In his excellent book on the 1964 Presidential campaign, Rick Perlstein located what we today call social conservatism with candidate Barry Goldwater. Bemoaning the “slipping away” of “traditional values of individual responsibility,” and the rising “moral decay,” Goldwater, at first glance, would seem to have supported the Defense of Marriage Act were he alive today.
But Goldwater was also a fervent libertarian, and this superseded all else; during the campaign, he only gave one speech about moral decay, while every other one concerned the threat big government as personified by LBJ posed to individual liberty:
“Do you want a President who will twist arms, manipulate power, and take more and more control over your lives…You want no worries? He’ll worry for you. Relax and don’t worry. The great leader and his curious crew will do for you all those things you find unpleasant to for yourselves. And all he asks if that you give him more and more power over your lives. More and more without end…Put all the power in his hands, and he will give you true freedom–which we used to call slavery!”
Goldwater attacked those who sought to use government to foster morality:
“Those who seek absolute power, even though they seek it to do what they regard as good, are simply demanding the right to enforce their own version of heaven on earth. And let me remind you, they are the very ones who always create the most hellish tyrannies. Absolute power does corrupt, and those who seek it must be suspect and must be opposed.”
Those who say that Goldwater would have supported Rick Santorum today would be sadly mistaken, for the senator declared war on social conservatives:
“I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of “conservatism.”
This fight included attacking discrimination against homosexuals.
He asserted that citizens have a “constitutional right to be gay,” and that they should be allowed to serve in the military. He even went against type, attempting to use the federal government to pass a law prohibiting job discrimination against homosexuals.
Liberals then and now dismissed Goldwater as a caveman. But Goldwater was indeed ahead of his time. He advocated gay marriage as early as the 1980s, a period when Democrats and Republicans were afraid to come out on this hot potato issue. Moreover, he was eerily prescient about Republicans who refused to lessen the influence of social conservatives:
“When you say ‘radical right’ today, I think of these moneymaking ventures by fellows like Pat Robertson and others who are trying to take the Republican Party away from the Republican Party, and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye.”