The Goldwater Standard

goldwaterFifty years ago this Labor Day weekend, the presidential campaign of 1964 got underway in earnest. It is often said that Barry Goldwater “lost the election but won the Republican party” or even “lost the election but won the future” by nudging the center of either the party or the country several notches to the right.

I don’t see it. Where is the contemporary mainstream politician — Republican or otherwise — who would repeal the 1964 Civil Rights Act, or at least those provisions (Titles II and VII) that authorize Federal regulators to override private business decisions about whom to serve and whom to hire? Where is the contemporary mainstream politician who would sell the Tennessee Valley Authority? Or end all agricultural supports? If Goldwaterism is in fact ascendant, then how did entitlement spending, as a percentage of GDP, manage to grow for most of the past 20 years — even though Republicans controlled the House of Representatives for 16 of those 20? For that matter, how is it that after all those years of Republican control, the National Endowments of the Arts and Humanities — two of the more noxious weeds to arise from the soil of the Goldwater defeat — continue to thrive?

Where, in other words, is the lasting influence of Goldwater, or of Goldwaterism? Can anyone help?


26 Responses to “The Goldwater Standard”

  1. 1 1 Wintercow

    What you are surely going to hear as a response, sans any direct answer to your query, is that Goldwater and subsequently Reagan and their acolytes have instilled a nefarious “culture” of deregulation and “culture” of limited government that poisons modern politics. That answer is usually coupled with an anecdotal illustration of such culture and vague references to starve the beast policies that cannot actually be demonstrated.

  2. 2 2 wintercow20

    People would (seriously) answer that despite there not being any objective evidence of Goldwaterism, both his and Reagan’s acolytes created a corrosive and disruptive “culture of Goldwaterism” or a “culture of deregulation” and a “culture of smaller government” and other similar bogeymen. On a good day, a small piece of anecdotal evidence will be provided – “look, we eliminated the C.A.B.!”

  3. 3 3 Josh

    A downside of the civil rights act was in fact that businesses lost some freedom to serve specially who they want.

    But there was an upside… We as a country became less overtly racist at our corps.. That is I do believe it changed the preferences for the better for generations of Americans. Now when most business owners open businesses, most are ok with serving all races. Almost none were in the 40s, 50s.

    The question should be raised though.. Now with preferences changed for the better, do we need this law anymore?

  4. 4 4 thomasblair

    This may be a seen/unseen fallacy. You’re looking for the current group of Goldwater-influenced politicians that would eliminate or privatize some current, existing government function. Perhaps it’s the case that Goldwaterism has kept us from single payer and French levels of government spending. It’s all a counterfactual.

  5. 5 5 khodge

    It’s called inertia and is one of the things I find scariest about government: once a bill is passed it never goes away. That, coupled with “we have to do something,” guarantees a government that can only grow.

    Colorado, in the mid ’70s, passed a sunset law that requires every board to be actively renewed every few years. It works very well but one can easily see the problem with giving lobbies a specific target dates: they can concentrate their resources once every 5 year or so. The simple sunset approach, however, is considered “radical” and did not seem to spread to other states.

  6. 6 6 RJ

    What’s with your vendetta against the National Endowments of the Arts and Humanities? Funding for it is nothing but a blip on the radar and you label it noxious? Drama queen.

    Are you equally against the National Science Foundation?

  7. 7 7 David Wallin

    R2/ Josh, you seem to suggest that that CRA64 caused us to be less racist as a nation. One could also argue that we were becoming less racist and CRA64 simply reflected, did not lead, the transition. On the other hand, one could also argue that the CRA64 provided benefit by providing cover for the non-racist. Ted doesn’t want to discriminate in serving his customers, but the bulk of Ted’s customers wants Ted to discriminate. Now, Ted says “sorry, it’s the law.” I suspect the airlines loved the ban on smoking on flights, but could not say that publicly at the time or enact it unilaterally before the law change.

  8. 8 8 Advo

    In the absence of the CRA64, not only did you have businesses that discriminated against blacks, such businesses also had an economic interest to market and promote racism.

  9. 9 9 Josh


    Very good point. Perhaps it was reflecting our less racists attitudes, but certainly in the South with all of the turmoil that the Act seemingly caused makes me think otherwise.

    And your second point is important. There was collusion among whites preventing each other from serving blacks. That is, even if you wanted to serve black people in many restaurants throughout the South especially, you couldn’t do it not only because of the law but because other whites wouldn’t come to you business. I thought economists weren’t big fans of collusion?

  10. 10 10 Greg Heslop

    Josh/8: If white restaurateurs wish to serve black patrons but don’t as in your example, what is preventing them is not really collusion but incentives. Collusion would occur if the restaurateurs collectively decided not to serve blacks, but in the presence of such an agreement, and in the absence of great loss of customers if one decides to serve both races, it would pay the individual restaurateur to break the agreement.

    I believe many firms hired blacks to work where customers would not see them. I don’t know if there was anything they did to sell to blacks, too, though I would imagine purchasing a different shop may have been a cumbersome way of achieving that.

