Politics & Policy

Pure Goldwater

An honest man who tried his damnedest.

June 10 marks the 10th anniversary of the death of longtime Arizona senator Barry Goldwater. A full decade after his death, Senator Goldwater remains one of the most beloved figures in the conservative movement. Even though his campaign for the presidency in 1964 resulted in a landslide loss, conservatives continue to admire Goldwater for the interest he generated in conservative ideas and his long and distinguished record in the U.S. Senate. Several books about Goldwater’s life have been published — most notably, his autobiography, Goldwater; and Lee Edwards’ Goldwater: The Man Who Made A Revolution. Now, his son Barry Goldwater Jr., the former Congressman from California, and Watergate special counsel John Dean have added to this collection with their new book, Pure Goldwater.

Of all the books on “Mr. Conservative,” Pure Goldwater might provide the most realistic insights into his character and thinking. After the birth of Barry Jr., Goldwater started a private journal, which he maintained off and on throughout his career, to record for the benefit of his children his thoughts on a range of topics — including running his business, his military service during World War II, the natural beauty of Arizona, and his long career as a U.S. Senator. That journal is the basis of Pure Goldwater — so, in effect, it is a book written by the senator himself, capturing his most intimate thoughts for those closest to him.

Now, campaign seasons may have been a lot shorter in those days, but they were no less busy — so that the journal was not kept consistently, giving the book a scattered quality at times. There is nothing in the book about Goldwater’s successful Senate campaigns in 1968, 1974, and 1980, and relatively few entries on the1964 presidential campaign. Most distressingly, there is precious little about Senator Goldwater’s relationship with President Ronald Reagan. Still, the book offers invaluable insights into Goldwater’s dealings with Richard Nixon — as a Presidential candidate, as President, and in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal — which together comprise roughly a third of the book.

Goldwater’s journals provide very candid evaluations of the performance of Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, and Ford during his tenure as a U.S. Senator. Interestingly, Goldwater’s frustrations are shared by many conservatives about today’s Republican political leaders. Throughout the book, Goldwater strongly urges Republican presidents to hold the line on spending and to make ideologically principled appointments to both the Supreme Court and executive branch agencies. As you can imagine, the journal entries consistently articulate Goldwater’s beliefs in a strong national defense, limited government, and federalism. More often than not, Goldwater appeared disappointed with the performance of the presidents with whom he worked.

Pure Goldwater also contains a number of Barry Goldwater’s speeches, letters, and other public statements. Of particular interest are the selected transcripts of Goldwater’s testimony in Goldwater v. Ginzburg. During the 1964 Presidential Election, Ralph Ginzburg published an article stating that 1,189 psychiatrists declared Barry Goldwater to be psychologically unfit to be President, despite the fact that none of them had ever conducted a personal examination of the Senator. The article — appearing in Ginzburg’s own magazine, which he had plaintively titled fact: — also contained numerous lies and distortions about Senator Goldwater’s life and record.

Advisors urged Goldwater not to pursue the lawsuit because Supreme Court precedent made it difficult for public figures to win libel suits. However, even though he knew the trial would be costly, Goldwater proceeded with it anyway. He thought it was important to clear his name, but he also wanted to reduce the chance that other public officials would be the victims of malicious smear campaigns in the future. In the end, Goldwater was victorious and received a modest amount for punitive damages.

Pure Goldwater also includes personal letters that reveal Senator Goldwater’s chilly relationship with John McCain. When Goldwater announced that he was not seeking reelection in 1986, he enthusiastically endorsed John McCain, saying that when it comes to the United States of America, “There is no greater patriot.” Goldwater’s relationship with McCain cooled after the Keating Five scandal. However, it became downright hostile when, without Senator Goldwater’s permission, Senator McCain named one of his 1992 Senate fundraisers “A Tribute to Barry Goldwater.” Goldwater chastised McCain and insisted that, if his name was being used, half the money should go to Arizona’s state Republican Party. However, despite a strongly worded letter, the book does not make clear that any of the money actually went to that purpose.

The end of the book contains a series of tributes to Barry Goldwater on the floor of the U.S. House and Senate following his death in June 1998. When all is said and done, Goldwater himself may have furnished the most appropriate tribute in 1993, when he was asked by CNN’s Bernard Shaw how he would like to be remembered. Goldwater responded: “An Honest Man Who Tried His Damnedest.” It’s a fitting tribute to a real straight talker, a fine Senator, and one of the most influential conservatives of the past 50 years.

– Michael J. New is an Assistant Professor at the University of Alabama.

Michael J. New is a research associate at the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America and is an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New


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