The Magazine

Birth of the Right

The 1964 Goldwater campaign and its consequences

Apr 16, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 30 • By ALVIN S. FELZENBERG
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By the time he was in the arena in his own right, Reagan not only raged against liberal failings, but offered a positive agenda of his own. A former union president, he spoke directly to workers about how high interest and inflation rates were harming them. Eschewing big government, he made his peace with the New Deal, telling how the WPA gave his unemployed, alcoholic father a job. Decrying the evils of Soviet tyranny, he justified defense buildups as a means of preserving peace. He moved tax cuts from the periphery to the apex of his program, showing how they would encourage self-reliance and increase freedom.

Reagan did more than build on the wreckage of Goldwater's defeat, though that's a truth the young writers of the left aren't going to like. He reinvented an existing political movement with the help of new conservatives of many gradations -- including the neoconservatives (who certainly had not supported Goldwater), the religious conservatives (who typically weren't involved in politics), and the economic-growth conservatives (who were barely noticed in 1964). Once Reagan put his conservative coalition together, it proved to have what the old, liberal consensus long assumed would remain its exclusive preserve: support from a majority of the American people.

Alvin S. Felzenberg directs the Mandate for Leadership Program at the Heritage Foundation.