Memo To: Mark Shields
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Goldwater’s legacy
I was happy to see you bring a realistic note to the Goldwater eulogy on the Jim Lehrer "NewsHour" on Friday, the day of the Arizona Republican’s death at age 89. The others in the group -- Paul Gigot, Michael Beschloss, Haynes Johnson and Doris Kearns Goodwin -- all made the mistake of saying that Goldwater lived to see the fruits of what he had started. At least you had the good sense to note the difference between Goldwater, the eternal pessimist, and Ronald Reagan, the eternal optimist. Goldwater was a good and honorable man and a decent United States Senator. But his disastrous defeat in 1964 was really the end of something, not the beginning. He taught the conservative ideologues who worshiped him how easy it was to lose big time by being a man of unbending principle. One of his unbending principles at the time was his commitment to a balanced budget, which led him to oppose the Kennedy tax cuts that passed the Congress early in 1964 without significant Republican support. He also took time in 1964 to speak and vote against the Civil Rights Act that ended official apartheid south of the Mason-Dixon line. And you also remember he palled around with General Curtis LeMay, who talked about dropping the Big One on Hanoi. Again, Mark, I’m glad you noted the Reagan tax cuts -- patterned after JFK’s -- as part and parcel of his optimism about the future.
Republicans owe a debt of gratitude to Goldwater because they had to get his kind of kamikaze candidacy out of their system. We seem to forget that in 1965, it was younger moderates in the GOP who took control from the old buzzards, with men like Gerald Ford, Donald Rumsfeld, and Melvin Laird coming to the fore and preparing the way for Richard Nixon in 1968. With a bit more trial and error, Republicans found Reagan in 1980 and if they can stay off the Goldwater track that continually tempts them, in 2000 they may be smart enough to win the White House and the Congress for the first time since 1952.
Although I voted for LBJ in 1964, I did admire Goldwater for his honesty, shooting straight with the voters so they could easily tell they wanted no part of him as President. Extremism in the pursuit of liberty is no vice, moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue. The words brought the GOP conventioneers in San Francisco to their feet, but sent the rest of the nation reeling. We all know there is a place for extremists in both parties, but not in the Oval Office. There, we want moderation in the pursuit of just about everything.