Think Goldwater is the father of conservatism? Think again.
So argues Neal Gabler in an op-ed at the LA Times, The GOP's McCarthy gene, in an essay assessing the direction of the GOP after its post-election defeat:
Ever since the election, partisans within the Republican Party and observers outside it have been speculating wildly about what direction the GOP will take to revive itself from its disaster. Or, more specifically, which wing of the party will prevail in setting the new Republican course -- whether it will be what conservative writer Kathleen Parker has called the "evangelical, right-wing, oogedy-boogedy" branch or the more pragmatic, intellectual, centrist branch. To determine the answer, it helps to understand exactly how Republicans arrived at this spot in the first place.Disputing the meme that modern conservatism began with Barry Goldwater, Gabler's fascinating commentary takes a somewhat different view of things:
But there is another rendition of the story of modern conservatism, one that doesn't begin with Goldwater and doesn't celebrate his libertarian orientation. It is a less heroic story, and one that may go a much longer way toward really explaining the Republican Party's past electoral fortunes and its future. In this tale, the real father of modern Republicanism is Sen. Joe McCarthy, and the line doesn't run from Goldwater to Reagan to George W. Bush; it runs from McCarthy to Nixon to Bush and possibly now to Sarah Palin. It centralizes what one might call the McCarthy gene, something deep in the DNA of the Republican Party that determines how Republicans run for office, and because it is genetic, it isn't likely to be expunged any time soon.Gabler's take on the history of the GOP is certainly more in line with the dogmatic, divisive strain of the party, masking under the guise of conservatism that reigns supreme today. That is, the greedy corporations and select individuals (such as those running the Halliburtons and Blackwaters) work behind the scenes, pulling the strings of the religious and bigoted members that comprise the face of the Republican Party, in order to maintain control.
The basic problem with the Goldwater tale is that it focuses on ideology and movement building, which few voters have ever really cared about, while the McCarthy tale focuses on electoral strategy, which is where Republicans have excelled.* * * *McCarthyism is usually considered a virulent form of Red-baiting and character assassination. But it is much more than that. As historian Richard Hofstadter described it in his famous essay, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," McCarthyism is a way to build support by playing on the anxieties of Americans, actively convincing them of danger and conspiracy even where these don't exist.
As The Mahablog notes, in Plain Facts:
So much of the uglier side of the GOP ever since — Nixon, Lee Atwater, Karl Rove — is just warmed-over and updated McCarthyism. As Gabler says, the line runs “from McCarthy to Nixon to Bush and possibly now to Sarah Palin.” One of the reasons historian Richard Hofstadter was able to see where the U.S. was heading in the 1950s and early 1960s is that McCarthy had already set the course.And despite the hand-wringing and soul-searching that appears to be taking place within the Party, I have no doubt "which wing of the party will prevail in setting the new Republican course -- whether it will be what conservative writer Kathleen Parker has called the "evangelical, right-wing, oogedy-boogedy" branch or the more pragmatic, intellectual, centrist branch," as Gabler puts it. It's oogedy-boogedy time.
It isn’t just the ranting about Communism. The myth of liberal elitism began with McCarthy. Certainly anti-intellectualism had existed in America before McCarthy, just as there had been Red Scares before McCarthy. But he’s the one who figured out how to turn anti-intellectualism into a political force in modern politics.