential campaign (during what was called Trump Summer) that we had never seen anything so sinisterly or hilariously (take your choice) new. But Trump Summer was supposed to mellow into Sane Autumn, and it failed to—and early winter was no saner. People paid to worry in public tumbled over one another in asking what had gone wrong with our politics. Even the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, joined the worriers. After Mitt Romney lost in 2012, he set up what he called the Growth and Opportunity Project, to reach those who had not voted Republican—young people, women, Latinos, and African-Americans. But its report, once filed, had no effect on the crowded Republican field of candidates in the 2016 race, who followed Donald Trump’s early lead as he treated women and immigrants as equal-opportunity objects of scorn. Now the public worriers were yearning for the “good old days” when there were such things as moderate Republicans. What happened to them?

The current Republican extremism has been attributed to the rise of Tea Party members or sympathizers. Deadlock in Congress is blamed on Republicans’ fear of being “primaryed” unless they move ever more rightward. Endless and feckless votes to repeal Obamacare were motivated less by any hope of ending the program than by a desire to be on record as opposing it, again and again, to avoid the dreaded label RINO(Republican in Name Only).

E.J. Dionne knows that Republican intransigence was not born yesterday, and he has the credentials for saying it because this dependably intelligent liberal tells us, in his new book, that he began as a young Goldwaterite—like Hillary Clinton (or like me). He knows that his abandoned faith sounded themes that have perdured right down to our day. In the 1950s there were many outlets for right-wing discontent—including H.L. Hunt’s LifelineHuman EventsThe Dan Smoot Report, the Fulton Lewis radio show, Willis Carto’s Liberty Lobby, the Manion Forum. In 1955, William F. Buckley founded National Review to give some order and literary polish to this cacophonous jumble. But his magazine had a small audience at the outset. Its basic message would reach a far wider audience through a widely popular book, The Conscience of a Conservative, ghostwritten for Barry Goldwater by Buckley’s brother-in-law (and his coauthor for McCarthy and His Enemies), L. Brent Bozell.

The idea for the book came from Clarence Manion, the former dean of Notre Dame Law School. He persuaded Goldwater to have Bozell, who had been his speechwriter, put his thoughts together in book form. Then Manion organized his own and other right-wing media to promote and give away thousands of copies of the book. Bozell did his part too—he went to a board meeting of the John Birch Society and persuaded Fred Koch (father of Charles and David Koch) to buy 2,500 copies of Conscience for distribution. The book put Goldwater on the cover of Time three years before he ran for president. A Draft Goldwater Committee was already in existence then (led by William Rusher of National Review, F. Clifton White, and John Ashbrook). Patrick Buchanan spoke for many conservatives when he called The Conscience of a Conservative their “New Testament.”

The Goldwater book, Dionne says, had all the basic elements of the Tea Party movement, fully articulated fifty years before the Koch brothers funded the Tea Party through their organizations Americans for Prosperity and Freedomworks. The book painted government as the enemy of liberty. Goldwater called for the elimination of Social Security, federal aid to schools, federal welfare and farm programs, and the union shop. He claimed that the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board decision was unconstitutional, so not the “law of the land.” He said we must bypass and defund the UN and improve tactical nuclear weapons for frequent use. ...

Read entire article at NY Review of Books

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