This Week

Issue: "Rethinking divorce," June 13, 1998

Worst since WWII

More than 1,000 workers in central Germany clawed through debris in search of victims-and clues-in Germany's worst train disaster since World War II. At least 100 passengers were confirmed dead after the country's fastest train, the ICE, derailed near Eschede. The lead locomotive of the Munich to Hamburg express broke loose at 125 mph last week, leaving behind 12 passenger cars and a second locomotive that left the tracks and smashed together like an accordion. Nearly inaccessible to rescuers were a dining car and a first-class compartment, wedged under a collapsed overpass. Police gave differing accounts of how the accident occurred, indicating that an automobile on the track or the overpass may have caused the derailment.

Death of a pioneer

Barry Goldwater rode out of the West in 1964 and forced conservative views into national prominence when he ran for president. The Cold War right lost that time but gained a thirst for victory that was finally quenched by Ronald Reagan in 1980. Too bad that by the '80s the Arizona senator had metamorphosed into a talking head for the political establishment that once wanted him guillotined. Mr. Goldwater died at age 89 and was buried last week. Upon his death, "Mr. Conservative" was called "a great patriot and a truly fine human being" by Bill Clinton. Planned Parenthood president Gloria Feldt mourned him, saying, "He may very well have been everything the founding fathers had hoped for in a political leader." But back in 1964, things were different for the man known by the chemical symbol AuH2O. Mr. Goldwater called for states' rights, wanted Social Security made voluntary, and talked of lobbing a bomb into the men's room at the Kremlin. Back then, the Republican party was run by a cadre of East Coast liberals who loved big government but didn't feel guilty enough to become Democrats. The establishment figured that since JFK had just died, nobody could pull the presidency away from Lyndon Johnson. That opened the door for Mr. Goldwater and his anticommunist, anti-big government message. He upset liberal Nelson Rockefeller for the GOP nomination, famously telling the convention that "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." Liberals wasted no time painting Mr. Goldwater as just that-an extremist. One shrill Johnson campaign ad juxtaposed a shot of a little girl picking daisies with a nuclear explosion. The message: Barry Goldwater wants to blow up the world. Nothing the Republican nominee could do with his dedicated but outmaneuvered campaign team worked. He lost by 16 million votes and carried six states. Yet the Goldwater movement pushed on toward Ronald Reagan. The aftershocks never stopped; even today the most liberal Republicans must pay lip service to conservative ideals. After his defeat, Mr. Goldwater himself went back to the Senate and fought the Cold War as chairman of the Armed Services Committee. Over the years, conservatives noticed something different about their hero. The political world was changing. The Roe vs. Wade decision reminded the right that America's moral decline was now a bloody mess. But Mr. Goldwater was nowhere to be found. He began to "grow," as the liberals say, and started taking shots at the same sort of conservatives who made him a national icon. The loose cannon pointed in the wrong direction. Mr. Goldwater gave soundbite after soundbite opposing social conservatives, especially Christians. "His social views were like what you would find in The Washington Post," says Paul Gottfried, author of The Conservative Movement. Instead of Mao, Khrushchev, and Ho Chi Minh, he declared war on Jesse Helms, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson. "Religious factions will go on imposing their will on others unless the decent people connected to them recognize that religion has no place in public policy," he said in 1992. Mr. Goldwater campaigned against school prayer and lobbied for abortion, gays in the military, and forced busing. When he endorsed a Democrat in a 1992 congressional race over Christian conservative Doug Wead, Arizona Republicans considered removing his name from party headquarters. "He was a politician, not a consistent thinker," said columnist Joseph Sobran of Mr. Goldwater. "I want to remember him the way he was in '64."

Big government. Now understandable.

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A governmental initiative has been undertaken wherein plain language, shorter sentences, and active voice is required for use by bureaucrats in communication with the citizenry. Vice President Gore-who last year added the incomprehensible "no controlling legal authority" to the Beltway lexicon-said last week executive agencies will have until Oct. 1 to make the change. The new policy applies to all new federal documents that explain how to get a benefit or service or how to comply with an agency requirement. "Short is better than long. Active is better than passive.... Clarity helps advance understanding," Mr. Gore said of his campaign against government language gobbledygook. The rule will not immediately apply to new federal regulations, however; reg-writers have until New Year's Day 1999 to eschew obfuscation.


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