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    The most bitter resistance to Senator Goldwater centers in the 'eastern, internationalist power structure that for two decades has dictated
    Republican nominations.'
        -Tom Wicker, The New York Times Magazine (August 11, 1963)

It is one of the more delicious ironies of American politics that the reforms that were foisted upon the Democrats in 1972 by liberal activists trying to nominate a candidate of the Left, reforms which then spread to the Republican Party in the wake of the Watergate scandals, have had the opposite effect that their advocates intended.  Loosening the powerbrokers grip on the nomination process has produced an uninterrupted string of conservative Republican nominees and nearly thirty years of at least relatively conservative presidents, even though Democrats have won three of those elections.  This is not, of course, how it was supposed to work.  The operating mythology held that it was the evil men in the smoke-filled rooms who were forcing their reactionary minions down all of our throats, and, if only you could give the people their choice, they'd go for progressives.  Well, those reformers would have done well to read Phyllis Schlafly's A Choice Not an Echo, before setting in motion a process which they didn't understand, but which she had clearly, if over dramatically, explained back during the 1964 campaign.

What Ms Schlafly set out to demonstrate--and she succeeded to a considerable degree--was that the Eastern Establishment of the Republican Party, with its money, access to the media and advertising expertise, had for years wielded an inordinate influence over who would be the eventual presidential nominee every four years.  At first blush this might seem to confirm the reformers intuition, but, as Ms Schlafly said, what these men believed in was not conservative politics, as we understand it today, but their own rather large pocketbooks.  This led them to favor stability, domestic and global, above all other causes, and meant that they were de facto defenders of the New Deal and relentless advocates of détente with the Soviets.  Ideas were less important to them than not rocking the boat; the party line a distant second to the bottom line.  In their own strange way, they had become allies of the Democratic Party, which by the early 1970s had taken the nation a long way toward socialism at home, acceptance of communism as a legitimate system abroad, and an increasingly demoralized and relativistic culture. Thus, the party paraded out a cavalcade of "me-tooers"--nominees like Wendell Wilkie, Tom Dewey, Eisenhower, and Nixon--who had basically come to terms with the New Deal and were internationalist but not confrontationalist when it came to the Soviet Union.  Meanwhile, Eastern party powers did everything they could to deny the nomination to someone like Robert Taft, "Mr. Republican", who was both isolationist and eager to roll back the Social Welfare State.

In this thin volume, Ms Schlafly argued that for Republicans to compete and win on the presidential level they would need to shuck off the influence of the Easterners, the moneyed interests, and select truly conservative candidates who would draw sharp contrasts with the Democrats, not try to fudge their differences.  When she first wrote the book it was to justify a Goldwater candidacy, and she rewrote it somewhat later in 1964 to prepare Republicans for the vicious assault that she correctly predicted that Madison Avenue would launch against him, with establishment Republicans in the East joining with Democrats to defeat a man who threatened both big government and the rather stable balance of terror that was the Cold War.

In his terrific book, Before the Storm, Rick Perlstein has told the fascinating story of how the grassroots conservative movement managed, in 1964, to finally win the nomination for one of their own.  The victory was so unlikely that in places his book reads like a thriller.  Of course, with LBJ riding a tidal wave of popular support in the wake of the Kennedy assassination, one could argue that the win wasn't worth much.  In fact, Goldwater went down to such ignominious defeat that it left many on the Left saying that conservatism had ceased to exist in America.  Indeed, the Eastern Establishment had their way again in 1968 with the candidacy of Richard Nixon, who proceeded to expand domestic government, bail out of Vietnam, buddy up to China, and pursue a policy of détente with the Soviet Union.  But then came the McGovern reforms, and the post-Watergate reforms, and American politics has been drifting Right ever since.

In 1976 Ronald Reagan nearly knocked off a sitting president in the first relatively open GOP primaries, and the Democrats nominated a born-again Southerner, Jimmy Carter, who did beat Ford.  Reagan came back and won in 1980, establishing what appeared to be a Republican hammerlock on the presidency, but George Bush Sr. squandered that lock by raising taxes and alienating his conservative base.  This left him vulnerable to two other conservative Southerners, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot, as, presumably for the first time in the history of American politics, the Eastern establishment had no candidate at all to support, though they finally grudgingly went with Clinton as the least conservative option.  Just two years later, in 1994, Ms Schlafly's thesis was brilliantly vindicated as Republicans ran on the starkly ideological platform of the Contract with America and won a resounding victory, taking both houses of Congress for the first time in decades.  Then in 2000, George W. Bush managed to defeat John McCain, the improbable darling of the establishment, in the primaries, then proceeded to dethrone a sitting Vice President during an unprecedented economic boom.  (It is notable that Al Gore too was a conservative Southerner, despite his bizarre lurch leftward during the fall campaign.)  Bush achieved these twin feats while running well to the right of Ronald Reagan, who, though he undoubtedly would have liked to, never actually ran on a platform that called for privatizing Social Security and turning over government services to "faith-based institutions".

Oddly enough, it is today Democrats who need their own Phyllis Schlafly (and isn't that a delicious prospect?) to come forward and summon them back to their party principles.  Unless Democrats are content to be a party that periodically gets to put their own "me-tooer" in the White House, a Democratic president who will govern like a Republican, then they need to offer "a choice not an echo."  It is Democrats who need to shake themselves loose from the thrall of the big corporate interests who have taken over their party and transformed them into what Clinton himself realized they had become : "Eisenhower Republicans...fighting the Reagan Republicans".  They need to ask themselves whether they exist solely to hold governmental power every once in a while, or whether they still have an organizing vision of the uses to which that power should be put.

