James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Back to the future: From Goldwater to Tea

Posted by James McPherson on September 14, 2011

Looking through drafts of blog posts that I never finished, I see that nearly two years ago, on Feb. 18, 2010, I started a post with the tentative title of, “Paleocons may hurt GOP in the short run, save it in the long run.”

My thought at the time was that Republicans were generating some nutty ideas–and some loony candidates such as Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell–but that the “grown-ups” would eventually regain control of the party and sanity would be restored.

Events since then have demonstrated otherwise, of course, with the recent debt ceiling debacle being merely the latest example. And whatever you may think of Barack Obama’s jobs bill, the fact is that if it was made up entirely of ideas created by Republicans, those Republicans would then feel obligated to spin on their round heels to then oppose what they had proposed.

In fact, the current situation may be a return to something much earlier in American political history–the rise of Barry Goldwater, about whom I wrote at some length in a book. I credit the failed Goldwater campaign with providing much of the impetus for a new conservatism. Goldwater’s campaign was doomed, but the energy of that campaign helped bring us Ronald Reagan and eventually the 1994 Republican Congress.

Likewise, Republicans may be working toward producing another sacrificial candidate in Rick Perry, shifting a party that would now too inflexible for Goldwater or Reagan even further to the right. Barack Obama may be the luckiest presidential candidate ever, getting to run twice against Republicans who can’t win despite Obama’s serious flaws.

It’s still early, and we’ll find out much more about Perry as his GOP competitors continue to bash him. But if Perry is the nominee and then loses to Obama, does anyone think those who have drunk the Perry tea are going anywhere, or that Obama will be any more successful in dealing with the next Congress than he has been in dealing with this one?

One key difference exists between the 1950s-60s rise of neoconservative and that of today. That earlier version was a party of ideas, highlighted by the genius of William F. Buckley and a host of thoughtful conservative publications. Unfortunately those publications have generally become as shallow and shrill as most of the rest of what now passes for rhetoric in America. And big ideas of the sort tossed around gleefully by Buckley can’t be examined via the likes of Twitter or Facebook.

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4 Responses to “Back to the future: From Goldwater to Tea”

  1. reuel said

    Seem sad we have to again choose between either party at this point. The Democrats did the same to President bush his last two years, IE Do nothing Congress and it worked they got all three and instead of real change we got the same. See both sides owe the big money people that put them there and have to pay them back. The left has “Green” and the right has “Oil” for just one example for each. So now we see that the total Stimulus went to all the people owed on the left and it was nothing but a large money burn that produced nothing. Someday people are going to wake up and realize that both sides have been playing us and we the non-connected will find a solution to Washington.I wish everyone would take the 2012 election and no matter what party they support, just vote every single person that is in office out. We would have a clean House, 1/3 of the Senate and a new President. They would say “But we know how Washington works and have all this experience”. Look what that has gotten us. 17.2 Trillion dollars debt and the country is divided by politic more than ever. The 17.2 Trillion is not a miss print, it is what the President has raised the debt allowable to become. That he will spend as fast as he can. Honestly Hillary would of been the correct pick for 2008. Both sides lost that one.

  2. reuel said

    James I hate to tell you I told you so but this is the head line in the Chicago Sun-times; “The allure of an Obama-Hillary ticket.” It seems to be a Hail Mary throw into the end-zone. Or should I say Hail Hillary. I had not seen you posting for a while, hope all is well.

  3. James McPherson said

    Yes, I’m fine–but between presiding over a national organization that just had its national convention last week, and dealing with my mother-in-law’s illness (she passed away Saturday), along with the usual fall school-related stuff, I’ve just been swamped. And since that other site had become so predictable and generally dull (your comments providing a rare exception), dropping in there was one of the first diversions to go. Thanks, Reuel–hope all is well with you, too.

    As for Obama-Hillary, I wouldn’t mind, and wouldn’t be terribly surprised to see her and Biden trade jobs.

  4. […] Women's Voices. Women Vote « Back to the future: From Goldwater to Tea […]

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