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Barry Goldwater

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 as well as being a major inspiration for many of his youthful followers to join the libertarian movement.

Goldwater personified the shift in balance in American culture from the Northeast to the West. A five-term United States Senator from Arizona (1953-1965, 1969-87), he was the Republican Party's candidate for the U.S. President in the 1964 election which he lost to Lyndon B. Johnson.

Many of the policies and ideas advocated by Goldwater were distinctly out-of-step with dominance of the New Deal coalition in the two decades following World War II. He was ridiculed in 1964 for being hopelessly old-fashioned. Yet he energized a conservative grass roots movement which sixteen years later nominated and elected his supporter Ronald Reagan, a conservative widely seen as in the Goldwater mold. Less than a year after Reagan's election (and continuously to the end of his life), however, Goldwater harshly criticized the alleged influence of the Christian Right on the Republican Party.

Goldwater was born in Phoenix in 1909, when Arizona was known as the Arizona Territory. His grandfather was an immigrant from Poland who founded a department store chain, Goldwater's Department Store. His father was born Jewish and converted to the Episcopal Church to marry his fiancee. The family name had been changed from Goldwasser to Goldwater at least as early as the 1860 Census in Los Angeles, California. The family's department store made the Goldwaters comfortably rich. Goldwater graduated from Staunton Military Academy and attended the University of Arizona for one year, where he joined the Sigma Chi fraternity.

His father died in 1929 and Goldwater took over the family business. He had progressive business ideas yet was also anti-union, but the strain of running the business become too much. Goldwater had nervous breakdowns in 1937 and 1939. He began to drink heavily, a health issue he never completely overcame.

With the onset of WWII, Goldwater was commissioned in the Air Force. He tried but was unable to get a combat flying assignment. He did get an assignment to the Ferry Command, a newly formed unit that delivered aircraft and supplies to war zones all over the world; he spent most of the war flying between the United States and India, via the Azores and North Africa or South America, Nigeria and Central Africa. He flew "the hump" over the Himalayas to deliver supplies to China. He remained in the reserves after the war, retiring at the rank of Major General. He had flown 165 different types of aircraft by that time.

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

Political career

Goldwater entered Phoenix politics in 1949. He first won a Senate seat in 1952, when he upset veteran Democratic Senate majority leader Ernest McFarland. He defeated McFarland again in 1958, but in 1964 ran for president and not for reelection.

The two issues Goldwater became most associated with were reform of the corruption in labor unions, and anti-Communism. He was an active supporter of the Conservative coalition in Congress. His work on labor issues led to major reforms passed by Congress in 1957, and an all-out campaign by the AFL-CIO to defeat his reelection bid in 1958. He voted against the censure of McCarthy in 1954, but he was much more careful than McCarthy, and never charged anyone with secretly being a Communist agent. Goldwater emphasized his strong opposition to the spread of worldwide communism in his 1960 book The Conscience Of a Conservative, which became a bible in conservative circles.

Goldwater had a controversial record on civil rights. Locally he was a supporter of the Arizona NAACP and was involved in desegregating the Arizona National Guard. As a Senator, he was a supporter of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and 1960. However, he opposed the much more comprehensive Civil Rights Act of 1964 on the grounds that it was an inappropriate extension of the federal commerce power to private citizens in order to "legislate morality" and restrict the rights of employers. Although conservative Southern Democrats were the main opponents to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and previous civil rights legislation, his opposition to the Act strongly boosted Goldwater's standing among white southerners.

In 1964, he fought and won a bitterly contested multi-candidate race for the GOP presidential nomination. His main challenger was New York Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller, whom he defeated in the California primary. His nomination was challenged by more moderate Republicans who thought his hardline foreign policy stances would come back to haunt him. He lost to Lyndon Johnson in a landslide, and the Republican party suffered a significant setback nationally, losing many seats in both houses of Congress. Goldwater carried only his home state and five "Deep South" states.

He remained popular in Arizona and in 1968 Senate election he was elected to an open seat. He served three more terms and retired in 1987, serving 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 unsuccessful fight against ratification of the Panama Canal Treaty in the 1970s, which ceded U.S. control of the canal to the government of Panama. His most important legislative achievement was the Goldwater-Nichols Act which reorganized the senior command structure of the military.

Goldwater was a supporter of Wisconsin Senator 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" (though he was a key ally of Nixon during Nixon's administration, Goldwater felt deeply betrayed by Watergate). Goldwater tended to have a caustic wit that cost him popularity in the Republican Party. He once characterized the policies of the Eisenhower administration as a "dime-store new deal". President Eisenhower once said to him "Barry, you speak too quick and too loud"; to which Goldwater is said to have responded "Well is that so, President Twinkletoes Fancy-Pants"?

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 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." (This paraphrase of remarks by Cicero was included at the suggestion of Harry V. Jaffa, though the speech was primarily written by Karl Hess.) 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. Eisenhower did, however, film a TV commercial with Goldwater. When Eisenhower voted for Goldwater in November, he remarked that he had voted not specifically for Goldwater, but rather for the Republican Party. In December 1961, Goldwater 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.

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.

One of the less politically charged Goldwater campaign slogans, used mainly on bumper stickers, read simply "Au H2O 64" (combining the chemical symbols for gold and water).

