Saturday, 9 April 2011


Senator Barry Goldwater was well known as an economic conservative who ran a disastrous presidential campaign against Lyndon Johnson and the welfare state. In the last decade, however, Goldwater has become the darling of social conservatives who have reinvented this conservative icon who shocked the nation in July 1964 when he accepted his party's nomination. "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice ... moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."  His book The Conscience of a Conservative has become the bible for conservatives that follow his lead.

Rejecting traditional Republican party elitism, Goldwater redefined conservatism by placing man as "a spiritual creature with spiritual needs and spiritual desires." Was Goldwater the Tea Party precursor and was he responsible for the evolution of American conservatism culminating with Ronald Reagan and then Bush - father and son? Did Goldwater see through the political bankruptcy of American Liberalism as anachronistic or was he a messenger of finance capital presaging that the only way to engender institutional conformity was by invoking economic and social conservatism?

Finance capital could best be served by Goldwater-style conservatism against big-government welfare state capitalism that FDR, Kennedy and Johnson had represented. Goldwater was offering distraction and conformity strategy on a platter, but most of corporate America was not buying because there was still enough capital for 'guns and butter' during the Vietnam War.

Did Goldwater take advantage of historical regional divisions, recognizing that the south and southwest, which FDR had won, could only be recaptured by economic and especially social conservatism by Republicans appealing to social issues? Like modern-day Tea Party activists, Goldwater seized the opportunity to distance himself and his extreme right wing policies from those of mainstream (Liberal) Republicans who were not that different on most issues than mainstream Kennedy-Johnson Democrats.

Therefore, the real 'evolution' was not Goldwater conservatism's challenge of the "Great Society", but the right-wing attack on the moderate Republicans. This is exactly what is taking place today. but why, toward what end then, toward what end today? Tea Party Republicans are insisting that they possess the magic answer to distraction and social conformity. National election year 2012 will prove whether the American people have been sufficiently convinced to elect even more Tea Party candidates to office; and if they do it will be the continuing Goldwater legacy.

Goldwater economic and social conservatives used social and economic issues in order to define the debate and to inculcate into the public mind the idea that the social contract could be best served with a healthier finance capital structure and socially conservative agenda. Given that the political preachers of these messages, including Goldwater were hardly observing their own moral dictates in their personal lives, economic and social conservatism were used to distract people from essential matters like growing economic gap between rich and poor (also race and ethnic based), and to de-radicalize and guide the public toward a rightist orientation by insisting traditionalism was the nation's salvation. This is exactly what is taking place today. However, people live in the present and have no sense of historical continuity or even bother to make connections with the Goldwater legacy.

Although on 8 April 2012 a government shut-down was averted owing to immense business pressure on both sides that receive generous amounts in campaign contributions, Republicans led by Tea Party activists used the abortion issue to weaken the welfare state. Let us assume that there is total absence of any public funding for abortion or for clinics that provide services to women seeking health services that are even remotely related to planned parenthood, how would this improve the immense US budgetary deficit?

Many people know that Federal law does not allow for abortion funding, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), made defunding a budget battle priority, as though it is a real issue. Given that the amount is highly symbolic and less than the cost of a few tomahawk missiles used to kill Libyans on both the Gaddafi and rebel camps, exactly what would be solved if the federal government cut every penny from clinics serving women for issue unrelated to abortion? The real target is to further weaken if not eliminate the welfare state, but it is unfortunate that this message is not conveyed by the media. An extreme socially conservative agenda is meaningless if deconstructed, but highly significant if used to destroy what is left of the welfare state and strengthen corporate welfare.

People cannot possibly support the destruction of the welfare state if it is posed as a case of transferring resources to strengthen corporate welfare. The only way that good Christian folk can support economic conservatism is to convince them that social (equated with moral) conservatism is the only path to supporting God and Country. In short, the Tea Party fanatics are indeed following the Goldwater model and we see before us the evolution of American conservatism.

How far will this 'distraction and conformity' strategy go before it explodes given its inherent contradictions, given that it is intended to strengthen finance capital at the expense of the middle class and labor? Perhaps another recession or two and, 'Praise the Lord' as the social conservative would say, the game is over. The social structure is very polarized and will be reflected in the political arena in the national elections of 2012. Can there be a catalyst to consensus politics forged from the age of Theodore Roosevelt to Bill Clinton, or will the veneer finally crack to expose the ugly face of finance capitalism behind it?

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