Better Dead Than Red

Stephen Joseph Scott

November 11, 2022

By 1960, moderate conservatism, i.e., President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s brand of temperate Republicanism had overshadowed the traditionalist views of Senators Robert Taft and Joseph McCarthy throughout the halls of power in Washington D.C., which led to a sense of alienation and marginalization by those members and their constituents that stood within the orthodox wing of the GOP. “As a result, that constituency began to organize at the grassroots. According to a conservative directory, for example, the number of right-wing groups more than doubled between 1957 and 1965—the largest number of which operated out of Southern California [slowly branching out nationwide]” [1]. A single-candidate stratagem transpired within this “new conservative” movement of the early ‘60s and ultimately manifested itself in the form of one man: Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater – and his well-known brand of “cowboy conservatism.”

Goldwater was an ardent believer in the “American way of life” which, according to him and his followers, encompassed the principles laid out below in a way that not only exemplified the lone righteous path forward for the nation, but also stood as an exemplar of integrity, truth, and justice to the world. One of a long list of motivational factors sat at the heart of this movement’s galvanizing behind a single candidate’s vision of what defined “true conservatism” and their key to a winning strategy: electoral politics through grassroots mobilization - which they believed was the only path to affect national governance by bringing the nation back to the traditional values that had made it great: the spirit of entrepreneurialism; hard work; limited federal government; limited taxation; minimal regulations over business; the sanctity of private property; the inviolability of the individual; personal responsibility; states’ rights; law-and-order; and, a strong and well-funded national defense. After the release of his book The Conscience of a Conservative, ghostwritten in 1960 by L. Brent Bozell brother-in-law of conservative National Review founder William F. Buckley, the book, and, the Senator both, became run away hits – making Goldwater the nation’s most prominent conservative. His doctrine of American fundamentalism strictly eschewed FDR’s New Dealism; its progressive tax policy; the national welfare state; race and class issues; worker’s rights; unions; and women’s rights, as elements of socialism or worse yet “communism,” which were a desecration detrimental to the unique freedoms enshrined, by the nation’s framers, within the United States Constitution.

These sentiments were previously stressed in fellow arch-conservative Strom “Thurmond’s Platform of the States’ Rights Democratic Party,” [2] or Dixiecrats, a coalition of disaffected southerners within the Democratic Party that represented its ultra-conservative wing which shattered the Democrats’ then Solid South in 1948, “We believe that the Constitution of the United States is the greatest charter of human liberty ever conceived by the mind of man" [3]. Thurmond, Governor of South Carolina from 1947 to 1951 and later US Senator, became the protuberant figure of states’ rights and racial traditionalism, who in 1956 outlined a “Southern Manifesto” condemning school integration [4], and later performed a record twenty-four-hour filibuster in contradiction to a 1957 Civil-Rights bill [5]. What Thurmond made evident to the conservative right was that the race-issue could place the South in play, meaning, “race” could help shift traditional white voters to the conservative cause, a factor that would become interlaced within conservative electoral politics for generations to come.

When it came to the race-issue, Lewis Gould explains, ironically, that “Goldwater had supported the civil-rights laws of 1957 and 1960, but he stopped short on the 1964 proposal' [6]. A staunch constitutionalist, the Senator “believed, based on the anti-civil rights views of such legal advisers as William Rehnquist and Robert Bork, that the measure was unconstitutional” [7]. Goldwater took, what he alleged to be a principled stand and “decided that he would vote against the law in the Senate: ‘The problem of discrimination cannot be cured by laws alone,’ he told his colleagues. States’ rights prevented the government from interfering with ‘local issues’ such as race relations” [8]. In the end, Goldwater benefitted from white-fear over the race-issue in the South. As such, “every Republican presidential candidate after Barry Goldwater would reach out and seek to expand the new, white conservative base in the South that he had helped to create” [9] - what would later become known as the Southern Strategy. Which paradoxically took the shape of a sleight-of-hand in that, school integration was “wise and just” he declared, but federal courts imposing such a doctrine was a violation of “states’ rights” which was intolerable from his point of view [10]. Ultimately, Goldwater’s appeal to his white-southern conservative base took the form of fear mongering, “The Civil Rights Act, he continued, would make the federal government into a ‘police state’ and would lead to ‘the destruction of a free society’” [11].

This Senator’s extreme ideological fight for Americanism and his militant stance against the Soviet Union was succinctly summarized in his slogan “Better Dead Than Red,” meaning, it was better for the nation to suffer a nuclear holocaust than to be ruled by communists. Thus, G