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. The Warren Court was remaking America.
In the arts, academic and entertainment communities, and 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.
That year, however, saw escalation in Vietnam, campus protests, and civil disobedience against the war. That August, there exploded the worst race riot in memory in the Watts section of Los Angeles, with arson, looting, the beating of whites, and sniper attacks on cops and firemen.
A year after LBJ’s triumph, black militants and white radicals were savaging the Liberal Establishment from the left, while Gov. George Wallace had come north in 1964 to win a third of the vote in the major Democratic primaries with an assault from the populist right.
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. And we could see the issues that might bring them into the tent: a new Supreme Court, law and order, peace with honor in Vietnam.
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. And in 2012, people of color voted for Obama 4 to 1.
The GOP trump card — we are the party of Reagan, who led us to victory in the Cold War — ceased to work 20 years ago. Then, George H.W. Bush, a war hero who had presided over the fall of the Berlin Wall and dissolution of the Soviet Empire, the victor of Desert Storm, won 38 percent of the vote against a draft-evader named Bill Clinton.
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, the dominant culture today, 40 percent of all births in the United States are now to single moms.
With no husband, these women look to government to help feed, house, educate, medicate and provide income support for themselves and their children. For sustenance and the survival of their families, 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, and the GOP is about to surrender to Obama even on the tax front.
Republicans stand for bringing entitlements under control. But the primary beneficiaries of the big entitlements, Social Security and Medicare, are seniors, the party’s most reliable voting bloc.
On foreign policy, the most visible Republican spokesmen are Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Both were unhappy with the withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan. Both want to intervene in Syria and Iran.
What does America want? To come home and do our nation-building here in the United States.
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, 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.