Barry Morris Goldwater (January 1, 1909 _ May 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, he was the Republican Party candidate for the Presidency in 1964.
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, the party had moved rightward to such a degree that it frustrated Goldwater himself, who publicly criticized what he saw as a Christian right takeover.
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 (and changed his name from Goldwasser to Goldwater [It appears that the family was spelling the name "Goldwater" at least as early as the 1860 Census in Los Angeles, California]) to marry his fiancée, Barry's mother. Once, at a golf course in Maryland, Senator Goldwater was told "You can't play here, this is a restricted course," to which he responded "I'm only half Jewish...is it all right if I only play nine holes?" The family's department store made the Goldwaters comfortably rich. With the onset of WWII, Goldwater was commissioned in the US Army Air Force. He remained on reserve after the war, retiring at the reserve rank of Major General.
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 Presidents Johnson (he voted against Johnson's Anti-Poverty Act of 1964) 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 Acts 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 private property rights trumped society's interest in racial equality.
In 1964, less than one year after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, he declined to run for re-election as senator and was nominated by his party to run against incumbent president Lyndon B. 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.
Before Goldwater, the Republican Party was not clearly committed to conservatism. He alarmed even some of his fellow partisans with his brand of staunch fiscal conservatism and militant anti-Communism. After boldly declaring 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.
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. 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 Democratic National Convention, nor did he debate against Goldwater.
This pattern of "attack by surrogate" reached its apex when 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. Ironically, the ad was run only twice and in small local markets. (Goldwater's own rhetoric on nuclear war was quite uncompromising. On one occasion he remarked, "Let's lob one into the men's room at the Kremlin."  (http://scoop.agonist.org/story/2004/9/5/13652/16915))
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 previously Democratic stronghold states in the South foreshadowed a larger shift in electoral trends in the coming decades that would make the South a Republican bastion.
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, although Goldwater played little part in the election of Richard Nixon. Throughout the 1970's, 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 conservative positions. 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. 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 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. His son, Barry Goldwater, Jr., served as a U.S. House member from California from 1969 to 1983.
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."
Perlstein, Rick. 2001. Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus. New York: Hill and Wang. ISBN 080902859X
- Goldwater's 1964 acceptance speech at the Republican Convention (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/daily/may98/goldwaterspeech.htm/) - the 'extremism in the defense of liberty' speech.
- Extended "in memoriam" reporting from the Arizona Republic (http://www.azcentral.com/specials/goldwater/)
- "Tentacles of Rage", a strongly negative analysis by Lewis H. Lapham (http://scoop.agonist.org/story/2004/9/5/13652/16915/) originally published in Harper's, September 2004, p. 31-41.