« Who Funded GOPUSA? | Main | How Social Security Phase-Out Makes Republicans »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


This goes back to understanding the obvious. The republicans knew when they passed the medicare bill that it would be unsustainably expensive in the future. They know that a situation where government spending is 21% of gdp, while taxes are only 17% is unsustainable, but they do it anyway. It's a crisis they're after.

There's an argument over the nature of government. Conservatives have tried to sell us on the idea that it's not a force for good, but why have the argument at all if you can impose your view on reality itself, in this case by making government into the very evil thing you believe it is?


The Koufax awards led me here. Great post. Thanks.


Goldwater believed in free men.

Bush believes in free lunch.


yeah, i buy it. They can't outright dismantle the New Deal, but they can starve it by lying to the moon.


and I consider SS privatization and the Medicare expansion forms of starvation, because the money gets sucked out by big investment and pharmaceutical firms.


I was pleased enough with the entire article (although I think Dean-as-Goldwater has a truth to it), but when you pulled out the World B Free reference, that put it over the top for me. Man, that hair.

Walt Pohl

I don't think the Republicans realize how high the stakes are in the gamble they're taking. If they're right, they'll undermine liberalism. If they're wrong, they they'll undermine capitalism, and the country will move further left than it ever has.

Justin Packhouse

Walt Pohl's got a good point. Playing devil's advocate:

The right-wing media machine keeps pushing the personal responsibility angle, but if interest rates rise, the dollar collapses, and we become a country in decline, according to the conservatives, it's every man for himself.

Social conservativism will be a loser in elections. Gay marriage won't matter if you can't afford actual marriage anymore.

The government will then become the advocate for the people who are "have-nots." Elections won't be about who supports gay marriage, but who supports the system that led us into a society in decline. Those politicians will be kicked out.

In that mentality, if things collapse, why not attack the hoarders of wealth? They're keeping money from the lower-class, in the every-man-for-himself mentality. If it's every man for himself, why support a system that gives the upper hand to those who ruined our economic vitality?

I don't know if this will happen, but if it does, what's stopping this selfish thought process from hurting capitalism in America?


There's always the danger of economic devastation bringing us even further to the right. That danger is fascism.

I don't think it's inevitable that another Great Depression will push the country to the left.

Consider that some of the most poverty stricken areas of America are either ardently Republican (rural red state land) or ardently apolitical (urban ghettoes).

But I do think another Great Depression would make organizing a lot easier. But I'd still rather it not happen.

Kevin Hayden

You make a good argument Mark. Part of it, essentially, is a deliberate attempt to sabotage government. Make it as ineffective and wasteful as possible shortterm, to breed citizen dissatisfaction with government. Then cut, cut, cut taxes, with citizens willing accomplices.

But to what point? Till its defenses are weakened? Till the poverty rate hits 30%? 40%? 50%? with fewer safety nets in place?

How far can the public be expected to willingly pursue policies of self-impoverishment?

More to the point: how long before they suspect they're being hornswaggled, that conservative government isn't, that it's not government that's flawed, but REPUBLICAN government?

Impoverished, post WW1 Germany moved to Naziism. Depression era US moved toward socialism. What made the difference in these two societies? Why do you leave it as an open possibility that we could easily move more Right than Left should the economy tank?

After all, a distinct difference in 2004 compared to 1964 was the margin of difference in the vote. Consider: a wartime President retaining office by just 3%. That's not exactly a blowout,and suggests half the country's resisting the better organized, better on-message, stealthier PR leading party, when it's using every parlor trick possible to keep their tenuous hold on power.

Soul-searching is better than self-delusion (the latter I may be guilty of) but doesn't the fact that it took the GOP 4 presidential elections just to win more than 50% of the popular vote?

It suggests to me that very few minds need changing to reverse the trend. Or am I missing something here?


"I think they have scuttled much of the strength of real conservatism in the process, but I don't think that's anything for liberals to be glad or complacent about."

This entire post is very, very good.

My only quibble is that I think you underestimate the beneficial effects on LBJ's ability to legislate his agenda that the Goldwater debacle enabled.


"The first point -- that the Great Society was made possible by Goldwater's polarization of the electorate, which increased the Democrats' congressional majority to 68 in the Senate and 295 in the House, the largest majorities since Reconstruction -- is plausible. But if LBJ had faced one of the establishment candidates of 1964 -- Rockefeller, Scranton or Romney -- his margin would not have been as wide but he would still have won and might easily have brought two Senators and 45 House members with him"

Imagine that Dean had been nominated for President instead of Kerry, and imagine his candidacy had gone down in Goldwater-like flames, leading to a Bush blowout.

