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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Campaign That Never Ended

As the staff post earlier today noted, this is the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And yes, the anniversary reminds us of a time when many Republicans were staunch supporters of civil rights.
But it’s also the 50th anniversary of Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign, in which the Party of Lincoln chose to nominate for president a candidate who voted against the Civil Rights Act on constitutional grounds.
The standard analysis of the current right-wing trend in the GOP is that the conservative movement is trying to pull the Republican Party back into the Reagan era. But if you listen carefully to the arguments of the powerful “constitutional conservative” faction of the GOP, which rejects the entire “Commerce Clause”-based line of Supreme Court decisions that provided the basis for the Civil Rights Act along with much of the New Deal/Great Society legacy, there’s a very good case for saying the Goldwater campaign never ended, and is in fact reconquering the GOP.
Rand Paul has tried to walk back his personal opposition to the public accommodations section of the Civil Rights Act on constitutional grounds. That opposition, however, is entirely consistent with his general views on the appropriate powers of the federal government, and that of so many “constitutional conservatives” today.
Democrats need to challenge such conservatives as often as the occasion arises to clarify their views on the Civil Rights Act. I strongly suspect their actual attitude towards Goldwater’s vote against that crucial legislation is: “In your heart, you know he’s right.”

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