Bernie Sanders: The New Goldwater?
by Ned Sheehan on Thursday, March 10th, 2016
During the first quarter of the 20th century, even the most fiscally “radical” politicians would have been considered absurdly conservative by today’s standards. Conservatives, including Presidents McKinley, Taft, Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover, advocated for zero regulations on business. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Wilson were considered equally radical when they tried to stop child labor.
In October 1929, the Great Depression hit, and four years later, Franklin Roosevelt took over the presidency from Hoover. Roosevelt, along with World War II, brought our nation back from the brink, taking the country’s economic policies on an unprecedented left-leaning path.
During Roosevelt’s presidency, the Republicans who shared Hoover’s views, a group now known as the “Old Right,” were booted out of office for good. In 1952, the GOP finally got a president elected– war hero General Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose policies were basically “New Deal lite.” In 1960, Vice President Richard Nixon ran on all of Eisenhower’s policies, losing to Kennedy, whose platform was only slightly different. Both parties were sane, bipartisan, and could reach consensus. So what went wrong?
In 1964, the only mainline candidate for the Republican nomination was Nelson Rockefeller. He was running against Arizona governor, Barry Goldwater, an Old Right candidate. Unfortunately for Rockefeller, the GOP, and the country, Rockefeller’s second wife, a young divorcée, had his child not long before the primaries. The mid-1960’s American public did not look kindly upon this situation. Goldwater, meanwhile, was a quirky man who made off-the-cuff remarks like “Extremism in the Defense of liberty is no vice!” and “I sometimes think our nation would be better off if we sawed off the eastern seaboard and let it float out to sea.” Needless to say, Goldwater was mauled in the election, as President Lyndon B. Johnson portrayed Goldwater as a nuke-happy maniac, announcing, “In your guts, you know he’s nuts.”
Most thought that Goldwater’s flop of a campaign was the last nail in the coffin for the Old Right. However, Goldwater gave second wind to that same faction. The coalition of extremists consisting of evangelical Christians, Dixiecrat ex-segregationists angered by President Johnson’s civil rights reforms, and old school Republicans that still dominate much of the GOP today, formed in 1964. That same year, a declining B-movie actor who had recently starred in a movie alongside a chimpanzee announced his switch to the Republican Party, saying Goldwater was the right candidate to run the nation and that conservatives of Goldwater’s type were the future. This actor’s name was Ronald Reagan.
Now, let me pause the story there for a minute. Have you noticed anything that reminds you of the present day? Could that something have to do with a more ideologically driven candidate running against a party mainliner of dubious moral fiber?
Well, you know what happened from there. The Nixon-Ford administration was bipartisan, but Nixon was a paranoid, pathological liar who flagrantly violated constitutional authority, and Ford was a buffoon (“There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe,” anyone?). Then, in the late 1970’s, the economy broke down under President Carter, and Carter was totally out of his depth trying to end both the recession and the Iran Hostage crisis. In 1980, Ronald Reagan kicked Carter out of office. The country went on a massive rightward shift. Democrats of the Roosevelt-Johnson-Carter type (now known as the Old Left) were embarrassed in the 1984 and 1988 elections, and, finally, Bill Clinton, after being elected in 1992, based his policies pn a watered-down form of Reaganomics.
Today, the Republican Party is a mess, crippled by its own delusional obsession with absolute ideological purity and constantly branding compromise as betrayal. In my opinion, what has happened to the Republicans is going to happen to the Democrats if they aren’t careful.
Here’s a fact: Bernie Sanders will not win the 2016 general election. But, I can hear supporters of Bernie saying, the polls show him beating all the Republicans by even more than Clinton. I hate to burst that bubble, but polls are irrelevant, especially this early on. The GOP will scare millions of apathetic voters into voting against a self-proclaimed socialist. But that’s just because they don’t understand what socialism is…
I’m going to stop you right there, hypothetical Bernie voter. My first law of politics is: all other things being equal, perception is ALWAYS more important than reality. Yes, Bernie will bring millions of poor and disenfranchised Americans to the polls for the first time. And for every one he brings in, he’ll lose two moderate Democrats. But the youth vote… Ah, yes. How about you ask Presidents McGovern, Tsongas, and Dean how the youth vote worked out for them?
I’ll concede this: Bernie’s sycophants may inherit the party someday. But, I ask, do you want that? Today, Goldwater and Reagan would both be dubbed RINOs (Republican in name only) by the conservative establishment that idolizes them. What if the same happened with Sanders’ supporters? What if the Democrats became just as delusional as most Republicans (fiscally speaking)? That’s bad for our country. This isn’t an attack on Bernie Sanders himself or his supporters. I just want to show you a historical swing that has happened twice before in our history and how damaging it can be.
We’ll never be Sweden or France, and that’s for the best. Once the current right breaks down (and it will, given demographics), a more centrist, rational, compromise-friendly nation can be forged, but it won’t if Sanders has his way. To any readers who can vote in the primaries, I urge you to vote Clinton or vote Republican. I know you like Sanders, but if he becomes the Democrat Goldwater, then it’s only a matter of time until you get another Trump.
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