Since the Dems already lost all of the open Southern Senate seats, the Congressional outcome might not have been dramatically worse. But if Bush had won the election 60-40, does anyone not imagine it would have been dramatically harder to stop his Social Security destruction plans?


"I don't know if this will happen, but if it does, what's stopping this selfish thought process from hurting capitalism in America?"

Posted by: Justin Packhouse

Justin, there's a saying, that FDR saved capitalism from itself. By instituting the New Deal, he prevented a socialist/communist revolution (successful or unsuccessful).
However, many on the right curse him to this day. If anything, saving capitalism from itself bought him the intense hatred of capitalism.

Bush, DeLay, etc., probably don't believe that there's any chance of a leftward jump in US politics. They figure that the worse things get, the better for them. Especially as they have enough of a propaganda machine to blame things on 'Evul Libruls' for the forseeable future.


I still think people give Goldwater conservatives and their institutions far too much credit. The GOP turned to the right not because of some speech, but because they enlisted the large faction of Southern Democrats who were conservative on a wide range of issues: foreign affairs, civil rights, feminism, labor rights, etc.

In other words, the shift comes from below, not from above. And the GOP has made darned certain not to touch the programs that most benefit those former Dems, lest they be reminded why they once rode the donkey.

Now, this is why, from a purely academic standpoint, the SS debate is so fascinating. It tests the ability of GWB to maintain the support of white Southern working people. We'll see if ideology and party loyalty truly trump economic interest.


Personally, with their "starving the beast" approach to government, I think that the Republicans have been too clever by half.

The problem is, there's no way government services can be cut to the point that it would be sustainable at current tax rates. Enormously popular programs would have to be devastated to sustain those tax cuts, and THAT is not going to happen, because it would take down Congressmen who chose to cut them.

What this means is that tax hikes (or the rescinding of some of Bush's tax cuts) are inevitable. Hence all the political fights between Republicans and Democrats will, at most, have to do with the exact size of the tax hike, or tax reinstatement. It is a much harder political case to make to the American people when it is simply the exact numbers that's at issue, and not the necessity of the tax increase. Democrats can frame the necessity in very dire terms, because in fact they will be very dire.

Had the Republicans been less drastic in their tax cuts, they might have had a chance to cut government back to a point that it would have been sustainable indefinitely at that lower level. Being greedy and foolish, they instead designed a crisis in the future whose only remedy is the undoing of what they are hoping to achieve.

soren renner

"There's always the danger of economic devastation bringing us even further to the right. That danger is fascism." ["Phil", above]

Sergey Zharikov and I were discussing the possible course of the next few years presuming that we are now at peak oil. He argues that a command economy may have been unfit for the Hubbert upslope [Sergey is originally Russian] but that the downslope will make authoritarian planning inevitable.

cygnus inter anates


Great argument. I want to especially thank you for alluding to the unquestioned assumption that the Democratic party either has already or needs to reach rock bottom. It's clear to me that the party is nowhere near rock bottom, as an incumbent president only won by a few percentage points over a less than exciting Democrat who played for a tactical rather than a strategic win. Furthermore, we didn't do that bad below the Presidential level. Take out the Texas redistricting, and it was basically a "hold" result in the House (which is districted to a clear Repub advantage of about 10-12 net seats). We gained nationally in state legislatures. Our setbacks in the Senate were primarily in heavily Republican states, like losing seats in SC and GA and failing to win supposedly vulnerable seats in KY, OK and AK. And our big gains of governors in 2002 don't seem imperiled by any national trend; they appear weak or strong based more on state-and-candidate specific dynamics than any national movement away from Dems.

I'm less certain than many others that the current strength and direction of the party shows an obvious need a deep-reaching destruction and "renewal" in most or all aspects of the party. Both Bush and Kerry essentially waged tactical campaigns, and on a national level, I think the Repubs have generally proven more adept at tactics than us. Kerry's campaign never shifted out of the tactical game, and didn't try to significantly reshape the political debate like did Reagan in 1980, Clinton and Perot did in 1992, and the Gingrich-led GOP did in 1994. Rhetorically and ideologically, it was a narrowly waged campaign, and I'm not sure the sweeping explanatory claims about what Bush's victory means for the Democratic party are supported by the narrow margin of Kerry's defeat.

Now, as a party are we like a sports team that's good enough to regularly reach the conference championship, but can't get into the league championship, and won't unless we undergo major changes? I don't know, but most people advocating some particular ideological or strategic program of change glide past that question and assume the answer is obvious. Most assume we need either a few minor tweaks or a near-complete demolition and reconstruction of the entire party. Those calling for massive change may assume we've already hit rock bottom. Maybe they assume that it doesn't matter if we're inches from victory, becuase our current path doesn't lead to where we need to be and we have to back up a few miles to take the right path.

