This year highlighted a battle for the heart and soul of this country that began in the 1960s. The opposing sides were most clearly articulated by two political icons during the 1964 presidential election: Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona on the right and Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson on the left.
As Goldwater's campaign geared up for the 1964 elections, he was bombarded with charges of extremism. He responded in his famous nomination speech: "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."
Lyndon Johnson immediately fired back, stating what would become a hallmark of his presidency: "Extremism in the pursuit of the presidency is an unpardonable vice. Moderation in the affairs of the nation is the highest virtue."
In the following years, LBJ's "moderation" would bring the nation to the brink of chaos over Vietnam, and his social programs would keep millions in poverty. Meanwhile, Goldwater's "extremism" would become the heart and soul of the Republican Party, leading to the Reagan Revolution and George W. Bush's governing ideology. Goldwater's "extremism" meant personal responsibility and adherence to the principles of the Constitution.
"Individual liberty depends on decentralized government," Goldwater wrote in his best-selling book, "The Conscience of a Conservative." "America's maximum economic power will be forged, not under bureaucratic direction, but in freedom." He proposed dramatically cutting taxes, selling the Tennessee Valley Authority and making Social Security voluntary.
Johnson's "moderation" meant big-government solutions to all problems. Johnson's War on Poverty expanded federal authority to increase the size and scope of welfare and Social Security, to open work-training and work-study programs, to coordinate these actions through a federal Office of Economic Opportunity -- and to pay for everything through high taxation.
In many ways, the same battle exists today. Democrats oppose the smallest of tax cuts on the grounds that the money "will go to the rich." They attempt to obstruct legislation renewing the dramatically successful welfare reform bill of 1996. They rail against Social Security "privatization," though they know that within 50 years, Social Security will be completely bankrupt.
On issues of war and peace, the Goldwater/Johnson schism rings even closer to home. "If an enemy is bent on conquering you," Goldwater wrote, "and proposes to turn all of his resources to that end, he is at war with you; and you -- unless you contemplate surrender -- are at war with him. Moreover -- unless you contemplate treason -- your objective, like his, will be victory. Not 'peace,' but victory."
Conversely, Johnson pursued a policy of slow escalation and repeated attempts at negotiation. As he stated in 1966, "we have used our power in Vietnam with great restraint." Over 50,000 U.S. soldiers died as a result.
The same debate about victory and peace takes place today, inside and outside the current administration. The left preaches "peace," not victory, in Iraq. Even within the Bush administration, appeasement-minded "moderates" like Colin Powell prefer to deal through the United Nations rather than confront the threat Saddam Hussein indubitably constitutes. Regarding North Korea, those who prefer an insecure peace to a solid victorious one seem to be gaining in American foreign policy circles. North Korea has broken its 1994 agreement with the United States in every way, yet the Bush administration calls for negotiations.
What about Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and other Islamo-fascist "allies" with whom we deal while overlooking that their money and philosophy breeds anti-western violence? How can we attempt appeasement of the Islamists by prodding our democratic ally Israel into suicidal restraint? How long will "moderation" in the pursuit of foreign policy take precedence over "extremism" in the pursuit of liberty?
It seems appropriate to quote Barry Goldwater, who was born on New Year's Day, in examining our current situation. On domestic policy, he wrote: "Nothing could so far advance the cause of freedom as ... for the federal government to withdraw promptly and totally from every jurisdiction which the Constitution reserved to the states." On resisting foreign aggression: "We want to stay alive; but more than that we want to be free. We want to have peace; but before that we want to have conditions that make peace tolerable."
As Goldwater's campaign slogan declared: In your heart, you know he's right.