« Productivity News Good, Real Wage News Bad | Main | Andrew Samwick Worries About Fiscal Policy »

December 09, 2005

Rick Perlstein on the Conservative Movement Today

Rick Perlstein on the downfall of American conservatism:

The Conservative Movement Now | The Huffington Post: I'm working on the sequel to my book Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus now. It's going to be called Nixonland.... Douglas Caddy... the co-founder of the effort to draft Goldwater for vice-president in 1960 and YAF's first president... was the man the White House called on to represent the Watergate burglars in 1972.... [T]he guy inaugurated as YAF's chair in the 1965... Tom Charles Huston... an architect of Watergate. It is a thread one finds throughout the annals of the Nixon presidency. The notion that what they were doing was moral, the eggs that need be broken in the act of redeeming a crumbling West. Jeb Magruder told the Senate Watergate Committee: "Although I was aware they were illegal we had become somewhat inured to using some activities that would help us in accomplishing what we thought was a cause." That message came straight from the top. "Just remember you're doing the right thing," the president told Bob Haldeman on Easter Sunday, 1973. "That's what I used to think when I killed some innocent children in Hanoi." Then he briefed him on how to suborn perjury from an aide concerning the blackmailing of the Watergate burglars....

[M]y thesis [is] that the Republicans are less the party of Goldwater, and more the party of Watergate--and this not despite the operational ascendecy of the conservative movement in its councils but in some sense because of it.... This past year, I interviewed Richard Viguerie.... With a couple of hours' research I was able to find a mailer from an organization that was then one of his direct-mail clients that said "babies are being harvested and sold on the black market by Planned Parenthood."

Why not cut corners like this, if you believe you are defending the unchanging ground of our changing experience? This is what many Americans of good faith seem to be hearing conservatives telling them.... Is this allergy to transparency a constitutive part of conservatism? A friend of mine suggests an answer, imagining Hillary Clinton reading conservative con law professor John Yoo's assertion that "in the exercise of his plenary power to use military force, the Preisdent's decisions are for him alone and are unreviewable": "President Hillary thanks you."...

Tom Charles Huston often signed his memos to Richard Nixon "Cato the Younger," after the statesman of the late Roman Republic famous for both his stubborn inflexibility and incorruptibility. What does it mean that the member of Nixon's staff who was closest to the conservative movement, who was best-versed in its literature and its habits, was not merely the most ruthless malefactor on Richard Nixon's staff but the one most convinced he was acting on principle?... [T]he stations of the cross of a conservatism in power include not merely Sharon, Connecticut, but Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands; not merely Mont Pelerin, but the competing Indian casinos whose money was laundered by conservative groups on Jack Abramoff's behalf. Barry Goldwater ran against Lyndon Johnson's ties to Bobby Baker.... Ask yourself, What would Barry Goldwater say?

A big difference between me and Rick is that he likes the Goldwaterites--or at least likes who they were when they were young, idealistic, and out of power.

I don't.

I see them--or most of them--as sleazy: pretending that "states' rights" meant something other than "states have the right to control their Negroes however they wish." I see them as corrupt: eager to call for the abolition of Communism and the unleashing of Chang Kai-Shek, but also eager to wash their hands when people in Hungary thought they were serious about replacing containment with rollback. I see them as stupid: seeing Social Security in particular and social insurance in general as infringements on rather than supports to individual freedom and independence.

Posted by DeLong at December 9, 2005 10:43 AM