Conning conservatives (Part I): What were we thinking?
I’m not sure what went through our collective minds at the time. Conservatives were the group that looked afoul of large government.
Yet, in the 1960s, during political discussions, when some people would point out that defense spending was the largest item in the federal budget, we’d sputter a bit and respond that defense was a constitutional duty of government. Little did we really know.
We had been raised on the gospel that it was our sacred duty to stop the advance of totalitarianism, especially after the experience with Adolf Hitler and German National Socialism. In our government schools, we had been fed that line and swallowed it wholesale. By the 1960s, the totalitarian enemy was, of course, communism.
Defense was and is the single largest item in the federal budget. Why didn’t we question it?
Part of the answer lies in the political landscape of the time. In 1952, Dwight D. Eisenhower had vanquished Robert Taft, the last of the true conservatives, at the Republican National Convention which was convened by none other than Clark Gable. Eisenhower later ended the Korean War but continued the Cold War which had been ushered in by Harry Truman. Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles was committed to the engagement and defeat of communism everywhere on the globe with a religious zeal. Barry Goldwater, who would later assume the mantle of the ‘conservatives’ but was really a neo-con, went to the Convention as an Eisenhower delegate.
By 1960, Goldwater would be the Republican establishment’s ‘conservative’ who challenged the liberal orthodoxy of the time. In truth, he only challenged the liberal social policies. At the 1960 Republican National Convention, his name would be placed in nomination. The supposed true believers trumpeted him as Taft’s successor. He wasn’t. Nixon would be nominated to be narrowly defeated by John F. Kennedy and Goldwater would be nominated in 1964 to be trounced by Lyndon Johnson. Where did that leave conservatism?
As the 60s progressed, we searched for alternatives to the mainstream media for views that challenged the zeitgeist of government as the answer to all our problems and most of us found National Review (NR). There may have been other sources, but I wasn’t aware of them and most of the people I knew weren’t either. However, National Review wasn’t truly conservative either but rather the first neo-con mouthpiece. There was little else that was widely available.
NR’s columnists were a smorgasbord of Cold Warriors and true conservatives, especially economic, philosophers. Murray Rothbard, Alan Reynolds and Milton Friedman all were contributors. One favorite of mine was Russell Kirk.
But Kirk didn’t sit completely well with NR, which surprised me. NR would have Omnibus Anniversary Issues of their Tenth, Fifteenth, Twentieth etc. Anniversary celebrations. In one, Russell Kirk was criticized as lacking some type of rigor in spite of the fact that it featured one of his articles. I didn’t understand it but think it may have been due to an innate pacifism, which NR, as a Pentagon mouthpiece would find reprehensible.
Later, Kirk would actually criticize Pres. George H. W. Bush. He had grave misgivings about overseas interventions. To NR, that was a sin beyond forgiveness.
In a famous 1969 NR article, William Buckley argued that we would have to accept some type of strong, even totalitarian, government, with a strong foreign military presence, to defeat communism. That had to be our first and foremost goal. I remember being taken aback by that article. We never asked and he never told us what would happen once the Evil Empire was defeated.
I have an aversion to anything totalitarian. I think I rationalized Buckley’s premise by thinking that once communism was defeated, somehow the Cold War military-industrial apparatus that we had built up would simply dissolve. A lot of others probably did too. Time has shown how wrong we were.
Did we really think that the military was any different from any other bureaucracy or government agency? That it would just fold up and die once it was no longer needed? NR used to satirize the other federal bureaucracies, yet here they were lapdogs for the military, one of the most stultifying bureaucracies ever created. It’s instructive to realize that in the military, the ratio of support to combat personnel is about ten to one.Ten to one.
In the 1970s and 80s, few people realized it at the time but the Pentagon, sensing the end of communism, was planning a campaign against a new bogeyman. They were busy preparing for another prime time show. NR dutifully sounded the alarm over the coming terrorism with numerous articles. The Pentagon, CIA and other intelligence agencies dispensed all manner of agents to the Middle East for ‘fact finding’; read – future enemies du jour. Their planning paid off.
NR knew that communism would collapse. They presaged it in an issue with a cover story on the coming Crackup of Communism. But as a mouthpiece for the Pentagon, it joined in the preparations.
The crackup came as one by one, almost overnight it seemed, the satellites of eastern Europe fell from the Soviet orbit and then the Soviet Union itself fell and dissolved into constituent republics. That was in 1991.
I finally realized that I’d been snookered after Saddam Hussein first invaded Kuwait. The liberals had been anticipating a ‘peace dividend’, that they could divert from defense to their social programs. After the invasion, NR published an editorial entitled, ‘Wow. That Was Some Peace Dividend’, fully endorsing Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
Now, here we are today, with a madman in The White House, whose faith in his own role in history knows no bounds. He has shredded anything that remotely resembled the conservatism of the past. He has completely transformed the Republican Party into a mirror of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s and Harry Truman’s Democratic Party. Most of Roosevelt’s and Truman’s advisors would feel completely at home in this administration. John Kennedy though might find himself uncomfortable.
Is this the inheritance that we thought we’d leave? I don’t think so but it is. We have only ourselves to blame.
And where do we go? Unless Ron Paul is nominated by the Republicans, certainly not to either of the two major parties.
“Published originally at EtherZone.com : republication allowed with this notice and hyperlink intact.”