Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative, published in 1960, is still inspiring rebuttals from across the aisle; in the past decade alone, lions of the left like Paul Krugman and Paul Wellstone both wrote books with the title Conscience of a Liberal. Goldwater’s version of Conscience provides a pocket handbook for the ideal conservative candidate — both what his philosophy should be and how he should explain it on the hustings. Such a nominee “will proclaim in a campaign speech … My aim is not to pass laws but to repeal them.” He would continue: “Should I later be attacked for neglecting my constituents’ ‘interests,’ I shall reply that I was informed their main interest is liberty.” The book, whose ghostwriter was a member of William F. Buckley’s family, is composed in a sparse writing style that’s in keeping with Goldwater’s frontier background. (The Arizona Senator was born before the territory entered the union.) The prose itself is aimed squarely at moderate Republicans who consented to the New Deal’s prescription of social-welfare programs to cure the nation’s ills. This early salvo against the centrist wing of the GOP would culminate in total victory in the form of Ronald Reagan’s 1980 revolution. The Gipper’s trademark quote at his 1981 inauguration — “Government is not the solution to our problems. Government is the problem” — is vintage Goldwater. As the movement’s trailblazer, Goldwater would earn the nickname Mr. Conservative. His own presidential candidacy in 1964 produced the most defiant runner-up in American electoral history. He may have won only six states in his contest against “Landslide” Lyndon Johnson, but Goldwater wore the defeat as a badge of courage. That’s because in his heart, he knew he was right.
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