Barry Goldwater

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Barry Goldwater

Barry Morris Goldwater (January 1, 1909May 29, 1998) was a United States politician and a founding figure in the modern conservative movement in the USA. Goldwater personified the shift in balance in American culture from the Northeast to the West. A five-term United States Senator from Arizona (1952-88), he was the Republican Party candidate for the U.S. President in the 1964 election.

Though many of the policies and ideas advocated by Goldwater were wildly out-of-step with the liberal political consensus of the United States in the two decades following World War II, his losing campaign proved to be a turning point for the modern Republican Party, which just sixteen years later nominated and elected Ronald Reagan, a conservative in the Goldwater mold. By the end of his life, however, Goldwater had become frustrated with what he saw as Christian Right influence on the Republican Party.


Personal background

Goldwater was born in Phoenix, when the state of Arizona was still part of the Arizona Territory. His father was originally Jewish, but converted to Episcopalianism to marry his fiance. The family's department store made the Goldwaters comfortably rich. With the onset of WWII, Goldwater was commissioned in the US Army Air Corps. He remained on reserve after the war, retiring at the reserve rank of Major General.

Goldwater used to tell a joke about his brother Bob being told at a golf course, "You can't play here, this is a restricted course," to which he responded "I'm only half it all right if I only play nine holes?" In his autobiography he remarks, "The story got a big laugh, but the incident never occurred."

Goldwater's son, Barry Goldwater, Jr., served as a U.S. House member from California from 1969 to 1983.

Goldwater was also an avid amateur radio operator.

Political career

Hard to pigeonhole, he began as a reform Democrat, served as a friend and colleague of Joseph McCarthy to the bitter end (one of only 22 Senators who voted against McCarthy's censure), developed a deep friendship with President John F. Kennedy and a lasting dislike for Lyndon B. Johnson, whom he said "used every dirty trick in the bag", and Richard Nixon, whom he later called "the most dishonest individual I have ever met in my life."

Goldwater entered politics in 1949. He first won a Senate seat in 1952, when he upset veteran Democratic Senate floor leader Ernest McFarland, a feat not duplicated until 2004 when John Thune ousted Tom Daschle. He served two full terms.

Goldwater had a controversial record on civil rights. On the one hand, he was a co-founder of the Arizona NAACP and was instrumental in desegregating the Arizona National Guard. As a Senator, he was a supporter of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and 1960. Nevertheless he opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on the grounds that it was an inappropriate extension of federal power, which opened him to charges of racism. Although Southern Democrats were the main opponents to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and previous civil rights legislation, opposition to the Act by so public a Republican figure as Goldwater started the South's slow migration from the Democrats to the GOP, even as a majority of the Republicans in Congress voted in favor of the Act.

Goldwater's claim that "you can't legislate morality" was echoed later by Ronald Reagan, but the black community countered by stating that such laws ensured protection of minority rights in the face of majority discrimination. Until the end of the 1964 presidential campaign, when he was embittered by what he thought were unfair attacks, Goldwater was reluctant to harness the growing white backlash. Goldwater never officially renounced his position on the 1964 Act: to the end of his career he reiterated his belief that the Civil Rights Act unduly interfered with private property rights.

The issue Goldwater became most associated with was anti-Communism. Goldwater emphasized his strong opposition to the spread of worldwide communism in his 1960 book (ghostwritten by L. Brent Bozell) The Conscience of a Conservative, which became very popular in conservative circles. Goldwater tapped into postwar frustration with Franklin Roosevelt's Yalta agreement with the Soviet Union, anger at the communist takeover of China during the Truman administration, and fear at the discovery of alleged Communist sympathizers at high levels of the federal government. Goldwater's reputation as an anti-communist was so strong that current Arizona senator John McCain jokes that, when Goldwater told him that if he had been elected president, McCain would not have been held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, McCain replied that he would have been held as a POW in China instead.

In 1964, less than one year after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, he declined to run for re-election to the Senate and was nominated by his party to run against Kennedy's successor, Lyndon Johnson. He lost to Johnson in a landslide, and the Republican party suffered a significant setback nationally, losing many seats in both houses of Congress.

