During Barry Goldwater’s five terms in the United States Senate, there was never any doubt where he stood. Goldwater attracted a great many young conservatives. And to the extent that establishment Republicans … the Rockefellers, Sen. Hugh Scott (R-PA), Gov. Bill Scranton (R-PA), etc… were scared to death of him, thinking his conservative views to be far too rigid, his base was made up almost entirely of young conservatives under age 40.
Goldwater was a man of great intellect. He possessed not only a deep set of core beliefs, he knew why he believed what he believed and he was not afraid to expose his innermost thoughts to public scrutiny. In his book, The Conscience of A Conservative (1960), he wrote: “I have little interest in streamlining government or in 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. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones that do violence to the Constitution, or that have failed their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden. I will not attempt to discover whether legislation is ‘needed’ before I have first 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 main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can.”
I still maintain my leather-bound copy of The Conscience of a Conservative in a very prominent place in my library, but it is a book that I never have to refer to because the above manifesto is as much a part of my being as it was of Barry Goldwater’s. It is what attracted me to him in the early 60s and it is what caused a group of dedicated Young Republicans to raise a small army of never-say-die activists to nominate him for the presidency.
Perhaps his most memorable quote came in his 1964 acceptance speech at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, when he said, “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!”
Because he used the word “extremism,” liberals and Democrats pounced upon it and used it relentlessly in trying to destroy him. Had he said, “I would remind you that enthusiasm in the defense of liberty is no vice! Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue,” he would have been home free, but the word “extremism” was just too much for liberal detractors to resist.
Among Democrats, the one great intellect of the modern era was New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Moynihan was a great thinker and a rarity among Democrats because he never allowed Democratic politics to get in the way of good public policy. He was appreciated as much by conservative Republicans as he was by his liberal Democrat colleagues and Richard Nixon displayed no hesitancy in bringing him into the White House as his Urban Affairs Counsel and later as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. He was the brightest man to serve in the U.S. Senate in my lifetime.
Moynihan was also a man who enjoyed fine food and drink. He was known to have a large capacity for good scotch and one evening, as we sat just two tables apart at our favorite Capitol Hill restaurant, I was shocked to see him suddenly pitch forward onto his table, landing face down in his bowl of snapper soup.
With Goldwater and Moynihan as the standards by which I have measured other politicians, I have tried for many years to find the proper words to describe exactly what it is I look for in the politicians I am drawn to. And it was not until I was leaving Don Rumsfeld’s employ in late 1987, several months after he withdrew from the race for the 1988 nomination, that I discovered exactly what it was. As I was writing a farewell note to the Rumsfelds, I tried to describe what it was that had caused so many talented and successful people to drop everything in their lives and move to Chicago to enlist in our grand crusade. In my letter, I said: “I have given a lot of thought to what it is that binds us all together, because Rumsfeld people do share something quite unique, something very special, something much more significant than just another political bandwagon. The first two pieces of the puzzle have been evident to me all along, but it was not until I tuned in to Bill Buckley’s interview with Sidney Hook a week or so ago that I was able to come up with the final piece of the puzzle… the third leg of the stool.
“First of all, it is as Barbara Tuchman wrote, ‘… achieving or reaching for the highest standard as against being satisfied with the sloppy or fraudulent. It is honesty of purpose as against catering to cheap or sensational sentiment. It does not allow compromise with the second rate.’
“Secondly, for me at least, it has to do with Edwin Land’s guiding philosophy. He said, ‘Don’t do anything that someone else can do. Don’t undertake a project unless it is manifestly important and nearly impossible. If it is manifestly important, then you don’t have to worry about its significance. Since it’s nearly impossible, you know that no one else is likely to be doing it.’
“And finally, the third leg of the stool is Sidney Hook’s proposition to Bill Buckley regarding the inextricable components of true leadership. As Hook described it to Buckley, ‘It is great intelligence, in combination with great moral courage.’ ”
It is that last… great intelligence, in combination with great moral courage… that describes what I search for in politicians.
Ronald Reagan had it, but he didn’t flaunt it. Like Barry Goldwater, he had a core set of beliefs that were second nature to him. Most Americans did not have the chance to experience Reagan’s intellect until his book, Reagan in His Own Hand: The Writings of Ronald Reagan that Reveal His Revolutionary Vision for America, was published in 2001, and Nancy Reagan’s book, I Love You, Ronnie: The Letters of Ronald Reagan to Nancy Reagan, was published in 2002.
Since Reagan, there has not been much to choose from. Historians will be hard pressed to recall interesting utterances by the Bushes, father or son. And Bill Clinton? Clinton was known to be a serious “policy wonk,” but can we see him as a man of great moral courage? Probably not.
Barack Obama has been sold to us as a man of intellect, but is he… really? Although he has attended some of our finest Ivy League schools, he is clearly a product of affirmative action. He has a glib tongue… his only apparent talent… and he reads with confidence from a teleprompter. But in terms of raw intelligence he appears to have an IQ of rather modest proportions.
We’ve seen some of his writings. They are sophomoric, at best. And let us not forget what happens when his ever-present teleprompter fails to put words into his mouth. In one such instance he said, “What they’ll say is, ‘Well it costs too much money,’ but you know what? It would cost, about. It… it… it would cost about the same as what we would spend. It. Over the course of 10 years it would cost what it would costs us (nervous laugh). All right. Okay. We’re going to. It… It would cost us about the same as it would cost for about… hold on one second. I can’t hear myself. But I’m glad you’re fired up, though. I’m glad.” Memorable stuff!
Among the current crop of Republican candidates, Mitt Romney’s intellect does not impress. His halting pattern of speech, with his abrupt stops and starts, gives one the impression that every thought he puts into words is either a memorized line or a brand new, half-completed thought.
Ron Paul is obviously a man of intelligence, and he may even be possessed of a high degree of moral courage, but the boundaries of his intellectual curiosity appear to be rather narrow in scope. In any discussion beyond monetary policy… e.g. in the area of foreign policy… he appears to lack breadth and depth. In some instances he even appears disinterested.
Newt Gingrich is obviously a man of great intelligence… his worst enemies will concede that… and he has never hesitated to speak his mind. But Newt’s problem appears to be that, because of the image he carries from his days as the Democrats’ worst nightmare, a bit of the sheen appears to have worn off his moral courage. If he has not been too badly damaged by Mitt Romney’s panic-induced attempts to discredit him, he may still be able to recover. Up against the likes of Barack Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi, Newt would come off as a choir boy.
But what of Rick Santorum? Where is his intellect? As of this writing he appears to be a rising star in the Republican primaries. He has enjoyed surprise victories in Iowa, Colorado, Missouri, and Minnesota. But in all of his public speeches, and in all of his debate performances, we have seen not a single spark of real intellect. Outside of his dedication to family and his strongly held opposition to abortion and gay marriage, we have not heard him utter a single word that might represent an original thought.
There is a “tightness” about Rick Santorum, as evidenced by his facial expressions, that is not very appealing. What we need to see from Rick Santorum is his vision for the country and its place in the world. We need to see more than recitations of his past legislative efforts; we need to see a broad and deep set of core beliefs that will truly excite a nation. If all he ever allows us to see is his strongly held religious beliefs, that will not be nearly enough.