VIC GOLD TELLS IT LIKE IT IS. He served as a press aide to Barry Goldwater -- and was a speechwriter and senior advisor to George H. W. Bush (as well as co-author of his autobiography. In his new book, Invasion of the Party Snatchers, How the Holy-Rollers and the Neo-Cons Destroyed the GOP, Gold takes on George W. Bush and the neocons.
I recently had a chance to have dinner with Vic and some conservative leaders -- and then follow-up with some questions for him to ponder. Here’s our interview …
ML: You’ve been very close with the Cheney’s. In fact, you once shared an office with Lynne Cheney. You’re also an old friend of George H.W. Bush, having co-written his autobiography. But, in your new book, Invasion of the Party Snatchers, you describe George W. Bush as “Dan Quayle in cowboy boots,” and you describe Vice President Cheney as being “out of control.” I guess my first question is: What changed?
VG: As for Cheney, in the book I cite Madame de Staël’s perception that “Men do not change, they merely unmask themselves.” As Brent Scowcroft said of the Vice President, “I’ve known Dick Cheney thirty years but I don’t know him now.” Obviously, power in this case didn’t simply corrupt but revealed a hitherto unnoted streak of imperial arrogance.
The change that occurred in George W. Bush’s case is no less baffling for those who have known him over the years as a governor who worked successfully with a Democratic legislature as well as a presidential candidate opposed to nation-building. Why the change? At the risk of dissolving into psychobabble, I can explain it only in terms of his turning away from his real father under Cheney’s puppetmaster influence.
ML: Bush strategist Matthew Dowd recently went public with his criticisms of George W. Bush. This made me think of you because you come from the libertarian/conservative movement and Dowd was a Democrat until 1999, yet you both have come to some similar conclusions. What’s your take on Dowd’s comments?
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VG: Beg to differ. Matthew Dowd and I did not come to similar conclusions. He belatedly and for personal reasons split with Bush because the war policy he’d flacked for these past six years --- he was there figuratively putting up the “Mission Accomplished” banner in 2003 --- has proven disastrous. His split at this particular juncture --- time enough to put his professional services to work for a Democratic candidate --- is also a matter that raises questions about the basis for his conclusions. I on the other hand opposed, vocally and openly, the Iraq war and the Kristolite Neo-Con vision of an expanded, all-powerful federal government of a kind that Matthew Dowd’s former (and presumably future) Democratic political clients believe in.
ML: Is it hard writing negative things about your old friends? Isn’t there a part of you that just wants to look the other way and give your pals a pass?
VG: Yes, it was hard writing critically of old friends, but keep in mind, my conservative mentor was Barry Goldwater. Principles are principles, and besides, who ever said the likes of Alberto Gonzales, Jack Abramoff and the hot-eyed zealots who politicized the Terri Schiavo case were either conservatives or “pals”?
ML: You previously worked as deputy press secretary for Barry Goldwater. I get the impression that you think the GOP has gone off track. Do you blame any of this on Reagan or the first Bush – or do you think this is a more modern phenomenon?
VG: It’s true that the Neo-Conservatives and Theo-Conservatives got a foothold in the Republican Party during the Reagan-Bush 1980s, but their influence in the party truly began in the mid-1990s, after the Republican takeover of Congress. As I say in the book, the complete takeovers of the party by the Kristolites and Religious Right --- ideologues who were originally elements of the Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter Democratic party --- came with George W. Bush’s arrival in the White House in 2001.
ML: What do you think it’s like for H.W. Bush to have to look at the way things are going in his son’s second term?
VG: The Bush family is close-knit and no one outside the family circle really knows the answer to that question. But I have reason to believe that George the Elder, as both a father and a statesman, is suffering in silence at the direction he sees the country headed, both overseas and here at home, under his son’s stewardship.
ML: As a native Marylander, I’ve always thought Agnew got somewhat of a raw deal in the press. My parents ran into him on the boardwalk in Ocean City, MD in the early 90s, and said he was very, very nice. You worked for him. What should the public know about him that has been forgotten?
VG: Vice President Agnew was the first major American public official to take on the national media, at a time when other politicians were afraid to do so. Whatever his faults, he had the courage of his political convictions in speaking out against the radical Liberal dogma that dominated the country’s political dialogue in the 1960s and ‘70s.
ML: You liked Goldwater because he was a contrarian. Does that mean you’re supporting McCain this time around?
VG: As I say in the book, I knew Barry Goldwater. I worked for Barry Goldwater. Barry Goldwater was a friend of mine. And believe me, John McCain is no Barry Goldwater. If he were, the Liberal media wouldn’t embrace him as they have. Campaign finance “reform”? If that’s conservative contrarianism, I’ll have to get a new dictionary.
ML: When we had dinner recently, you mentioned your first meeting with Lyn Nofziger. Can you give our readers the cleaned-up version of that?
VG: Invasion of the Party Snatchers is dedicated to Lyn and Paul Wagner, my two closest friends from the Goldwater days. Paul was the press secretary who hired me for the ’64 campaign and Lyn was covering the campaign for the Copley chain.
Talk about contrarians! My first encounter with Lyn was on a railroad track somewhere out west three days after he joined the press entourage. I’m standing near the track and this stocky red-faced reporter I’ve never seen before comes up, shouting expletives: “Don’t you dumb [expletives] know that some newspapers come out in the afternoon?” It was Lyn’s way of pointing out that we’d been putting out all our releases for the morning press, and if we knew what was good for us we’d try to feed the PM press as well --- especially since he was one of only a handful of traveling correspondents who were in Goldwater’s corner. (There were six in all, including, surprisingly, young Sam Donaldson on his first presidential campaign trip.) It was a rocky beginning to what became a lifelong friendship.
ML: What advice do you have for young operatives who want to learn how to be more effective?
VG: Given the septic atmosphere of politics today, my cynical side might advise young operatives to stay clear of politics altogether.
But since young conservative activists are unlikely to follow that advice, let me simply advise that they resist the temptation to see the political debate of their day as a polemical jousting match between the forces of Light and the forces of Darkness --- the Manichean style of what Lew Rockwell aptly calls the “talk-radio blabsters and sexpot quipsters” --- and adopt instead the adversarial stance of Barry Goldwater, who prized civility as a prime virtue in a free, democratic society. Dogma, cant and a knee-jerk response to issues are the hallmark of totalitarian, not libertarian conservative thinking ...