He remained popular in his home state, and in 1968 he was elected to replace the retiring Carl Hayden as Arizona's other senator. He served three more terms and retired in 1987, having served as chair of the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services Committees in his final term. Despite his reputation as a firebrand in the 1960s, by the end of his career he was considered a stabilizing influence in the Senate, and one of its most respected members of either party. However, Goldwater remained staunchly anti-communist and hawkish on military issues: he led the fight against ratification of the Panama Canal Treaty in the 1970s, which ceded American control of the canal, on nationalistic grounds, going so far as to challenge the constitutionality of President Carter's policies in the famous Supreme Court case of Goldwater v. Carter.

U.S. presidential election, 1964

Before Goldwater, the Republican Party was not clearly committed to conservatism, as the Northeastern liberalism of Nelson Rockefeller and Margaret Chase Smith remained vital in the party. He alarmed even some of his fellow partisans with his brand of staunch fiscal conservatism and militant anti-Communism. He was viewed by many traditional Republicans as too far to the right to win a national election and moderate Republicans drafted Pennsylvania Governor William Scranton to challenge Goldwater. Scranton won the support of several state delegations but failed to win the nomination. After securing the nomination, Goldwater boldly declared in his acceptance speech (written by Karl Hess) at the 1964 Republican Convention that "…Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." Due to Johnson's popularity, however, Goldwater held back from attacking the president directly: he did not even mention Johnson by name in his convention speech.

Earlier comments followed Goldwater throughout his campaign. Once he called the Eisenhower administration "a dime store New Deal," and the former president never fully forgave him. In December 1961, he told a news conference that "sometimes I think this country would be better off if we could just saw off the Eastern Seaboard and let it float out to sea." That comment came back to haunt him during the campaign in the form of a Johnson television commercial, as did remarks about making Social Security voluntary and selling the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Eisenhowers strong backing could have been an asset to the Goldwater campaign, but instead its absence was clearly noticed. When questioned about the Presidential capabilities of Milton Eisenhower in July of 1964, Goldwater replied "One Eisenhower in a generation is enough" (qtd. in Rovere cover). Eisenhower would later claim that he voted not specifically for Goldwater, but rather for the Republican Party.

The Goldwater campaign launched the careers of several important conservative figures. Ronald Reagan, once a Democrat, gave a stirring nationally-televised speech, "A Time for Choosing," in support of Goldwater, which launched his own political career [1] ( Conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, best known for her fight against the Equal Rights Amendment, first became known for writing a pro-Goldwater book, A Choice, Not an Echo, attacking the liberal Republican establishment.

Goldwater was painted as a dangerous figure by the Johnson campaign, which countered Goldwater's slogan "In your heart, you know he's right" with the line "In your guts, you know he's nuts." Johnson himself did not mention Goldwater in his own acceptance speech at the 1964 Democratic National Convention, nor did he debate against Goldwater.

Goldwater's provocative advocacy of aggressive tactics to prevent the spread of Communism in Asia led to effective counter-attacks from Lyndon Johnson and other liberals who feared that Goldwater would start a nuclear war if elected. The Johnson campaign ran a television commercial showing a scene in which a young girl gathering daisies is interrupted by the mushroom cloud of a nuclear explosion. Dubbed Daisy, it was meant to imply that Goldwater would start a nuclear war if elected. The commercial, which featured only a few spoken words of narrative and relied on imagery for its emotional impact, was one of the most provocative moments in American campaign history and is credited by many as being the birth of the modern style of negative television advertising. The ad ran only twice, and only in small local markets, but gained national attention through news coverage. (Goldwater's own rhetoric on nuclear war was viewed by many as quite uncompromising, a view butressed by off-hand comments such as, "Let's lob one into the men's room at the Kremlin.") [2] (

Goldwater did his best to counter the Johnson attacks, criticizing the Johnson administration for its perceived ethical lapses, and stating in a commercial that "...we, as a nation, are not far from the kind of moral decay that has brought on the fall of other nations and people...I say it is time to put conscience back in government. And by good example, put it back in all walks of American life." Goldwater campaign commercials included statements of support by actor Raymond Massey and moderate Republican senator Margaret Chase Smith. In spite of his differences with the candidate, former president Eisenhower also appeared in a Goldwater television advertisement.

In the end, Goldwater received only 38.4% of the popular vote, and carried only five of the U.S. Southern states plus his home state of Arizona. Goldwater, with his customary bluntness, remarked: "We would have lost even if Abraham Lincoln had come back and campaigned with us."

