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Sunday, December 05, 2004

Moving Left
It's well known that Ronald Reagan started as an FDR liberal, and the neo-conservatives also moved from left to right. But what about the Goldwater Republicans, such as Hillary Clinton, who moved from right to left? Yet another illustration that the red/blue view is overly simplistic:

Book Reviewed By: Mike Schell, Chair of Democratic Rural Conference

Among Democratic partisans, there are a few who, to this day, wonder why in the heck, in their days of youth, they found the candidacy of Barry Goldwater so inspiring and attractive.

How could I in 1964 have been the youth coordinator at Fairport High for Barry Goldwater? I ask myself late at night. Hillary Clinton has told me that she too headed the Goldwater campaign in her high school. Rick Perlstein's Before the Storm gave me an answer in a very readable account of the Goldwater phenomena that is chock full of fascinating anecdotes and historical analysis....

The question remains, why did so many young people, including many who were under the voting age of 21, find Goldwater attractive, only to become Democratic activists later on? After reading Perlstein, it seems the answer lies in the natural instincts of youth itself: freedom, idealism and the need for autonomy. That was the attraction of the Goldwater campaign to many of us in 1964 as we leafed through the pages of "A Conscience of a Conservative," the book ghostwritten for Goldwater as a campaign polemic. (A confession: its length, 127 pages, large type, was what led me to select it for a book report.) Once in the hands of the student, Goldwater's message became a siren song. Struggling through the traditional adolescent's cutting of apron strings, demanding more freedom than adults seemed ready to give them, some teens were ready to hear the conservative call for less strictures on individuals. Keep the government (and Mom, Dad and the campus police) out of our lives.

For a generation that had grown up with air raid drills and fall out shelters, Goldwater's call for personal sacrifice in taking the initiative against the dreaded communists, despite risk of provoking war, "had an almost Ghandian appeal" to the youth of the day, according to Perlstein. It was the same appeal "held by valiant Southern blacks laying their bodies on the line for the freedom to eat where they wished. Freedom was indivisible. It was worth dying for." In short, Perlstein makes the case that the appeal of the Goldwater campaign and conservative principles to young people in 1964 was rooted in the idealism of youth and the natural youthful antipathy toward the establishment....

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