Thanks mainly to Kevin Drum, last week was “Before the Storm” Week in parts of the blogosphere, with a lot of people weighing in on the genius of Rick Perlstein’s 2001 book about the early days of the conservative movement, culminating in the Goldwater candidacy of 1964.Perlstein’s book has been on my reading list for a while, but keeps getting bumped down to the second tier, not because of any misgivings I have about his widely acclaimed brilliance in recounting the events of those days, but simply because I sorta kinda lived through this in detail and prefer to spend my limited reading time on stuff I don’t know much about.As the most obsessive little political junkie you’d ever want to avoid in the early 60’s, I paid a lot of attention to the Goldwater movement at the time, and in ensuing years, read a lot about its antecedents: the early National Review, the Sharon Statement, the rightward tilt of the YR’s, the YAF, the Democrats-for-Goldwater, the Cliff White organization–the whole enchilada. I’m sure Perlstein has important insights about these phenomena that would never occur to me, but right now my top priority is reading Ted Widmer’s new biography of Martin Van Buren, who basically founded the Democratic Party.I do find the Democratic blogospheric debate over the Goldwater campaign, via Perlstein (nicely sliced and diced by Mark Schmitt), fascinating and sometimes horrifying.The idea that today’s Democrats should model themselves on Goldwater Republicans is by any standard, well, a bit nuts. They lost spectacularly in 1964, losing states like Vermont and Kansas that Republicans never lost, by big margins. They destroyed an African-American GOP vote that had been there since Lincoln. That was hard, but they accomplished it. They discredited conservative opposition to the Great Society, which had tangible results in the four years after Goldwater’s nomination. And the magnitude of the loss marginalized movement conservatives in the Republican Party for a long time.A number of participants in the blogospheric discussion of Perlstein’s book note that some of liberalism’s most notable victories occurred under Richard Nixon, particularly the enactment of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, and the first major federal affirmative action program. But Nixon’s most important insults to the conservative movement were his wage and price controls–a truly satanic posture in the eyes of market conservatives–and his repudiation of Taiwan in the recognition of mainland China, which struck at one of the most emotional and original heart-throbs of the pre-Goldwater and Goldwater Right.The chronic estrangement of movement conservatives from the GOP after 1964 has been understated by many Left and Right enthusiasts.They often forget Reagan’s insurgent effort to forge an anti-Nixon alliance with Nelson Rockefeller at the 1968 GOP Convention. They rarely know about the 1971 manifesto by conservatives (led by William F. Buckley) deploring detente with the Soviet Union, which nakedly offered to support a Democrat like Scoop Jackson in 1972. And nobody seems to remember the period after Reagan’s failed 1976 campaign, when National Review’s publisher, William Rusher, was promoting a “Producers’ Party” that would combine Republican conservatives with Wallacite Democratic conservatives.Mark Schmitt’s comments on the subject nail one point entirely: that the main lesson Republicans ultimately learned from the Goldwater movement was to hide their aims.It’s no accident that conservatives finally conquered the GOP, and won the presidency, under the sign of Ronald Reagan’s embrace of supplyside economics–i.e., the belief that you can promote massive tax cuts and deregulation without really demanding major retrenchment of New Deal/Great Society programs. David Stockman’s brilliant if long-forgotten memoir, The Triumph of Politics, confirmed the final unwillingness of conservatives to accept the fiscal logic of their philosophy. And this basic dishonesty remains a heavy legacy for Republican conservatives today–a characteristic, of course, that would horrify Barry Goldwater.So: what do Democrats have to learn from the early conservative movement? How to lose elections, lose influence, and ultimately win by losing your soul?It’s a good question, the night before a big snowstorm is expected to hit Washington, a place Barry Goldwater wished God or man would smite with every available plague.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
When Fritz Mondale passed away this week, I eulogized this Democratic leader at New York:
Some career politicians who achieve national fame are known as policy innovators or political insurgents, while others flame out and return to obscurity thanks to bad luck or bad behavior. Walter F. “Fritz” Mondale was another type altogether: a reliable public servant in all of the many jobs he held and a steady steward of the Minnesota liberal political traditions he inherited. He was also, by all accounts, a decent man, and it was characteristic of him that just before his death this week at the age of 93, he sent a grateful email to former staffers, saying “Never has a public servant had a better group of people working at their side! Together we have accomplished so much, and I know you will keep up the good fight.”
Mondale was fated to spend much of his career in the shadow of other leaders. A protégé of Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party legends Hubert Humphrey and Orville Freeman, he was appointed state attorney general by Freeman in 1960 and then four years later occupied Humphrey’s Senate seat when his mentor became Lyndon Johnson’s vice-president. Like Humphrey, Mondale was a rigorous New Deal liberal who was quick to support the labor and civil-rights movements and slow to abandon the Vietnam War. He began and quickly dropped a presidential candidacy in 1974 after Humphrey’s ill health kept him from running; Mondale famously said he didn’t want to spend the next two years living in Holiday Inns. But when eventual Democratic nominee Jimmy Carter needed a northern running mate with close ties to labor, Mondale signed up after securing a pledge from Carter that they would form a true partnership in office.It speaks well for both men that Carter kept his promise and Mondale redefined the vice-presidency, “with full access to intelligence briefings, a weekly lunch with Mr. Carter, his own office near the president’s and his own staff integrated with Mr. Carter’s,” noted the New York Times in its obituary. His elevated role made it possible for Al Gore, Dick Cheney, and Joe Biden to become similarly significant veeps. And he served as something of an internal lobbyist for the progressive tendencies of a sometimes conservative Carter administration, while remaining loyal, which had particular value when Carter was challenged by Ted Kennedy in the 1980 primaries.
The wheels soon came off for the coalition Carter and Mondale had put together in 1976, and when Mondale finally ran for the top spot in 1984, the Republican ascendancy that had been delayed by Watergate and Carter’s southern identity fully arrived. The Minnesotan narrowly won the presidential nomination against forward-leaning candidacies by Jesse Jackson and Gary Hart, but eventually won just his own state plus the District of Columbia against the “Morning in America” reelection campaign of Ronald Reagan. The Mondale presidential campaign’s only positive legacy was his pioneering choice of a woman, New York’s Gerald Ferraro, as running mate. Again, All Things Veep was Mondale’s signature.
He returned to public office when Bill Clinton reclaimed the White House, spending over three years as U.S. ambassador to Japan, where he is still remembered for his efforts to scale back the U.S. military presence in Okinawa.
But after he returned to Minnesota to practice law and semi-retire, this paragon of party loyalty had one more bitter cup to drink. He was drafted in 2002 to run for his old Senate seat after Paul Wellstone was killed in a plane accident just 11 days before the general election. A close race turned into a Democratic defeat, after a boisterous Wellstone memorial service that offended some voters. Mondale finally retired from politics.
His and Carter’s longevity (the former president is 96) made them the longest-surviving ex-president and vice-president ever. And the strong personal qualities of both men have allowed their political mistakes to fade over time.
Upon news of Mondale’s death, President Biden released a statement crediting his vice-presidential predecessor with offering him sound counsel when Barack Obama chose him as his 2008 running mate. And in some respects, the old-school liberal tradition Mondale typified is shared by Biden, who served with him in the Senate for eight years (four when Mondale was president of the Senate) more than four decades ago. Ideology aside, both men unfashionably viewed public service as an honorable profession. One lives in the White House, and the other lives on in many fond memories.