Barry Goldwater was a conservative, but he was no racist. George Wallace was surprisingly liberal, but as a son of the South, he was deeply racist. Bill Buckley was an elite New Englander and, unlike the culture that raised him, famously racist although he is said to have changed his position in later years.
Nixon was a moderate Republican who happened to also be a racist in spite of being from California. Politically, he used Southern racism to bring the old Dixiecrats into the Republican Party. And when he did that, he began the process that changed the character of that once grand old party.
None of those men would fit comfortably into the party of John Boehner or Sarah Palin. None of them was religious, although Nixon is said to have prayed a lot in the last days before Goldwater walked over from the Senate to tell him it was time to go. All of them would have been stunned to see the political and cultural power that’s been granted the Religious Right.
Steve Frazier recently penned an article in The Huffington Post about our history of “Mad Hatters” in American politics. In it he notes:
Goldwater, the Arizona senator and 1964 Republican candidate for president, an “insurgent”? Yes, if you keep in mind his condemnation of the too-liberal elite running the Republican Party, who, in his eyes, represented a clubby world of Ivy League bankers, corrupt politicians, media lords, and “one-worlders.” Or consider the way he flirted with the freakish John Birch Society (which called President Dwight Eisenhower a “dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist Party” and warned of a Red plot to weaken the minds of Americans by fluoridating the water supply). Or the Senator’s alarming readiness to threaten to push the nuclear button in defense of “freedom,” which could be thought of as the Cold War version of “Don’t Tread on Me.” Above all, Goldwater was the avatar of today’s politics of limited government. In his opposition to civil rights legislation, he might be called the original “tenther” — that is, a serial quoter of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, which reserves for the states all powers not expressly granted to the Federal government, with which he justified hamstringing all efforts by Washington to rectify social or economic injustice. For Goldwater the outlawing of Jim Crow was an infringement on states’ rights. [MY NOTE: For Goldwater, state’s rights was a core belief; his position didn’t come out of racism.]
Wallace, Alabama governor and 1964 presidential candidate: Bellicose calls for law and order, states’ rights, and a muscular patriotism fueled the revanchist emotions that made Wallace into more than a regional figure. When he ran in the Democratic primaries in 1964 (with the support of the John Birch Society and the White Citizens Council), he won significant numbers of votes not only in the Deep South, but in states like Indiana, Wisconsin, and Maryland, a sign of the Southernization of American politics at a time when the spread of NASCAR, country music, and the blues were Southernizing its culture as well.
Both gentlemen fraternized with and sometimes embraced the fringe, and because of this were considered to be just too radical. But today we have an entire element of the population celebrating ignorance and racism, and that element has found a home in the Republican party.
(That wonderful image came via a blog called The Book Value. I don’t know where he got it.)