Matt makes a good point here about how the founding hero of modern American conservatism was wrong about the most important issue of his time. It’s worth noting as well, as you’ll see from this passage from Perlstein’s Before the Storm, that two of the people who persuaded Goldwater to stick up for apartheid and oppose federal civil rights protections were the first modern constitutional conservative to sit on the Supreme Court, William Rehnquist, and the Republican Party’s great constitutional martyr, Robert Bork. Rehnquist was also a contemporaneous opponent of Brown v. Board, which can’t even superficially be characterized as being about a principled opposition to state coercion.
On Bork, a FrumForum poster recently wrote that Rand Paul was making other conservatives like Bork look bad:
For over twenty years conservative constitutionalists have held up Senator Kennedy’s tirade against “Robert Bork’s America” as the pinnacle of left wing political slanders of the right. How dare he say that conservative constitutional views would return us to the days of segregated lunch counters?
The problem here, of course, is that Kennedy didn’t say that “constitutional conservatism” per se would lead us to segregated lunch counters. He said that this would have been the result of Robert Bork’s constitutional vision, which can find corroboration in the fact that while it mattered Robert Bork publicly (as well as privately) argued that the Civil Rights Act was unconstitutional. As I’ve argued before, it’s odd that Kennedy’s speech has come to stand for unspeakable political slander, when every claim in it was in fact consistent Bork’s published views (granting that some of them had been repudiated in subsequent confirmation conversions.)