Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Last Call For The Dinosaurs And The Trump Meteor

American historian and author Lawrence Glickman digs up the bones of that most unfortunate of political dinosaurs, the Republicansaurus Moderateus, and gives a fitting eulogy for a spineless creature who was wiped out by its own cowardice and pathos, with a lesson about Dwight Eisenhower.

Consider, for example, the widely reprinted front-page piece Eisenhower wrote for the New York Herald Tribune in late May 1964, listing attributes for the next Republican president. Although never mentioning Goldwater, the list offered a frontal attack on Goldwaterism: support for civil rights, domestic spending programs and the United Nations. But within a week, Eisenhower walked back this stunning rebuke, saying any interpretation of the piece as a criticism of Goldwater was a “complete misinterpretation.” He scolded reporters, “You people read Mr. Goldwater out of the party, I didn’t.”

In June, Eisenhower again seemed on the brink of full-throated opposition. He prodded Pennsylvania Gov. William Scranton to run, before reversing course and telling Scranton that he did not wish to be part of any “cabal” to stop Goldwater. He also refused to meet with 27 Republican anti-Goldwater legislators in Pennsylvania who wanted him to endorse Scranton, even as they presciently warned him that “Eisenhower-moderate Republicanism will be irreparably harmed if you remain out of this fight.”

At the Republican convention in July, the former president moved from refusing to challenge Goldwater to endorsing the nominee’s hard-right philosophy. Eisenhower’s speechwriters had prepared a conciliatory address, which both endorsed Goldwater and praised the principles of moderation with which the former president was so closely associated. But in the last third of his speech, the tone changed dramatically as Eisenhower read seemingly discordant remarks that he had inserted at the last minute.

He began with articulating a shared grievance about the media, which “couldn’t care less about the good of our party.” Then he went even further, sympathizing with some of Goldwater’s more controversial positions on civil rights and the welfare state, two of the core principles that had so differentiated moderate Republicans like Eisenhower from Goldwater and his supporters.

The former president notably wielded the language of what had only recently been labeled the “white backlash” against the civil rights movement. He warned against “maudlin sympathy for the criminal,” cautioning against transforming him into “a poor, underprivileged person who counts upon the compassion of our society and the laxness or weakness of too many courts to forgive his offense.” The crowd delighted in this racialized dig at the liberalism of the Supreme Court, which had recently proclaimed “the right to remain silent.”

Rather than emphasizing the chasm between moderation and extremism, the former president highlighted his points of agreement with Goldwater, seemingly out of ideological conviction rather than simple party loyalty. This continued over the next few months. Several times, he went out of his way to endorse Goldwater’s proposal to privatize the Tennessee Valley Authority, which he described to CBS’s Walter Cronkite as “not a radical move at all — it’s just getting private enterprise into a lot of things that are now the government’s doings.” Employing the language of the anti-New Dealers, he also called the TVA “creeping socialism.”

This embrace culminated with a “Conversation in Gettysburg,” a half-hour TV program produced by the Republican National Committee and aired nationally on NBC in September 1964. The former president and the nominee discussed their common ground, with Eisenhower dismissing the charges that Goldwater was a warmonger as “actual tommyrot.” He also volunteered the view, closely associated with conservatism, that “too much power” is “centralized in Washington” and represented “a danger to our freedom

The Republican party has never been moderate in my lifetime, and even decades before I was born it was the party of Lee Atwater, Barry Goldwater, and "Democrats are Socialists."  Even Eisenhower capitulated 55 years ago, not because of his differences, but because of what he had in common with Goldwater.

Nothing's changed since.

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