Congressional Republicans too should heed Ms Schlafly's sage advice and should borrow a page from their own playbook; in 2002 they should run on a new Contract, one which differentiates them from Democrats in the most direct terms.  Too many of our politicians have been mesmerized by the siren call of the media for bipartisanship, but as Ms Schlafly wrote, citing an unnamed Republican leader :

    Bipartisanship is just a $5 word for...a two-bit word, 'me-tooism.'

Our politics is at its best when the two parties stake out their very different, nearly opposite, positions on the issues and then seek to convince us, by force of argument, that one side or the other has the better platform for America.  Elections should offer us a choice between different philosophies, not between slightly different wordings and emphases within essentially identical policies.   As politics tends to be cyclical this will mean that one party or the other will sometimes find itself in the wilderness (Democrats from the Civil War to the Depression, Republicans from the Depression to Reagan).  But there is something cheap and demeaning about the way they can compromise their core values when they content themselves with merely scuffling for power, instead of seeking to vindicate their ideals.  The former gives us Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton; the latter gives us a Goldwater.  And in the long term, Goldwater mattered more than Nixon did or Clinton will.  The American people may have rejected the choices he offered them in 1964, but the 80s, the 90s, and, thus far, the 21st Century have seen us follow the path he laid out.  Simply by offering the choices he helped to from the debate and chart the future.  The centrality of ideas, and the imperative that parties be unwavering advocates of theirs, is the great insight that animates Phyllis Schlafly's still timely polemic and that rescues it from some of its more paranoid and conspiracy-minded passages.


Grade: (C+)


See also:

Phyllis Schlafly (2 books reviewed)
Phyllis Schlafly Links:
    -Phyllis Schlafly (Naomi B. Lynn, Distinguished Women of Past and Present)
    -Eagle Forum : Leading the Pro-Family Movement since 1972
    -ARCHIVES : Phyllis Schlafly Column (Eagle Forum)
    -ARCHIVES : Phyllis Schlafly ( Columnists)
    -ESSAY : The Real Lesson Of 9/11: A Disarmed Public Cannot Protect A Free Society (Phyllis Schlafly, November 1, 2001, Toogood Reports)
    -ESSAY : Who Is Hillary? : Macho Feminist in the White House (Phyllis Schlafly, | September 21, 2000)
    -ESSAY : BEATING THE BRA BURNERS : Fifteen years ago, ladies in red halted the equal rights amendment. A conservative leader gleefully remembers. (Phyllis Schlafly, June 1997, George)
    -ESSAY : A Short History of E.R.A. (Phyllis Schlafly, September 1986)
    -TESTIMONY : Testimony to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions re: Channel One (Phyllis Schlafly, President, Eagle Forum, May 20, 1999)
    -CHAT : Online Chat Session with Phyllis Schlafly (March 7, 1997, Townhall)
    -INTERVIEW : Phyllis Schlafly says... "The pro-choice Republicans have lost their principal argument." (Kathryn Jean Lopez, 3/24/00, National Review)
    -PROFILE: Call her Mrs. (Ann Coulter, July 18, 2002)
    Phyllis Schlafly: The big eagle (January 30, 2003)
    -PROFILE: Schlafly: Foiling feminists for 20 years (Robert Stacy McCain, January 29, 2003, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)
    ERA Anniversary Renews Familiar Arguments (Kelley Beaucar Vlahos, January 31, 2003, FOX News)
    -PROFILE: Phyllis Schlafly says American women are the 'most privileged in the world'--without the ERA (WILLIAM McFADIN, Alton Telegraph)
    The Week's Famous and Infamous Women: Anti-Feminist Phyllis Schlafly (1924-) (Women's Stories)
    -PROFILE : Phyllis Schlafly, Cyber Warrior (Ashley Craddock, March 31, 1997, Wired)
    -ESSAY : Painting a poor picture of Phyllis : NU liberals speak out against Schlafly (Marc Lummis, 03-02-2001, Northwestern Chronicle)
    -ESSAY : fear and loathing and phyllis schlafly (justin hall)
    -ESSAY : Goldwater and the True Believers (Rightist Movements in the U.S., Public Eye)

Book-related and General Links:

    -America in the 1970s
    -ESSAY : Barry Goldwater : And Republican Defeat in 1964 (Buttons and Ballots, Summer 2000)
    -ESSAY : The Impact of the Draft Goldwater Committee on the Republican Party (Jay D. Hartz, Continuity: A Journal of History, Fall 2000)
    -ESSAY : The Trouble with Bipartisanship : Sometimes compromise equals defeat. (Jonah Goldberg, June 26, 2001, National Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Conservative Revolution: The Movement That Remade America. By Lee Edwards (Gregory L. Schneider, Journal of American History)
    -REVIEW : of Kurt Schuparra. Triumph of the Right: The Rise of the California Conservative Movement, 1945-1966. (William E. Pemberton, American Historical Review)
    -REVIEW : of Gregory L. Schneider. Cadres for Conservatism: Young Americans for Freedom and the Rise of the Contemporary Right (Mary C. Brennan, American Historical Review)
    -REVIEW : of Party Ideologies in America, 1828-1996. By John Gerring (Walter Dean Burnham, Journal of American History)