William Faulkner, the eminent Southern novelist, once remarked, “The past is not over yet.” William Shakespeare, 350 years earlier in his final play, said the same thing differently: “The past is prologue.”
With a New Year facing us, it might be fruitful to consider some things said in the past by those who were not captive to what Cicero called “the tyranny of the present.” Yes, looking only at today’s headlines without ever consulting a history book, we deny ourselves of any context. The truly educated person is one who understands how and by whom things came to be as they are. Actually, formal schooling is not necessary for gaining such an understanding, but a modest amount of reading probably is.
Just as importantly, learning the background and context of the issues we face today or knowing something about the build-up to the issues can help us avoid dismay. Screaming headlines can make us think things are falling apart, but a little knowledge of the past can show us that things are actually coming together, that is, coming together just as the reformers who set them in place wished. If we know what led up to present conditions, we are better equipped to cope or to alter them.
For instance, are we informed about President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society with its accompanying War on Poverty and how those initiatives increased the role of government? Are we aware of the fact that President Johnson, raised amongst considerable poverty, was dead serious about abolishing poverty in America and believed only governmental action could do it?
The War on Poverty certainly didn’t eliminate poverty. My hunch is it increased it. It most certainly led to an impoverished spirit of dependency. But my chief point is, if he were still around, Johnson would be quite pleased at the pace of government’s growth. Blind to the War on Poverty’s failure, he would still be content with government’s long tentacles simply because he believed in big government. Johnson loved statism, viewing laws and governmental regulation as the instrumental cure for most ills. His perfect protégé is our current president.
More than anyone else, even more than FDR, it was Lyndon Johnson who moved our nation and our mindset from a federal government to a national government. Johnson was aided and abetted by Nixon (the EPA), Carter (the Department of Education), Bush (he of the “Read my lips, no more taxes” taxes), Bush (No Child Left Behind), and Obama (Obamacare and a lust for monarchy). As we see, not all these men were Democrats.
There are two realities that should show the new Congress that Americans don’t like our shift from a federal government to a national government. One is the emergence of the Tea Party which is still a viable and active movement despite what the old line media says. The other is the November Republican landslide.
If Republicans are so foolish as to shun the Tea Party and ignore their own landslide, it will mean they have chosen to ignore, perhaps to discard, one of their classic spokespersons from the past, Arizona’s Barry Goldwater. A champion of justice everywhere, but particularly for Arizona’s Navaho population, Goldwater echoed the philosophy of Cicero, John Locke and Jefferson, and the toughness of Teddy Roosevelt all at once. Here is the GOP’s 1964 standard bearer at his best:
“I have little interest in streamlining government or making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws but to repeal them, not to inaugurate new programs but to cancel old ones that do violence to the Constitution. I will not attempt to discover which legislation is ‘needed’ before I have determined whether it is constitutionally permissible. And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents’ ‘interests,’ I shall reply that I was informed that their interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the best I can.”
Goldwater, the first tea partier, it seems to me, penned these words in 1960 in his little book “The Conscience of a Conservative.” If, after the recent November megaphone, the Republican Party chooses to ignore or to view with disdain Goldwater’s time-honored conservative manifesto, the party’s certain death will be well deserved.
If after yet another chance, Republicans fail to reign in government’s power, I have no doubt that Goldwater’s children (we other kids of the ’60s the media didn’t notice) will look elsewhere for leadership.
We just don’t like tyranny, even soft tyranny.
Roger Hines is a retired high school English teacher and state legislator in Kennesaw.