Politics & Policy

Goldwater at 50

Barry was NR’s obvious choice — to everyone but one (very influential) editor.

In Washington yesterday, the Heritage Foundation hosted a 50th-anniversary celebration of Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign. In attendance were veterans of the campaign, journalists and scholars, members of the Goldwater family, former Young Republicans and YAFers, many of them fully recovered, and interested others. Neal B. Freeman, who was NR’s Washington editor at the time, spoke about BG, WFB, and the magazine’s role in the campaign. The following is an adapted version of his remarks.

I may not be the only one in the hall tonight having a Bob Novak Moment. As many of you will remember, Novak was a knee-jerk Manichean who tended to see the world cleaved sharply between small-d democrats on the one hand and totalitarians on the other. Or between supply-siders and demand-siders. Or, most profoundly of all, between sources and targets.

Novak believed in the promise of human redemption. He believed that if you beat on a target hard enough and long enough he would one day see the light and become a source.

Novak once asked my advice on a university’s overture about naming its journalism school in his honor. I replied that while I would have to see the particulars, I had one immediate suggestion. Over the black, wrought-iron gates leading to the campus there should be inscribed in gold leaf the motto of the Robert D. Novak School of Journalism: “Leak or be leaked upon.”

As I look out over this vast array of sources, I am moved to say on behalf of a grateful magazine: Thank you for your many indiscretions, all of them committed, I have no doubt, in service to the people’s right to know.

I went to work for National Review in 1963. I did so for two reasons. I wanted to help Bill Buckley put out a great magazine. And I wanted to help Barry Goldwater become president of the United States.

National Review seemed to be all in for Goldwater. Buckley himself, the editor-in-chief, was one of Barry’s most visible and quotable public advocates. Bill’s brother-in-law, Brent Bozell, was the principal author of Barry’s manifesto, The Conscience of a Conservative. Our publisher, Bill Rusher, was a prime mover in the Draft Goldwater Committee. Another editor, Bill Rickenbacker, used to amuse himself by drafting remarks for Barry and then hailing them in print as “brilliantly insightful.” I was the Washington editor, succeeding Bozell, and author of the Cato column, which was described not inaccurately as “a mouthpiece for the Goldwater forces.” My weekly report was more than occasionally one long leak from the Goldwater campaign.

We were a band of brothers at NR, a platoon of young-fogey conservatives flush with revolutionary fervor. We knew exactly what Wordsworth meant when he wrote of those present at the Paris revolt: “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven.” To all outward appearances, National Review was a virtual house organ of the Goldwater movement.

The internal reality was somewhat different. Nobody outside our building in Murray Hill seemed to notice that the magazine had never issued a formal, unhedged endorsement of Barry Goldwater. That omission was the work of one man: James Burnham, the seniormost editor at the magazine. Jim Burnham was a Rockefeller man and, in the French sense, a serious man. In the style of a heavy lawyer, Jim leaned on you with the weight of his erudition. Which was considerable. And even when his case against Goldwater was unexceptional — namely, that Rockefeller was more intellectually nuanced, better staffed, richly funded, proximately more electable — Jim’s boardroom presence was mesmerizing, and notably so for Bill Buckley.

From late 1963 through the winter and early spring of 1964, the editors debated this implausible question: Whom should National Review support for president?

Why did Buckley allow that debate to continue, and then to fester? My surmise: for three reasons. First, for its entertainment value. Nobody enjoyed a good rhetorical scrap more than Bill Buckley. Second, for its information value. Bill was comprehensively informed on many subjects, but on politics, not so much. For that cycle at least, Burnham and Team Goldwater — comprising Rusher, Rickenbacker, and Freeman — knew as much as anybody about conservative politics. And third, and most important, Bill was himself conflicted. He had deep respect for Burnham and was challenged by his critical judgments.

The implausible debate came to a head at our Tuesday editorial meeting the first week of June. Memories differ on the details, but my clear recollection is that, whether stated explicitly or implied unmistakably, Bill Buckley announced that NR would withdraw its support from Goldwater if he failed to win the Republican primary being held that same day in California.

I was thunderstruck. I returned to my office and drafted a letter of resignation — to be submitted the minute National Review abandoned the Goldwater candidacy. Sometime later, I learned that Bill Rusher had done the same thing. For all I know, Bill Rickenbacker did so as well; Rick died 20 years ago and I had never thought to ask him.

Later that day, or in the early hours of the day following, and thanks to the heroic efforts of many of the men and women here today, the question was mooted. Barry Goldwater won the California primary.

National Review roared its approval. We knew that Barry would state our case with clarity and conviction. We knew that he would bring definition to our cause, cement to our political coalition, and vitality to our burgeoning conservative movement. We didn’t know it then but we know it now: For the next 50 years, Goldwaterism would become the single most powerful force in one of the nation’s two great political parties.

My congratulations to you all. And thanks again.

— Neal B. Freeman is a contributing editor of National Review

Neal B. Freeman is a former editor and columnist for National Review and the founding producer of Firing Line.

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