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 his supporters, who feared that Goldwater's militancy would have dire consequences, possibly even including nuclear war. The Johnson campaign ran a famous television commercial showing a young girl pulling petals off a daisy while a countdown is heard in the background; "Three-Two-One..." Her frolicking is interrupted by the mushroom cloud of a nuclear explosion. Dubbed Daisy, it warned that Goldwater might 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 buttressed by off-hand comments such as, "Let's lob one into the men's room at the Kremlin.")

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 the end, Goldwater received only 38.4% of the popular vote, and carried only five of the Southern states (Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina) plus (barely) his home state of Arizona. Johnson won 486 electoral votes to Goldwater's 52 and almost carried Goldwater's Arizona, which gave Goldwater 242,536 votes (50.4%) to Johnson's 237,765 (49.5%). Goldwater, with his customary bluntness, remarked: "We would have lost even if Abraham Lincoln had come back and campaigned with us. Not that he would have campaigned with a right-wing fundamentalist militarist wingnut like me anyway, he'd have probably endorsed Johnson."

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. This is often cited as evidence that Goldwater really was completely divorced from reality. It has frequently been argued that Goldwater's strong performance in Southern states previously regarded as Democratic strongholds 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

Current Arizona Senator John McCain summed up Goldwater's impact in this way: "[he] transformed the Republican Party from an Eastern elitist organization to the breeding ground for the election of Ronald Reagan." 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. 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. The columnist George Will remarked after the 1980 Presidential election that "it took 16 years to count the votes (of the 1964 election), and Goldwater won", demonstrating the extent to which Goldwater was seen as leading the wing. Others had pointed out that this is rather like saying, had John Kerry won in 2004, that it "took 16 years to count the votes, and Dukakis won". In other words, it's a silly statement.

However, by the 1980s, with Ronald Reagan as president and the growing involvement of the religious right in conservative politics, Goldwater increasingly showed a libertarian streak that put him at odds with the Reagan Administration and religious conservatives. Goldwater viewed abortion as a matter of personal choice, not intended for government intervention. As a passionate defender of personal liberty, he saw the religious right's views as an encroachment on personal privacy and individual liberties. In his 1980 Senate re-election campaign, Goldwater won support from religious conservatives but in his final term voted consistently to uphold legalized abortion. Notwithstanding his prior differences with Dwight 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., his own supporters. In an 1994 interview with the Washington Post the retired Senator said, "When you say 'radical right' today, I think of these moneymaking ventures by fellows like Pat Robertson and others who are trying to take the Republican Party and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye."

In the 1990s he became more controversial because of statements that aggravated many social conservatives. 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 openly homosexual service members. In 1996 he told Bob Dole, who mounted his presidential campaign with luke-warm support from hard-line conservatives, "We're the new liberals of the Republican Party. Can you imagine that?"


Goldwater also was an accomplished amateur photographer and at his death left some 15,000 of his images to three Arizona institutions. He was very keen on candid photography.

For decades, he contributed photographs of his home state to Arizona Highways and was best known for his Western landscapes and pictures of native Americans in the United States. Three books with his photographs are Delightful Journey, first published in 1940 and reprinted in 1970. Ansel Adams wrote a foreword to the 1976 book. (Arizona Republic, May 31, 1998)

Goldwater and UFOs

Goldwater was one of the more prominent American politicans to openly show an interest in UFOs.

He replied to several letters from his constituents, regarding UFO-related questions, dating to at least as early as 1974. In an official letter printed on U.S. Senate letterhead, dated March 28, 1975, Goldwater wrote to Shlomo Arnon: "The subject of UFOs has interested me for some long time. About ten or twelve years ago I made an effort to find out what was in the building at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base where the information has been stored that has been collected by the Air Force, and I was understandably denied this request. It is still classified above Top Secret." Goldwater further wrote that there were rumors the evidence would be released, and that he was "just as anxious to see this material as you are, and I hope we will not have to wait much longer."

The April 25, 1988 issue of The New Yorker carried an interview with Goldwater, wherin he elaborated on the account hinted at in the letter to Arnon. Goldwater says he repeatedly asked his friend, Gen. Curtis LeMay, if there was any truth to the rumors that UFO evidence was stored in a secret room at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, and if he (Goldwater) might have access to the room. According to Goldwater, an angry LeMay gave him "holy hell" and said, "Not only can't you get into it but don't you ever mention it to me again."

In a 1988 interview on Larry King's radio show, Goldwater was asked if he thought the U.S. Government was witholding UFO evidence; he replied "Yes I do," and added that he believed there were alien life forms.


Goldwater's public appearances stopped in late 1996 after he suffered a stroke; family members said he was in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.

Goldwater died on May 29, 1998 at the age of 89 in Paradise Valley, Arizona, of complications from the stroke.

Goldwater Scholarship

The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program was established by Congress in 1986 to honor Senator Barry M. Goldwater, who served his country for 56 years as a soldier and statesman, including 30 years of service in the U.S. Senate. The purpose of the Foundation is to provide a continuing source of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians, and engineers by awarding scholarships to college students who intend to pursue careers in these fields.

The Scholarship is widely considered the most prestigious award in the U.S. conferred upon undergraduates studying the sciences and is awarded to about 300 students (college sophomores and juniors) nationwide in the amount of $7500 per academic year (for their senior year, or junior and senior years)