  11. 11 11 Will A

    Goldwater’s biggest influence on the conservative movement was in getting trounced.

    He taught the conservative movement that if it wanted to have power, it needed to not be strident.

    It needed to speak about freedom instead of hating the voting rights act. Compassion instead of hating the welfare state.

    My guess is that there are plenty of Republicans would like to end the Voting Rights act, but they are heeding the lessons that Goldwater taught and not talking about it openly.

  12. 12 12 David Wallin

    It is useful to remember Goldwater knew he was going to lose big in ’64. He believed he could beat Kennedy, but knew that the event in Dallas gave Johnson the victory.

  13. 13 13 Harry

    My brother and I bought AUH2O stickers to put on the ’56 Chevy, and I put Goldwater trading stamps (“Trade in LBJ for Goldwater” on the back of letters. Both were procured from classified advertisers in National Review, which never supported segregation, but rather consistently supported liberty. William F. Buckely, not Goldwater, was the intellectual godfather of the movement that led to Ronald Reagan, who presided over many beneficial events.

    Prior to JFK’s assassination it was by no means clear that Goldwater, who had lost to the moderate Richard Nixon in the 1960 convention, would be so thoroughly trounced by LBJ. LBJ, of course, aired the ad showing the little girl plucking daisy petals as a mushroom cloud bloomed, and Goldwater did not do himself a favor when he spoke about ending Social Security before retirees in Florida, but his goose was probably cooked before that.

    But during Goldwater’s campaign Ronald Reagan did The Speech, which
    articulated ideas that some of us found consistent and appealing, and very different from the establishment Republican line, which then was for a kinder, gentler, socialism.

    Reagan did not legalize dope, and was unable to cut taxes as quickly as some had hoped, nor did he restore the gold standard. He did keep Russian Bear bombers out of Grenada, temporarily drive a stake through the heart of the Phillips Curve, and restore American optimism. I can think of several people capable of carrying a similar message. Not Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton, or Joe Biden.

  14. 14 14 Advo


    at least in the 60s and 70s, the NRO under Buckley was a deeply racist publication which thought that blacks in the US should be politically disenfranchised and held under white domination.

  15. 15 15 Harry

    To the contrary, NR never held such beliefs, although I would qualify that statement by saying that I have not read issues cover-to cover before 1960, and I therefore cannot speak from those issues I missed. It is possible that I did not appreciate fully what I read, but then to this day I find it ironic how so shallow my understanding was of all sorts of subjects, of which I am of course now a master.

    I do not mean to make the argument that unless you have read as much of National Review as I have, you are unworthy to challenge anything I say. However, I would be surprised if you could find any such racism. Since I have been all my life (beginning when I could think analytically, not age six, sensitive to racism and, perhaps for unsophisticated reasons against racism, I have almost always dismissed racists as unworthy of my time.

    Now, that does not mean, for example, it should be forbidden to argue that Martin Luther King’s economic ideas were misguided and subject to question. I if the recently beatified St. Theresa had agreed with Peter Singer that rocks have rights, too, that would not make that idea less absurd. So I also not be surprised if one could dig up an article critical of Dr. King’s thoughts in NR.
    But racist, no.

    It is true that NR, being WFB’s creation, has long been friendly to Roman Catholic religious ideas, which may be at variance with, say, the view of Protestant country club Republicans and many members of NOW fearful of the camel poking his/her nose under the abortion tent. I’m pretty sure I remember Impeach Earl Warren, which, by the way still seems like a good idea, were he alive today. It is also true that NR has persistently advanced a conservative philosophy, usually 180 degrees from the New Republic. WFB did Firing Line in the same spirit, debating with John Kenneth Galbreath, a youthful Chuck Schumer, and Ayn Rand, among others.

    So, if one wants to argue that x idea printed in NR was wrong for the following reasons, one should do it, even if your ears have detected a racist dog whistle. But NR is not a racist mag.

  16. 16 16 Harry

    Regarding your link to NR, you did not cite when that was published. Surely today its use of the word “negro” sounds repulsive today, and by its very use today would make it difficult to get beyond that to understand the point being made, which is worth discussing without requiring all sides shake hands and decide either way. It is not written, for example, that all disputes are fairly resolved by a plebiscite, or that a majority cannot be tyrannical toward the minority.

    I suspect that whoever wrote the piece did not use the word negro out of disrespect, just to demonstrate his fidelity to southern racists and to alienate other readers. MLK used the word, too, remember.

  17. 17 17 Harold

    Harry: The article linked to by Advo is very clearly racist. It is not because it uses the word negro, but because of what it says. It says that the white man has the entitlement to prevail in areas where it is a minority because the white man is the more advanced race. It is difficult to think of a more racist position. This could be argued as merely the Review containing a racist article, and not reflecting on the overall nature of the review, except it says “NATIONAL REVIEW believes that the South’s premises are correct. If the majority wills what is socially atavistic, then to thwart the majority may be, though undemocratic, enlightened.”

    The Review is declaring itself to believe the racist views contained in the article.

