Pat Buchanan

It was the winter of conservative discontent.

Barry Goldwater had gotten only 38 percent of the vote, and his party had suffered its worst thrashing since Alf Landon fell to FDR in 1936.

Democrats held 295 House seats, Republicans 140. They held 68 Senate seats to Republicans' 32, and 33 governors to the GOP's 17.

Democratic registration was twice that of the GOP. The liberal press was gleefully writing the obituary of "The Party That Lost Its Head."

Decades might pass, it was said, before the GOP recovered from its fatal embrace of right-wing radicalism and foolish rejection of the leadership of Govs. Nelson Rockefeller and William Scranton.

Wrote Robert Donovan in the opening lines of his book, "The Future of the Republican Party":

"The devastating defeat of Barry Goldwater at the hands of voters in all sections of the country but the Deep South has damaged, weakened and tarnished the party. For years to come ... the two-party system will be crippled."

Donovan and all the rest were wrong. The GOP came roaring back in 1966 to capture 47 House seats and eight new governorships. In 1968, Nixon led the party out of the wilderness and into a White House it would hold for 20 of the next 24 years.

Full of hubris in 1965, Lyndon Johnson had seized his moment. He had launched a Great Society that would outdo his beloved patron FDR. He would dispatch 500,000 troops to Vietnam to "bring the coonskin home on the wall" and create a "Great Society on the Mekong." Those were heady days of "guns-and-butter."

By 1968, LBJ's coalition was shredded. Gov. George Wallace had torn away the populist right. Sens. Gene McCarthy, George McGovern and Robert Kennedy had rallied the antiwar left against him. LBJ and Hubert Humphrey were left to preside over a shrinking center.

Why did LBJ fail? He overloaded the circuits. He tried to do it all. He misread a national desire for continuity after Kennedy's death as a mandate for a lunge to the left and a great leap forward with the largest expansion of government since the New Deal.

By 1968, racial riots had torn apart almost every great city. The most prestigious campuses had been rocked by student violence. Thousands of antiwar demonstrators had taken to the streets. And 100 to 200 body bags were coming home from Vietnam every week.

By the winter of 1968, Lyndon Johnson was a broken president.

History never repeats itself exactly. But Barack Obama is making the same mistakes today that LBJ made in 1965.


Pat Buchanan

Pat Buchanan is a founding editor of The American Conservative magazine, and the author of many books including State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America .
 
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