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Barry Morris Goldwater wouldn't say hello, so the young Harvard Law student who wanted to meet the defeated Republican Presidential candidate trailed him around the room. Goldwater chatted with Republican national committeemen, committeewomen and prominent GOP politicians from all over the country; the student listened.
The occasion was a recent cocktail party in Chicago after the Republican National Committee had worked out a compromise between the party's factions. If Barry had said hello to the Harvard Law student, the two probably would exchange no more than a few cool words. For the young man belonged to the Ripon Society, and you can count on one finger the number of nice things the Society has had to say about the Arizona conservative. But perhaps the young man should have been more persistent. He really should have tried to thank Barry. For Barry's bungling campaign and his misinter-pretation of America 1964 has projected the Ripon Society from a small discussion group of young Cambridge faculty members and graduate students to an active political movement.
The Society's staunchly anti-Goldwater statements, both before the San Francisco convention and after his drubbing in November, received prominent play in newspapers all over the country. Jack Saloma, an assistant professor of political science at MIT and president of the group, has appeared on nation-wide television. And probably most important, GOP politicians throughout the country know what the society is and the more moderate elements, at least, respect it.
One Harvard tutor, a staunch Democrat, likes to call it the "Ripley Society." "I don't know whether to believe them or not," he explains. And why should he? The idea of a group of Harvard men forming the core of a Republican group seems to contradict the very core of the conventional wisdom. And the idea of such a small group receiving national attention (the Cambridge-Boston chapter is only about 80 strong) seems absurd.
If the Society must partially attribute its success to Barry, it must also thank the liberal Republicans who did little--or too little too late--to stop him. As one Society member observed, the moderates' silence created a vacuum. The voice of liberal Republicanism was muted. Republican newspaper publishers, and even the more Democratic editors, were (and probably still are) genuinely worried about the GOP's future. Anything that could be labled "anti-Goldwater" or "moderate Republicanism" was good copy.
But Barry, and the moderates' silence, only created the vacuum. The Society had to help fill it. As the different GOP candidates vied (or restrained from vying) for the nomination, the Society realized its opportunity.
In February 1964, it issued a "Call to Leadership," appealing to moderates to unite against the Arizona Senator. After Goldwater won the California primary and Republican governors caucused in Cleveland, the Society made another appeal in a "confidential memorandum" sent to prominent Republicans including Governors Rockefeller, Scranton, and Romney--and leaked to the press. It predicted that "Goldwater as nominee would bring on wholesale slaughter of the Republican party," adding that a "latent anti-civil rights vote" would not materialize and that a Goldwater ticket would devastate many local organizations.
Only a week before the National Convention opened, a small group--some of whom were on their way to San Francisco to work for Scranton and Rockefeller--met in Ripon, Wis. (the small town where the Republican party was supposedly founded and from which the Society takes its name. They condemned a Goldwater strategy "that must inevitably exploit the 'white backlash' to the civil rights movement."
"Our party may pay little heed to what we say here today," they noted in their statement. They were right.
During the campaign, the Society endorsed a long list of Congressional candidates while it kept an uneasy silence on the national contest. But the silence was deceptive. All fall long, members scrutinized the national campaign and local campaigns. They collected newspaper reports, established local contacts, and collected a wealth of information concerning Goldwater's tactics, the national committee's relation with local organizations, and the impact of the Presidential campaign on local races.
The night of the election, as other Republicans watched in horror, Ripon members set up an elaborate communications center in the basement of a Cambridge inn. Monitoring calls from contacts in 31 states--including Milton Eisenhower and the office of Pennsylvania's Governor Scranton--the Society rapidly compiled a detailed picture of the GOP disaster and two days later issued a nine-page statement in Washington asking Goldwater to drop his leadership role.
As a result of this work--and the feverish efforts of more than people working in Cambridge and Boston--the Society recently published Election '64, a 124-page account of the election, including state-by-state analyses. Society members dispatched the reports to all Republican Congressmen, Senators, Governors, national committee members and other important GOP politicians. And people read the report. John Grenier, the Goldwater-selected Executive Director of the National Committee who left after the election fiasco, didn't like the treatment he received and wrote the Society. A Dallas newspaper, lauding the Society's report, demurred only when the report characterized it as "arch-conservative."
Ripon's immediate formula for a GOP revival, embodied in 13 recommendations at the end of the report, revealed few surprises. Perhaps the most novel suggestion--and the one least likely to reach fruition--asked the Republican National Committee to "extend a formal apology to Dr. Martin Luther King for efforts attributed to one of its employees to induce King voters to waste their votes by writing in Dr. King's name."
Predictably, the Society warned that the party "must unequivocally disassociate itself from the John Birch Society, the Ku Klux Klan and other extremist groups." And equally predictably, the Society had to pay homage one sentence later to the fact that the Republican party is still the party of conservatives: "At the same time all Republican spokesmen would do well to distinguish clearly and publicly between irrational and irresponsible extremist elements and the millions of radonal, responsible and traditional conservatives who comprise a large segment of Republican voting strength."
The report estimated that "at least 67 Congressional seats now held by Democrats can be won by able and vigorous Republican candidates in 1966" and recommended that "the National Committee research staff should maintain a complete dossier on the voting record and public statements of each Democratic incumbent in a marginal District, for delivery to the Republican candidate upon his selection."
Politics vs. Ideas
For the last 18 months, the Society's emphasis has clearly been on practical politics. Yet, when founded in December of 1962, the emphasis was supposed to be on ideas--ideas for a party without ideas. It had modelled itself after the Bow Group, the successful, though unofficial, research group of Britain's Conservative Party. The first thing it did was to meet with professors, not politicians. Otto Eckstein (now of the President's Council of Economic Advisors), Edward Banfield, and Henry Kissinger were three who talked to the group.
But the political choas of 1964 has diverted the Society from the one unique thing it can give the Party--ideas. Undoubtedly it will be difficult to resist the fascination of practical politics. And the difficulty of finding new ideas that can be transformed into political rewards will further discourage them.
When they dream, Ripon members like to think of themselves as heirs of Kennedy, not Eisenhower. "We in the Ripon Society," they say at the end of Election '64, "and young Americans generally, remember these words of a young President: 'Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans ...' Today that torch burns only at an Arlington grave, for today no man and no Party carries the torch of our general." This is the Ripon vision--"the great opportunity of a new Republican party"--that the GOP will pick up the torch.
But another quote, from Walter Lippmann, strikes closer to the truth: "Ever since Wilson and Roosevelt, the central Republican leadership has been alienated from the intellectual community, and in the years when it backed McCarthy, it in effect declared war on the intellectual community . . . This alienation is the root of the decline of the Republican Party."
And as this is the root, the real measure of the Ripon Society's success will be its ability to end-this alienation
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