    It is not completely racist. It calls for the South to never permit the negro race to be preserved as a servile class, but instead to strive for genuine cultural equality between the races. The problem, it says, is not how to get the vote to the negro, but how to equip the negro to cast an enlightened and responsible vote.

  18. 18 18 Harold

    An aside on the article, it says of “The White community will not count
    the marginal Negro vote . The man who didn’t count it will be hauled up before a jury, he will plead not guilty, and the jury, upon deliberation, will find him not guilty” I presume the jury would have been all white? There is the source of the problem, not in allowing juries to decide, but in choosing unrepresentative and racist juries. It says that an all white jury would find against the black man even in a case where the law was clearly broken.

  19. 19 19 David Wallin

    Josh, r/8 “I thought economists weren’t big fans of collusion?” Ah, but I would contend that wasn’t what was a foot. First, I think one can see a lot of businesses in the South serving whites and blacks 100 years ago. Racist whites who didn’t like that found a simple solution: pass laws making discrimination legally required. Of course, if it were legal to serve both races at, say, a lunch counter, the owner attempting to do just that would find his white customers refusing to come back. I would not call either of these things collusion.

  20. 20 20 Roger

    The Goldwater Republicans have never had a majority, but have had enuf influence to water down or kill a log of big govt programs.

  21. 21 21 Roger

    The NR article was an unsigned 1957 editorial, allegedly written by Buckley. Not sure what it has to do with Goldwater.

  22. 22 22 Harry

    Harold, you make a sound point about the article, and I stand corrected. Closer reading suggests that the piece ran in 1957, and an editor-in-chief has to be held responsible for content. Next time I attempt to defend purity, I will be more careful to qualify the limitations of my experience.

    I should have qualified that in my experience I never ran across anything like that. But I have read enough WFB and NR to say that as long as I can remember, I never encountered anything like that, including in the 60′s and 70′s, when allegedly racism was rampant on 35th street. I would have noticed, even back when I was young and inexperienced, not possessing the flawless judgement I have today.

    In college I once bought a calendar from a guy across the hall that pictured The March. The calendar was sold to benefit the SCLC, and the guy had been part of The March. He would go on, early in his career to write a few book reviews for NR, and would not have done so if he had thought NR were racist.

    As you point out, this discussion may be not what Prof. Landsburg had in mind when writing of Barry Goldwater. I merely wanted to express my view that it was cheap to smear all NR readers as Neanderthal bigots, which I admit exaggerates the intended implication.

  23. 23 23 Vic

    Perhaps the legacy is found in substantially lower tax rates for the wealthy? The tax rate for the highest income bracket was 91% in 1964 and today it stands at 39%.There has also been large dips in capital gains taxes, which are mostly placed on the wealthy (only 6% of Americans who make $100,000 or more receive income in capital gains.)

    Moreover, there has been significant deregulation many sectors of the economy such as finance, energy (in California), and in the airlines industry.

    You must know all this, but I think being a “hardcore libertarian” has blinded you to their significance.

  24. 24 24 Bob K

    Goldwater needs to be understood in historical context. Previous to him, Republicans had been favoring government that was actively pro-business. In the 1950′s there were two fat and happy parties divvying up the spoils of WWII. Republicans built missiles and highways, Democrats built housing projects. By contrast, Goldwater painted a vision that was somewhat libertarian, and captured a lot of minds. And his views were never as extreme as his opponents painted them.

    In the 1970′s, Nixon implemented wage and price controls, a national speed limit, and declared, “We’re all Keynesians now”. By that time, Republicans were sick of both parties, and Reagan began to get noticed.

    By 1980, the intellectual climate had fully changed on both sides of the aisle. California had had its Prop 2-1/2 revolt, PBS broadcast a 10-segment film of Milton Friedman’s Free To Choose, and President Carter signed legislation to deregulate transportation and oil prices. Reagan’s election was enabled by that tide of public opinion, as Republicans found a message that the political center could appreciate.

    Politically, most of that change traces back to Goldwater and people who worked with him. I don’t think it’s really relevant to the post-1994 Republican Party. Their opposition to centralized power eroded once they acquired some.

  25. 25 25 Advo

    The whole “opposition against federalized power” was always a canard. To the extent that the Southern States opposed it, even prior to the US Civil War, it opposed it only where it clashed with its aims (i.e. where it could imperil slavery).
    The South was perfectly willing to use federal power to further its aims as it thought to extend slavery to all states of the union via the fugitive slave laws.

  26. 26 26 Cato

    The entire “libertarian-conservative” sector of the Republican party would do exactly what you described. This includes Rand Paul, Justin Amash, Thomas Massie, Ted Yoho, etc.

    The only one of these who I would consider “mainstream” is Rand Paul, who currently leads almost every 2016 Presidential GOP Primary straw poll.

    While most GOP candidates might not want to change these detrimental policies, you have to separate the GOP candidates from the GOP. The GOP voters could very well want to change the policies but the candidates might not be able to if they hope to win a Presidential election because they need the backing of prominent groups (NAACP, people who make money off of the TVA, farmers trade associations, etc.) to win elections.

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