1964: Back to the future
As the white flag rises above Republican redoubts, offering a surrender on taxes, the mind goes back to what seemed a worse time for conservatives: December 1964.
Barry Goldwater had suffered a defeat not seen since Alf Landon. Republicans held less than one-third of the House and Senate and only 17 governorships.
In the arts, academic and entertainment communities, as well as in the national press corps, conservatives were rarely seen or heard. It was liberalism's hour, with America awash in misty memories of Camelot and great expectations of the Great Society to come in 1965.
Below the surface, the Democratic Party was disintegrating on ethnic, cultural and political lines. Law and order and Vietnam were the issues. Richard Nixon would see the opening and seize the opportunity to dismantle FDR's coalition and cobble together his new majority.
Today, the GOP strength in the House, Senate and governorships is far greater than anything Republicans had in the 1960s. The difference is that, then, we could visualize a new majority of centrist Republicans, Goldwater conservatives, Northern Catholic ethnics and Southern Protestant Democrats.
When the liberal establishment collapsed during the 1960s, unable to end the war in Vietnam or the war in the streets, national leadership passed to the party of Nixon and Ronald Reagan. From 1968 to 1988, the GOP won five of six presidential elections, two of them in 49-state landslides.
The crisis of the GOP today is demographic, cultural and political.
Demographically, people of color are nearing 40 percent of the U.S. population and 30 percent of the electorate. These folks — 85 to 90 percent of all immigrants, legal and illegal — are growing in number.
Culturally, the causes of the 1960s' revolutions — no-fault divorce, legalized drugs, “reproductive rights,” teenage access to birth control, gay rights and gay marriage — have either been embraced or become acceptable to most of America's young. As a result of the sexual revolution promoted by the counterculture of the 1960s, 40 percent of all births in the United States are now to single moms.
Without husbands, these women look to government to help feed, house, educate, medicate and provide income support for themselves and their children. For sustenance and survival, they depend on that same Big Government that Republicans denounce at their rallies.
As to the GOP's strongest appeal — we are the party that will cut taxes — half the country does not pay income taxes.
The bedrock values of Reagan — work, family, faith — still hold an appeal for tens of millions. But the faith of our fathers is dying, the family is crumbling, and work is less desirable when the social welfare state offers a cushioned existence for life.
Conservatives need to rediscover what they wish to conserve and how to do so in a climate every bit as hostile as 1964 — then await the moment when the country turns again to an alternative.
As it will. For our economic course is unsustainable. And our regnant elite are more arrogant than the establishment of the 1960s, though less able to satisfy the clamors of their bawling constituencies for more and more from a country that is approaching an end of its tolerance and an inevitable crash.
Pat Buchanan is the author of “Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?”