Goldwater maintained later in life that he would have won the election if the country had not been in a state of extended grief, and that it was simply not ready for its third president in fourteen months. In light of the magnitude of Goldwater's defeat, this view may be considered unrealistic; what is certain is that his capture of Southern states previously regarded as strongholds of the Democratic Party foreshadowed a larger shift in electoral trends in the coming decades that would make the South a Republican bastion—first in presidential politics, and eventually at the Congressional and state level as well.

Goldwater and the revival of American conservatism

Historian Rick Perlstein, in his book Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, explained Goldwater's impact on the American political scene by way of analogy:

"Think of a senator winning the Democratic nomination in the year 2000 whose positions included halving the military budget, socializing the medical system, reregulating the communications and electrical industries, establishing a guaranteed minimum income for all Americans, and equalizing funding for all schools regardless of property valuations—and who promised to fire Alan Greenspan, counseled withdrawal from the World Trade Organization, and, for good measure, spoke warmly of adolescent sexual experimentation. He would lose in a landslide. He would be relegated to the ash heap of history. But if the precedent of 1964 were repeated, two years later the country would begin electing dozens of men and women just like him. And not many decades later, Republicans would have to proclaim softer versions of those positions to get taken seriously for their party's nomination."

The Republican party recovered from the 1964 election debacle, picking up 47 seats in the House of Representatives in the mid-term election of 1966. That year saw two future Presidents elected to office for the first time in their respective careers: Ronald Reagan was elected to the first of two terms as governor of California, and George H. W. Bush won election to a House seat representing Texas. Further Republican successes ensued, including Goldwater's return to the Senate in 1968, although he played little part in the election of Richard Nixon. Throughout the 1970s, as the conservative wing gained influence in the party, Goldwater remained one of its standard-bearers.

However, by the 1980s, with Ronald Reagan as president and the growing involvement of the religious right in conservative politics, Goldwater showed an increasing libertarian streak that put him at odds with the Reagan Administration and religious conservatives. Consistently libertarian, Goldwater, unlike many of his conservative followers, viewed abortion as a matter of personal choice, not intended for government intervention. Goldwater was a passionate defender of personal liberty, and saw the religious right's views as an encroachment on personal privacy and individual liberties. In his 1980 U.S. Senate re-election campaign, he won support from religious conservatives but in his final term voted consistently to uphold legalized abortion. Notwithstanding his prior differences with Eisenhower, Goldwater in a 1986 interview rated him the best of the seven Presidents with whom he had served.

After his retirement, in 1987, Goldwater described the conservative Arizona Governor Evan Mecham as "hardheaded" and called on him to resign, and two years later stated the Republican Party had been taken over by a "bunch of kooks", i.e., supporters of TV evangelist Pat Robertson and Mecham.

In the 1990s he became a virtual outcast of the GOP leadership, aggravating so many social conservatives that some in Arizona suggested stripping his name from state Republican party headquarters, although the suggestion was never seriously followed up on. He endorsed Democrat Karan English in an Arizona congressional race, urged Republicans to lay off Clinton over the Whitewater scandal, and criticized the military's ban on homosexuals: "Everyone knows that gays have served honorably in the military since at least the time of Julius Caesar." He also said, "You don't have to be straight to be in the military; you just have to be able to shoot straight." He acknowledged, however, that in 37 years of military and reserve service he had not personally known any homosexual service members. In 1996 he told Bob Dole, who mounted his presidential campaign with less than ecstatic support from hard-line conservatives, "We're the new liberals of the Republican Party. Can you imagine that?"

He became known for the occasional off-color remark, and once told talk-show host Jay Leno that he planned to get a tattoo "right on my ass."

Goldwater died in Paradise Valley, Arizona from Alzheimer's disease.


Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.

Further reading

  • Goldwater, Barry. 1960. The Conscience of a Conservative (ghostwritten by L. Brent Bozell), which has been called the "one great political treatise promulgated by a single man and then used as a campaign platform."
  • Goldwater, Barry with Jack Casserly. 1988. Goldwater. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 0385239475
  • Perlstein, Rick. 2001. Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus. New York: Hill and Wang. ISBN 080902859X

Preceded by:
Ernest McFarland
Class 1 U.S. Senator from Arizona
Succeeded by:
Paul Fannin
Preceded by:
Richard Nixon
Republican Party Presidential candidate
1964 (lost)
Succeeded by:
Richard Nixon
Preceded by:
Carl T. Hayden
Class 3 U.S. Senator from Arizona
Succeeded by:
John McCain

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External links


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