In 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, a landmark piece of legislation that — among other results — ended the “Solid South,” the traditional southern Democratic voting bloc.
Religious conservatives flooded into the Republican Party, kicking off a trend that has created candidates such as Rick Santorum and distanced the party from historical leaders such as Barry Goldwater, synonymous with everything the Republican Party stood for before the Civil Rights Act: fiscal conservatism and libertarianism.
Goldwater, known famously as Mr. Conservative, has been largely forgotten by the inheritors of his party. Mainstream Republicans are now expected to profess a Christian faith, defend Christian values, and support popular Christian agendas.
It should be an alarming trend, especially for Washingtonians, residents of the sixth-least religious state according to Gallup, a political research organization. Goldwater was openly dismayed by this nonsecular change of course, and rightfully so: It distorted political discourse to an extreme and intolerable degree.
After losing to Lyndon B. Johnson in a landslide in the 1964 presidential election, Goldwater’s status as the leader of his party was lost, and he retreated to an advisory role. By the 1990s, he disavowed any connection with the modern Republican Party, complaining extremist elements had taken over. In his later years he supported abortion rights, gay rights, and marijuana legalization. Goldwater passed away in 1998 at the age of 89.
Even when he was an institutional player in the early ’60s, Goldwater articulated wise views that would now be scorned by Republican candidates. In his 1960 values guide, “The Conscience of a Conservative,” Goldwater argued only individuals should be allowed to contribute to campaigns, as corporations are meant to be solely economic entities concerned only with the creation of profit and should have no political role. Additionally, he argued for termination of the farm subsidy program on the grounds it was detrimental for the nation and needlessly distorted the free market.
Albeit — in the same volume — Goldwater revealed his old conservative roots, warmongering with the Soviet Union in the final chapter and, regrettably, mentioning that, “we are all equal in the eyes of God but we are equal in no other respect.” He was nothing if not a divisive character, and it would be highly imaginative to paint him as a perfect savior of any cause.
However, his legacy deserves greater attention, if only because it has been intentionally ignored. Contemporary Republicans would prefer to forget Goldwater, Eisenhower, and Lincoln were part of a radically different party that was modernized in 1964 through racism. The real value of Goldwater’s politics is that they’re still compatible with discourse. Goldwater would support any reform as long as it was codified into the constitution or represented an attempt at limited government, whereas religious conservatives make no such compromises.
To quote Goldwater: “By maintaining the separation of church and state, the United States has avoided the intolerance which has so divided the rest of the world with religious wars.”
Unfortunately, the distinct separation of church and state is no longer the case.
Reach opinion writer Ian Cameron at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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