I’m reading the book The Conscience of a Conservative, ostensibly by Senator Barry Goldwater, but actually by L. Brent Bozell Jr. Though Goldwater didn’t write it, I assume that, since it was under his name, it reflected what he wanted people to think he believed. If we grant this, it is so far reaffirming everything I suspected about Goldwater; to wit, that he was a Libertarian, not a “Conservative” in the sense we mean it today.
People often think of Goldwater as shaping the modern Republican party. Many credit–or blame–him for clearing the way for Ronald Reagan’s election. This is, from what I can see, a falsehood except in the sense that Reagan learned from Goldwater’s failure. Goldwater was the last gasp of the old Republican party, and the last attempt is naturally the most wild and desperate. Thus, Goldwater’s rhetoric was more extreme than any previous member of the old Republicans had been. After all, he really was serious about this small government idea.
It’s true that the rhetoric used in Conscience of a Conservative is very Tea Party-like, but it is only one side of the alliance. The cultural aspects of modern Republican party are missing from the book that represents Goldwater, and from his rhetoric generally.
I’m not saying, as Liberals sometimes do, that he would be displeased by the Republican party of today. I have no idea what he would think of modern Republican policy. Whether he would have liked it or not is irrelevant, however. What matters is that he wasn’t talking about their modern issues, and thus can’t be held responsible for inventing their platform.
Barry Goldwater was the greatest, most successful, and probably most popular libertarian Presidential candidate this country has ever seen, and he lost badly. Perhaps that means something. Perhaps not.