Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear … the early 1960s.
There were four people who described with unerring accuracy the problem that is again front and center as the GOP Congress struggles to deal with health care, the budget, and tax reform. (And who knows what else.)
The first person is, of course, then-Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, the man who would eventually become the 1964 Republican nominee by upsetting the Eastern Republican Establishment so vividly represented by then-Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York.
In 1960 Goldwater and the late Brent Bozell Sr. co-wrote “The Conscience of a Conservative.” The book listed Goldwater as the sole author, although Bozell actually penned the book based on both Goldwater speeches and a deep understanding of what Goldwater biographer Dr. Lee Edwards called “the three major strains of [the] conservatism of 1960: traditionalism, classical liberalism or libertarianism, and anticommunism.”
Among other things, Goldwater and Bozell, in Goldwater’s voice, said this:
“I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones that do violence to the Constitution, or that have failed in their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden. I will not attempt to discover whether legislation is ‘needed’ before I have first determined whether it is constitutionally permissible. And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents’ ‘interests,’ I shall reply that I was informed their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can.”
It was this core belief that led Goldwater to say the GOP’s Eisenhower administration was running a “dime store New Deal,” something for which Ike is said never to have forgiven him.
The third person to go public with this same discussion was a young housewife who was president of the Illinois Federation of Republican Women. That would be, of course, Phyllis Schlafly, who authored in 1964 a small 75-cent book called “A Choice Not an Echo.” Schlafly was a fierce anti-Communist and went after liberals of the day for their appeasement of the Soviet Union. Indeed the bulk of her book focused on opposing Communism.
But when it came to domestic policy, she lacerated the GOP kingmakers of the New Deal era and forward into the 1960s. In 1936 these GOP bosses had delighted in nominating Kansas Governor Alf Landon. Schlafly noted, “Landon had boasted, ‘I have cooperated with the New Deal to the best of my ability,’ and had even issued public praise of New Deal extremist Rexford G. Tugwell.” She worked over 1940 GOP nominee Wendell Wilkie, pointedly noting that not only was he lately a Democrat but that as a student at Indiana University, Wilkie had been a member of the Socialist Club. Then there was the liberal New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey, twice nominated by the GOP in 1944 and 1948, followed by moderates Eisenhower and Nixon. All of them, Schlafly described as “me too” Republicans who had long ago come to agreement with the big government principles of the New Deal.
Last but not least, to understand the internal GOP debates on Capitol Hill today, we come to one Robert J. Donovan. The late Mr. Donovan in 1964 was both an author and the Washington Bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times. He had covered the 1964 Johnson-Goldwater campaign and by December 1964 had a small paperback book on the stands titled “The Future of the Republican Party.” Donovan’s view was 180 degrees away from Goldwater, Bozell, and Schlafly.
The lesson for the party, wrote Donovan, could be boiled down to this:
“The lesson of the 1964 election, written bold in the returns, is that it cannot successfully play this role, much less play it in the White House, until it casts off the extreme-right-wing conservatism of Senator Goldwater and his faction.”
Donovan made a point of favorably citing this, from Thomas E. Dewey, on conservatives:
“These impractical theorists … want to drive all the moderates and liberals out of the Republican party and have the remainder join forces with the conservative groups of the South. Then they would have everything neatly arranged indeed. The Democratic party would be the liberal-radical party. The Republican party would be the conservative-to-reactionary party. The results would be neatly arranged too. The Republicans would lose every election, and Democrats would win every election. It may be a perfect theory but it would result in a one-party system…”
Dewey — a two-time presidential loser — was eventually proved thoroughly wrong by Ronald Reagan. But there it was — and is — some truth there too. Among these four people — Goldwater, Bozell, Schlafly and Donovan — is the explanation for what is unfolding this minute inside the GOP precincts of Capitol Hill.
Health care? Obamacare is imploding. As this is written, the Des Moines Register is headlining this:
Medica, the last insurer selling individual health policies in most of Iowa, likely to exit
The story begins:
“Tens of thousands of Iowans could be left with no health insurance options next year, after the last carrier for most of the state announced Wednesday that it likely would stop selling individual health policies here.
…Insurers have complained that the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, put them in a difficult spot. The 2010 law, also known as Obamacare, bars insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing health problems. It also requires most Americans to obtain coverage or pay a penalty, but insurance industry leaders say that requirement has not been strictly enforced.
The result is too many young, healthy people are staying out of the pool, leaving insurers to cover mostly older, unhealthy people, the carriers say.”
Right there is the conservative point. The intrusion of government into the marketplace has now resulted in the real possibility that “tens of thousands of Iowans could be left with no health insurance options next year…”
And yet in Washington there are Republicans demanding, in “dime store New Deal” fashion, that, well, gee, maybe all that government involvement mandated by Obamacare isn’t so bad after all. Republican Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina —the number two GOP whip in the House GOP Conference — is quoted as follows in this revealing, if typical, piece in Business Insider. The subject was why, exactly, House Republicans “weren't even trying to repeal most of the insurance-regulation provisions in Obamacare — provisions that Republicans have been complaining for years are needlessly driving up insurance premiums.”
BI writer Josh Barrow explained as follows:
“Here's what Rep. Patrick McHenry, the chief deputy whip of the Republican conference, said about Obamacare's insurance regulations on Wednesday, by way of explaining why the House Freedom Caucus' vision for a bill to deregulate health insurance couldn't pass:
‘There are a lot of provisions that are part of the law now that I want to preserve. So if you look at a cross-section of the conference, they have similar positions about similar provisions — preexisting conditions, guarantee issue, and medical underwriting are core components of that ... The core provisions here are really important protections.’
What McHenry was saying there sounds technical, but it can be summed up in a three-word sentence:
Obamacare is good.”
Exactly. So contrast McHenry with this wisdom from Goldwater:
“I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. … My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones that do violence to the Constitution, or that have failed in their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden.”
Exactly. And as that Iowa story demonstrates perfectly, Obamacare, in Goldwater’s words, has failed in its purpose and imposed on the people an unwarranted financial burden (higher premiums), not to mention that it does violence to the Constitution.
What we are seeing in real time in these Capitol Hill dramas is the unfolding latest chapter in a long, decades-old story that by this point poses one very real question. That question?
Why the Republican Party?
In truth, I think there are a lot of Republican members of Congress who have absolutely no idea.
Jeffrey Lord is a former White House political director under Reagan and a CNN commentator. He writes from Pennsylvania and is the author of “What America Needs: The Case for Trump.” Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.