December 8, 2005

by Reb Yudel
Everything Goldwater Republicans needed to learn to take over the country, they learned from Stalin... and executed first for Nixon

Young Americans for Freedom distributed a pamphlet in 1965: the text of the inaugural address of their first chairman named after the Goldwater defeat. It excoriated conservatives "who abuse the truth, who resort to violence and engage in slander," and "who seek victory at any price without regard for the broken lives...incurred by those who stand in the way." That is the spirit of Barry Goldwater--the spirit we honor on this panel. As he put it in Conscience of a Conservative--in italics: "we entrust the conduct of our affairs to men who understand that their first duty as public officials is to divest themselves of the power they have been given."

I'm working on the sequel to my book Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus now. It's going to be called "Nixonland," and it covers the years 1965 to 1972. And it wasn't long into the research before I found myself wrestling with a historiographic problem.

What to make of the fact that some of the names who pioneered this anti-Nixonian movement of principle showed up in the dankest recesses of the Nixon administration? People like Douglas Caddy, of course, the co-founder of the effort to draft Goldwater for vice-president in 1960 and YAF's first president, who was the man the White House called on to represent the Watergate burglars in 1972. And people like the guy inaugurated as YAF's chair in the 1965 with those stirring words about truth: Tom Charles Huston--who, as the author of the first extra-legal espionage and sabotage plan in the Nixon White House, can fairly be called an architect of Watergate.

It is a thread one finds throughout the annals of the Nixon presidency. The notion that what they were doing was moral, the eggs that need be broken in the act of redeeming a crumbling West. Jeb Magruder told the Senate Watergate Committee: "Although I was aware they were illegal we had become somewhat inured to using some activities that would help us in accomplishing what we thought was a cause." That message came straight from the top. "Just remember you're doing the right thing," the president told Bob Haldeman on Easter Sunday, 1973. "That's what I used to think when I killed some innocent children in Hanoi." Then he briefed him on how to suborn perjury from an aide concerning the blackmailing of the Watergate burglars.

Here is something I started to ponder only after completing Before the Storm. How did my subjects from the youth conservative movement of the 1960s, the ones that later came to inherit the world, present themselves to the researcher who came calling for stories about how their triumph began? On the one hand, beaming, telling me stories of principle. On the other, sometimes in the same breath, winkingly defining political deviancy down, telling Hustonian tales of antinomial subterfuge. Peeling off opposition bumper stickers with razor blades, jamming Rockefeller phone banks, working to subvert the 1961 National Student Association convention by setting up a dummy "Middle of the Road Caucus." I related these in the spirit they were offered: as evidence of good, healthy political exuberance, in an ennervated political age. I didn't even give a second thought to the delight F. Clifton White took in relating, in his two memoirs, his self-tutelage in the techniques of Stalinists--Stalinists!--to take over the Young Republicans National Federation.

The Blog | Rick Perlstein: 'I Didn't Like Nixon Until Watergate': The Conservative Movement Now | The Huffington Post


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