Barry Goldwater’s wisdom

“You don’t have to be straight to be in the military; you just have to be able to shoot straight.”

“When you say ‘radical right’ today, I think of these moneymaking ventures by fellows like Pat Robertson and others who are trying to take the Republican party and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye.”

–Barry Goldwater, “Mr. Conservative”, father of the modern conservative movement in the United States.

The political positions held by the Democratic and Republican parties in today’s modern America are fiscally and socially center-left, and fiscally and socially center-right, respectively. In recent years, the Republican party has probably abandoned its “center-right” status for sharper political positions and rhetoric. But that’s not important.

Two things are astounding to me. Firstly, the gradual alienation of Goldwater from the movement he himself precipitated (Reagan rose to prominence during Goldwater’s failed ’64 presidential campaign) because of the clash of the Religious Right and Goldwater’s libertarian views, and a statistic that I came across the other day:

Congress’ LGBT Equality Caucus, which pushes for recognition of LGBT rights, contains 90 Democrats and one Republican. This Republican, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, hails from a Florida district which contains a sizable and influential gay population. So considering Democrats outnumber Republicans 90:1 in this interest group, we are left with a few realizations….

1) 1 out of 242 Republican representatives publicly express support for gay rights.

2) On the other hand, 90 out of 193, or nearly half, of House Democrats, including every single openly gay member of Congress, belongs to the caucus.

I choose LGBT rights as an example to fuel this discussion not because it is the focus, but rather because it is a perfect example of social liberalism. And also because the statistics are so staggering.

Does this indicate that 99.5% of Republican politicians have no public regard for gays? It’s certainly clear that some don’t. Rick Santorum’s hate spawned an infamous slang-word (advice: don’t look up “santorum” on Urban Dictionary) that has also brought about his political downfall. But I think that the greater moral of the story is that people holding views about certain topics have tremendous political pressure to align with a group just because of those views – a gay politician joining the Democratic Party because of social liberalism rather than other issues.

So if you’re a gay politician, does that necessitate that you have to support entitlement programs and tax hikes? After all, there are sizable organizations of homosexuals within the Republican Party. These include GOProud, which continues to insist that it is accepted by its party despite being banned from party events, and Log Cabin Republicans, who have received less than favorable views from fellow conservatives. It becomes a question of whether you prefer to get social acceptance within your political organization or whether you view retaining your integrity on issues as more important than being ostracized by like-minded politicians. Which leads to my conjecture…

The political party lines in America are largely artificial.

This is largely maintained by tactics on both sides to snag voters by advertising a particular issue. For example, the recent special election in NY-26 showed that by appealing to a solidly Republican voter base on the issue of Medicare, Democrats were able to win an seat in Congress in a huge upset. So now New York’s 26th district has a Democratic party representative who differs from the people she represents on nearly all issues except for keeping Medicare. Is that really what those people should be forced to choose with? A Tea Party member, A hopelessly out-of-touch wealthy Republican, and a Democrat who agrees with them only on the one big defining issue of the election but none of the other ones? Here’s how I think Congress should work:

There should be four major political parties, left-social-left-fiscal, left-social-right-fiscal, right-social-left-fiscal, and right-fiscal-right-social. As a matter of fact, each of these political ideologies is already largely represented by factions within both parties.

1) Left-social-left-fiscal – this is the “true blue” wing of the Democratic Party. These are people who believe in using the federal government  for social justice and equality, and that the government must play a role in providing equal opportunity and a safety net for citizens. I personally belong to this faction, because it is my belief that citizens cannot achieve this on their own.

2) Left-social-right-fiscal – Now we’re talking about libertarians. This is the Barry Goldwater or Ron Paul type. Goldwater and Paul do not want the government to raise taxes or provide extensive entitlement programs, but they also do not care if you choose to smoke marijuana or are gay and want to be in the military. Because of my social liberalism and occasional fiscal conservatism, I also often identify with this group.

3) Right-social-left-fiscal – while this does not make up very many Republican congressmen, it is my belief that most of the 45 million “working poor” in the United States, who frequently vote Republican, in fact belong to this group. They might not support immigration or abortion rights (even hard-line liberal Dennis Kucinich was pro-life until just a few years ago) but they do rely on the federal government for entitlement programs and are less susceptible to unrealistic “lifting yourself up by your bootstraps” rhetoric. The Democratic-conservative Blue Dog Coalition would straddle groups 2 and 3.

4) Right-social-right-fiscal – Much of the Republican party as we know it, especially the Tea Party movement. Reagan might not be anywhere near the conservatism of today’s levels, but he would have belonged to this group.

So there you have it – my proposal to change the American political landscape. Procession in Congress could become, somewhat inconceivably, even slower, because votes would become harder to organize. But politics would be less polarized, less party-oriented (more to choose from!) and probably more honest and indicative of the peoples’ views.

In the short-term, more political parties springing up are harmful to people who identify with those third parties – if they lose, none of their views are represented because they’ve effectively hurt their former party as well – such as Tea Party candidate Davis siphoning off votes from Corwin in the NY-26 election. But maybe in the long-term, with these growing rifts in the two major political parties in the US, some real change can happen.

So what is Barry Goldwater’s “wisdom?” Today’s Republicans might strongly disagree with my views. So I think it lies in his courage to promote actual discussion and stick to the issues. I wouldn’t vote for someone who wanted to nuke Vietnam to win the war, but his refusal to compromise his political ideals to be part of a popular movement is extremely honorable.

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