Whatever the case, whoever tries to tell Democrats where they need to go must be required to first lay out where we currently are, what we may forfeit by taking a new path, and how those loses will be offset by the supposed gains and advantages that come from our new strategies, ideas and image. In short, too few of the people talking about what the party needs to do have demonstrated that they've performed a full and thorough examination of the patient and arrived at a diagnosis that describes the nature and seriousness of the sickness. Instead, they just jump ahead to their cure. I'd like a better description of what's wrong before we rush ahead and try to "cure" what may not be sick or keeping us from exhibiting greater vigor.


Now, as a party are we like a sports team that's good enough to regularly reach the conference championship, but can't get into the league championship, and won't unless we undergo major changes?

DH, being that you're in Michigan: Teams in that situation that succeed most often do so by making a few key changes, not major ones. Shanahan to replace Primeau, and voila: Stanley Cup.

This is snarky, but actually in support of the basic argument in your comment.


"There is something vaguely self-serving about this retelling of the tale by intellectuals, about intellectuals." Mark Schmidt (2001)

And just as apropos of today's conversation.

The idea that ideas have much if anything to do with politics, with who gets to govern, is a peculiar conceit of intellectuals.

People vote against, not for. The object of the ethos is to arouse pathos directed against the Other -- logos limps haltingly behind.

Ruling elites use government to neuter their opponents.

Steel tariffs prevent West Virginians becoming aroused against Bush; Medicare drug supplements do the same with older Floridians. The war party in power defines the opposing party as the Other -- and the Other is always vaguely disquieting if not unpatriotic.

In the meantime gifts are given to supporters and contributions are gratefully received. And "ideas" play in the kabuki theater.

Movie Guy

"You only have a brief moment, and don't waste it attacking the edifice of liberalism itself. Undermine its foundations. Thus, strip the government of revenue, and eventually the programs will collapse."

This is the current approach. Obviously well understood by those taking advantage of its potential strengths.

Buford P. Stinkleberry

Ellen1910, what you say is true for a segment of the voting population, but no more than that. It is far from a complete argument. You're telling us that it was Steel Tarrifs and Steel Tarrifs only that delivered WV to Bush, and not the more complex brew of cultural issues and ideological arguments combined with other local issues appealing to that fundamentally conservative state? You're telling us that another segment of the voting population does not respond to aspiration, to positive messages?

Of course intellectualism doesn't matter much. But you're ignoring the real mechanics of on the ground coalitional politics and essentially committing the same foul (to extend the sports metaphors of above) as the intellectuals, by proposing some all encompassing theory. I mean, come on, you used the word "logos" in your post. Who's the disconnected intellectual now?


Using logos doesn't mean you're an intellectual. I used to play with them all the time with a kid. I wasn't that smart and I built great things.



I, too, abjure The Fallacy of the Single Cause.

But the theory pushed by certain liberal intellectuals that the ideas of Conservative think tankers propelled the GOP to its present dominance seems to me to be self-indulgent nonsense.

The very fact of Bush imposing tarrifs or of Delay twisting arms in the middle of the night to obtain passage of the Medicare drug supplement -- presumably, each a Conservative bete noir -- should put one very large spike in the heart of the aforementioned theory.

Those who think ideas matter should check to see what the successful political pros think of them. Not very much, I'd say.

The Navigator

Mark, what did I tell you about Google preferences and getting more notice for yourself in search results? The title's the thing, man. If you want people searching for "Goldwater" to find your post about Goldwater, you need to put "Goldwater" in the title. It's almost as though you're deliberately being perverse and undermining your own chance at popularity.

And it would be a crying shame for people to miss a post that name-checks World B. Free.

Oh, by the way, terrific post, as always. The ratio of insight to snark/fluff/filler is incredibly high at this site, and I have no idea why you didn't win a Koufax. Wait a sec - [rereads own comment] yes I do....



That's among your best posts ever! Wow!

"What the think tanks and grassroots groups and Karl Rove and Frank Luntz figured out over the 36 years after Goldwater was how to retain the language of ideological conservatism, leave unchallenged the facade of operational liberalism, and use that combination to exercise power long enough and aggressively enough to destroy every future prospect for operational liberalism."

There ain't nothin' they can tear down that we can't build back better than before. Their arguments may be false enough, but the repercussions of their actions will be undoubtedly felt. And, that will be the foundation of our resurgence.

The comments to this entry are closed.