It takes two to pretend they didn't tango
March 1, 2008 - 7:11pm ET
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I've been reading Rick Perlstein on the forgotten movement of the sixties, both online and in Before The Storm. When I got over the idea that conservatives in the sixties were merely a counterrevolutionan rather than a full fledged movement, I began to think about something else. We can easily understand why liberals would give short shrift to the idea of such a movement. The very name progressives implies not merely that we are right, but that we are the direction in which history is going, in which we are moving - so we are the Movement. 'They' may offer resistance, but they do not have their own story - they are bit players in ours.
Why should conservatives be complicit in this shortchanging of their own movement? Without doubt, they are - the point that Rick Perlstein has made could easily have been made by movement conservatives. Even the name 'Reagan Republicans' tends to downplay the true origins of the movement - for Reagan was only a bit player in the days of Goldwater.
Perhaps that is the point. There are a few who willingly call themselves Goldwater Republicans, but there is always a hint of defiance. The name Goldwater brings them too close to the old unregenerate George Wallace, the days when segregation was defended on the national stage, and lynchings were outwardly deplored by some who said the Federal Government must not interfere with states' rights by bringing them to a forcible halt.
Overall, this implicit bargain has probably served them better than us. Sure, the cheery optimism that we are the movement and they are merely episodic resistance may make us feel good, but the pretense they have no roots in the sixties does us no tangible good. They will happily talk about their fathers' values, reaching back to supposed roots in the forties and before, even when they have much less in common with the idealism of the 'Greatest Generation' than they pretend. Their pretend roots anchor them more comfortably than the real ones would, and we misunderstand both the strengths and weaknesses of the conservative movement by willingly forgetting where and when it was born.
We should follow Rick Perlstein and stop helping Goldwater conservatives censor part of the history of their movement - then we will be better able to understand and answer them.
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