Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Anarchy in the House

By GEOFFREY KABASERVICE, NYT, SEPT. 29, 2015

REPUBLICANS aren’t big fans of Karl Marx, but perhaps they should ponder his observation that history repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce. As preposterous presidential candidates dominate the polls and extremists topple congressional leaders, the Republican Party is headed for a replay of the catastrophic Goldwater revolt of the early 1960s. It may be an entertaining spectacle, but it’s dangerous.

The Republican Party has long been divided into comparatively moderate and conservative factions, but historically the conservatives were realists, too. Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, the great conservative leader of the mid-20th century, understood that his side had to make incremental steps toward its goals. It had to devise detailed policy alternatives to Democratic proposals, work with party leadership and build coalitions both within the party and across party lines.

But the early 1960s witnessed an overthrow of Taftian realism. The radicals who coalesced around Senator Barry Goldwater’s insurgent presidential campaign were zealots. They had no interest in developing a governing agenda. Their program consisted mainly of getting rid of the New Deal and every other government effort to promote the general welfare. As Goldwater famously wrote: “My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones.”

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