Jonah Goldberg

Truthfully, Goldwater himself is partly to blame for this nonsense. As he got older, "Mr. Conservative" became more libertarian on some social issues (largely due to his wife's influence and his understandable personal distaste for some Christian right leaders). But even so, Goldwater only abandoned his support for a constitutional ban on abortion in his final term in the Senate and didn't change his opposition to gay rights until long after he retired.

Meanwhile, as Andrew Busch details in "The Goldwater Myth" (winter 2005 issue of the Claremont Review of Books), the Goldwater of 1964 was the founding father of today's social conservatism. Virtually all of the leaders of the "New Right" - including Phyllis Schlafly - were veterans of the Goldwater movement. L. Brent Bozell, the ghostwriter of Goldwater's 1960 classic "The Conscience of a Conservative" - in which they wrote "The laws of God, and of nature, have no dateline" - was a pioneering "theocratic" intellectual.

Theodore White, that great (liberal) chronicler of American politics, wrote in his 1964 classic "The Making of the President" that Goldwater's "greatest contribution to American politics" was the legitimization of what Goldwater called "the moral issue": "This will be his great credit in historical terms: that finally he introduced the condition and quality of American morality and life as a subject of political debate."

White couldn't have known in 1964 that Goldwater's contribution would be even greater than that. Nonetheless, Goldwater was rewarded for his efforts with denunciations and slander. LBJ vilified his 1964 opponent as an avatar of hate. Today, the Times calls him "a half-Jewish cowboy from Phoenix." In the '60s, the entire liberal establishment smeared Goldwater as a crypto-Nazi. "We see dangerous signs of Hitlerism in the Goldwater campaign," Martin Luther King ludicrously warned.

Liberals, of course, have an inexhaustible capacity to lecture conservatives about what "real" conservatism is. Still, what confuses many people is this idea that social conservatism and small-government conservatism are inherently at odds. They surely can be - and I'd love for this administration to channel more of Goldwater's libertarian sentiments. But Goldwater understood something this crowd doesn't. "It is impossible to maintain freedom and order and justice," he declared in 1964, "without religious and moral sanctions."


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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