A fascinating footnote to Barry Goldwater’s 1964 acceptance speech, about which I wrote about here, was the Arizona conservative’s insistence on the importance of “diversity.” Goldwater used the word six times in his 30-plus minute address.
In describing the problems besetting America, Goldwater complained that “we have lost the brisk pace of diversity and the genius of individual creativity.” In describing his vision of America, Goldwater spoke of “cherished diversity of ways, diversity of thoughts, of motives and accomplishments.”
In describing what Republicans stand for, Goldwater stated, “thus do we seek inventiveness, diversity, and creativity within a stable order. . . .” And he listed “balance, diversity, creativity” as “the elements of Republican equation.”
Goldwater, of course, was using the word “diversity” in the sense of differences that truly matter when it comes to building and maintaining a strong, successful nation — diversity of ways, thoughts, motives, and accomplishments. He did not mean superficial diversity, such as differences of skin pigmentation.
To speak, as Goldwater did, of the “brisk pace of diversity” makes great sense if one views diversity in its meaningful sense of the a variety of ideas. It makes considerably less sense if one views it in the more stagnant sense of taking headcounts based on race, ethnicity, and gender.
Daniel Hannan, the British journalist, author, and Member of the European Parliament, goes one step further. He argues that “‘diversity’ has come to take on almost the opposite of its literal meaning.”
Hannan’s focus is on diversity in legislative bodies and the concept that they should “look more like the country.” This concept, he notes, was once confined to certain authoritarian regimes — Salazar’s in Portugal and Mussolini’s in Italy — that apportioned seats to interest groups.
The intention of these dictators cases surely was not to make legislatures more diverse when it came to answering the key questions of what the state should do and how should it do it. The intention, presumably, was to consolidate power.
Today, Hannan finds, “diversity. . .doesn’t just mean having people with different skin-tones; it means having people with different skin-tones who think in similar ways.” Thus, says Hannan, Europe’s diversity mongers “want more Muslims, but not Muslims who hold Islamic views about, say, the definition of marriage.” Similarly “they want more black people, but not black people who get ideas about prospering outside the EU.” And “they want more women, but not more Margaret Thatchers.”
Diversity mongers take the same approach in the U.S. This helps explain why our “rainbow Congress” is so much less diverse than the virtually all-white and all-male Congresses of yesteryear.
Today, the only true diversity when it comes to economic and domestic policy is between Democrats and Republicans. Congressional Democrats — regardless of race, color, gender, or national origin — march in lockstep except in a few instances when a few members face a difficult re-election campaign. Republicans are a bit more quarrelsome, but can be counted on (thankfully) to oppose almost anything President Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi support, at least in terms of economic and domestic policy.
Back in the day, Democrats were a divided party. And the division wasn’t just between Southern and non-Southern Dems. Sen. Frank Lausche of Ohio was sufficiently conservative that Dwight Eisenhower is said to have considered him as a possible running mate in 1952. Lausche served two terms in the Senate before losing in the Democratic primary to liberal John Gilligan — father of Kathleen Sebelius — who lost the general election to William Saxbe.
Sen. William Proxmire of Wisconsin was a liberal Democrat. But he was also a crusader against government spending on wasteful and just plain ridiculous projects, some of which he brought to light through his “Golden Fleece” award.
Later on, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who had served in Republican and Democratic administrations, graced the Senate with his powerful and independent thinking. I would argue that this old, white male single-handedly brought more intellectual diversity to Congress than the entire Congressional Black Caucus.
Republican Senators spanned the political spectrum. They ranged from reliable liberals like Jacob Javits (New York), to moderates like Thurston Morton (Kentucky), to conservatives like Goldwater.
I’m not one who yearns for this past. Compared to the current situation, it had its pluses and its minuses.
But I think it’s fair to say that the old Congresses were more diverse, in the meaningful sense of the word, than the Congress of today.