Saturday, March 16, 2013

Picktures and Pieces 15: The Land of the Free

Picktures and Piece 15: The Land of the Free
by Randall Auxier

The stray apostrophe on this sign doesn’t surprise me. No one likes a grammar snob, but I don’t like this sign. It comes from “Goldwater country,” now world famous for its inhospitality. The meaning of “white” is a moving target. With so many Italians arriving a hundred years ago, they somehow ceased being “white,” as did the Irish in the 19th century. Both groups are "white" again, now, it appears. In the great Southwest, evidently “white” includes people who are ethnically Jewish, like Barry Goldwater, but not people from Spain or Mexicans, even Mexicans of German parentage, I suppose.

Goldwater said: “The Mexican is industrious, kind and a very warm family man whose hogar (hearth) is his citadel, his castle and his life. A Mexican is particularly devoted to his country and will defend it against any slur or attack. Mexicans are loyal and true friends whose word becomes their bond. One doesn’t find all of these attributes reflected in any one face, but often a reflection of the dignity born of them comes through.” He had many Mexican friends, and many Native American friends, and his friends saw in him an old-fashioned kind of integrity they could recognize, even when they differed with his opinions. His word was his bond and his hospitality was not extended for personal gain.

The Goldwater version of the Republican Party was supposed to shun racism and bigotry of all kinds, and it would not cozy up to religious fundamentalists. His party would actually cut government programs to prevent the encroaching menace of executive power. It would stay out of education because the Constitution does not authorize such intervention. (This is true. It really doesn’t.) And Goldwater’s Republican Party would pass laws in accordance with a strict interpretation of that document.

Barry’s pipe dream. He was repeating what James Madison said in Federalist 10 and 44. Each branch of government to tries to expand its own power at the expense of the others. There is excellent evidence for this observation, and not just among governmental entities. Look at corporations, universities and schools, and pretty much any complex social structure. To prevent the problem, Goldwater wanted a civil right defined as a right already protected by law, as distinct from natural rights or human rights. He was willing to defend whatever rights the legislature specified, if they were in keeping with the Constitution. Many Libertarians take this view, but Republicans and Democrats are both heavily disposed to exercise executive power broadly and to legislate without explicit reference to the Constitution.

Not many people know that Goldwater was a daring pilot, one of the few to fly the U2 spy plane. He was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1982, three years after Neil Armstrong (ironically, Lyndon Johnson signed the law creating that institution). Goldwater eventually retired as a major general from the Air Force Reserves. But when he became chief of staff of the Arizona Air National Guard, in 1947, one of his first acts was to desegregate the unit. He insisted on it. His crews came in all shades. But that was the military, not a private business. You can’t make private citizens nonracist through government intervention, he believed.

Goldwater was soundly defeated in 1964, carrying only his home state of Arizona and the five most reactionary, segregationist states in the deep South. He won the latter because he voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act. I doubt the white citizens of those Southern states (and they were the ones voting, make no mistake–the Voting Rights Act passed the next year) understood Goldwater’s position on the bill. I wonder whether Goldwater would have actually voted for the Voting Rights Act. He was not a member of the Senate when it came up.

The stated reason for Goldwater’s opposition to the Civil Rights Act had nothing to do with his views about desegregation. He had some integrationist credentials in his past, after all. But he wouldn’t pass a law, federal, state or local, to make this benighted fool remove that sign from his window or change his business practices. Goldwater’s solution to that problem? Don’t eat there, or anywhere that bigotry reigns. He served everyone at his family's department store. That is the solution, for “a free people,” as he understood that concept. Any government that can force this business owner to do things differently cannot be trusted to refrain from deeper incursions into the freedoms of its citizens.

I struggle with this. I admire the Civil Rights Movement, about as much as I admire anything. I don’t believe things would have changed without the law. Things needed to change. I am also aware that many of the negative effects of integration Malcolm X predicted have come true. Like anything human, desegregation involved trade-offs. And there has been creeping executive authority: Cheney’s “unitary executive,” and so on. We all want the government to act when it is doing what we think ought to be done, but then we cry foul when government uses the same kind of authority to do what we don’t favor. Each side argues that freedom is being taken away. Do we or don’t we agree on what freedom is?

I think we don’t. Just as there is an old fashioned and a new fangled version of integrity, there is an old version of freedom that says people are free when they are left alone, and a younger version that says unless all are free, no one truly is. These are individualists arguing with communitarians. Communitarian freedom favors using governmental power to secure a level playing field, while the individualists say that if you use governmental power in that way, pretty soon no one will be free.

There are good citizens on both sides, but the old fashioned integrity is what makes them so. The new integrity, like everything that has fear as its seed, puts down no deep roots in history or experience. It isn’t a perennial. You have to plant fear over and over. It grows mainly in the shade and isn’t indigenous to human nature. Goldwater may have lost an election because of it, because people thought he would blow up the world, or because they feared he was a racist, or because they were afraid of having three presidents in just over a year.

Goldwater grumpily put up with being feared, but he didn’t think anyone needed to be afraid of that sign in the window. He said the biggest mistake he ever made wasn’t his vote on the Civil Rights Act, or his acceptance speech, it was his decision not to buy this bar in Phoenix. We will pick up next time with that, in the final entry on Goldwater.

1 comment:

  1. It was in '66, according to faded memory, that I visited, with a group from school, Goldwater at his home. He graciously showed me his ham-shack while he nursed a high-ball by the pool. Nice house, but really modest by the inflated ideas pols have today. In considering what sort of president he might have been - a president of integrity and constitutional resolve - it may be prudent to recall the now-public secrets associated with the installation of Lyndon. Surely, some will bravely opine, a man of integrity would have followed Kennedy to Arlington.