Obituary: Barry Goldwater

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The Independent Online
THE CANDIDATE might have been sent straight from Central Casting. He was tall, tanned, handsome, and he looked as if he had spent many hours in the saddle, which indeed he had. As he moved through his speech, the thousands of Republican delegates assembled in the Cow Palace arena in San Francisco were tense. They had been bitterly divided, and the candidate had only been chosen after a struggle which had rent the party to its foundations and forced it to examine its deepest convictions.

"Those who seek to live your lives for you," he had begun,

to take your liberties in return for relieving you of your responsibilities - those who elevate the state and downgrade the citizen - must ultimately see a world in which earthly power can be substituted for divine will. This nation was founded upon the rejection of that notion.

And now he reached his famous climax.

Let our Republicanism, so focused and so dedicated, not be made fuzzy and futile by unthinking and stupid labels.

(He meant "conservative" and "moderate".)

I would remind you that extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.

The hall erupted in a frenzy of shouting. The moderates screamed their rage and fear in immoderate terms. And there was nothing conservative about the way the conservatives roared their triumphant approval.

Senator Barry M. Goldwater, Republican of Arizona, was the Republican candidate for the presidency in 1964. If Ronald Reagan was to be the conservative Messiah, Barry Goldwater was his John the Baptist.

His acceptance speech in San Francisco was the defining moment of his career. In the short term, it launched him on one of the most disastrous campaigns for the presidency in the 20th century. By proclaiming his own extremism, Goldwater had opened himself to being presented by his formidable Democratic opponent, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, as a warmonger, even a madman. "In your guts," jeered the Democrats, "you know he's nuts!" Near the end of the campaign Goldwater was finally destroyed by one of the first classic political ads on television. It showed a little girl counting the petals of a daisy. As the countdown ends, a mushroom cloud fills the sky.

In a longer perspective, Goldwater's courageous, if ill-judged, campaign in 1964 marked the watershed in the long road of the conservative revival in the United States. At the end of the Second World War, with Franklin Roosevelt in the White House, all but a stubborn remnant of Americans had accepted the welfare state policies of the New Deal. Conservatism was a marginalised, even disgraced, political philosophy.

In the 1950s, the Republican party was controlled by safely moderate Republicans who gambled but did not challenge most of the New Deal agenda. It was also increasingly divided between these predominantly eastern leaders and the impatient westerners who were typified and represented by Barry Goldwater. His victory at the Cow Palace in July 1964 was both the achievement of a skilfully managed political insurgency, and the dawn of a new, ideologically intransigent conservative Republican party. Towards the end of the 1964 campaign, a group of Californian conservatives clubbed together to pay for a television broadcast in support of Goldwater. The man they chose to make the speech was Ronald Reagan.

The 1964 campaign was the zenith of Goldwater's career. It stamped on the public mind a strangely misleading picture of the man's real personality, a distortion to which Goldwater himself contributed by his fondness for violent rhetoric. He was genuinely very conservative in his beliefs and opinions. He once defended Senator Joe McCarthy, for example, by saying of McCarthy's critics,

All the discredited figures of the Hiss-Yalta period of American dishonesty have crawled out from under their logs . . . these people have dipped in the smut pot to discredit Senator McCarthy and his work against Communism.

Yet if he displayed both strong opinions and occasionally an imperious temper, he was personally an amiable, even a laid-back man. He was in many respects a typical western American. He was not by temperament either an intellectual or a political manipulator; he loved to pilot himself, and to ride on horseback in the spacious landscape of his native Arizona, of which he took some memorably sensitive photographs. He was a man of genuine warmth and charm, who formed friendships with many in Washington who by no means shared his opinions, including, for example, John F. Kennedy himself.

Like many westerners, he had inherited a suspicion of the Federal government which he regarded almost as a colonial power. This attitude was not born of the government's remoteness, but of its omnipresence. Much of the state was owned by the government, as national park, national forest, military base or Indian reservation. Goldwater believed passionately that Federal dominance and Federal interference must be reduced.

Goldwater's paternal grandfather migrated from Russia to England in the mid-19th century, and his father moved on to the United States. He himself, though of Jewish descent, was an Episcopalian by religion, which inspired one Jewish wit to say, "I always knew that the first Jewish candidate for the White House would be an Episcopalian."

He inherited a controlling interest in the family department store in fast-growing Phoenix with branches elsewhere in the state and was more than comfortably off. He served as chairman of Goldwaters from 1937 to 1953, and thereafter was president of the company. He built himself a beautiful house in the desert near Phoenix.

Educated at Staunton Military Academy in Virginia and at the University of Arizona, Goldwater served in the US Army Air Force in the Second World War, and flew as a pilot. After he returned to civilian life, he continued to fly in the Air Force reserve, in which he was promoted to Major-General. He first got involved in politics on the Phoenix school board. In 1952 he was elected to the United States Senate, defeating no less an opponent than the Democratic majority leader, Senator Ernest W. McFarland.

Goldwater did not at first have a high profile in the Senate, though his strong defence of Joe McCarthy when the Senate was voting on his censure in 1954 did attract attention. People did begin to look up when he defeated McFarland, who in the meantime had been elected governor, a second time in 1958.

He first emerged as a national figure in 1959 when he became the senior member of the Senate labour committee. Its able counsel, Michael Bernstein, suggested to Goldwater that he might become a voice for "the forgotten American", and he became a champion for conservatives when almost single- handed he defeated what they saw as a bad labour bill introduced by Senator John F. Kennedy and so opened the way for the anti-labour Landrum-Griffiths bill.

By 1960, Goldwater was being mentioned as a future presidential candidate. In 1962 he published a best-selling book called Why Not Victory? (Later he published a number of books about Arizona, some illustrated with his own photographs.) After Nixon's defeat in that year by Kennedy, Goldwater emerged as the champion of the right wing of the party against Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York, Governor William Scranton of Pennsylvania and other moderates. He was taken up by southern conservatives troubled by the threat of Federally sponsored desegregation, as well as by the conservative intellectuals grouped around William F. Buckley's National Review.

As 1964 approached, a brilliant campaign in Goldwater's favour was mounted by the political scientist turned political operator F. Clifton White and a small band of conservative enthusiasts. Goldwater, however, infuriated his own supporters by his Hamlet-like hesitations and changes of mind. When he did win the nomination, he hastened his own downfall by refusing to make a gesture to the de- feated moderates, choosing instead as his Vice-Presidential running mate the obscure but sharp-tongued William Miller.

After his brief moment in the national spotlight and the humiliation of his defeat, brought about in part by one of the most ruthlessly partisan campaigns the supposedly non-partisan major newspapers like the New York Times have ever descended to, Goldwater did not succumb to bitterness.

He resigned from the Senate in order to run for President, but returned in 1969 and remained there until 1987. In 1969 his son, Barry M. Goldwater Jnr, was elected to Congress as a Republican from California.

As the decades passed, the father became a respected as well as a well- liked elder statesman. He was a leading member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and a vigilant chairman of the Senate Select Committee on intelligence, the watchdog body supervising the Central Intelligence Agency.

He remained a committed though thoughtful conservative, but displayed his independence of mind on many occasions, In 1984, for example, when the CIA was found to have been mining harbours in Nicaragua in defiance of legislation passed by the Democratic majority in Congress, Goldwater exploded. "This is a hell of a way to run a railroad!" he wrote to Bill Casey, the director of Central Intelligence. "I am pissed off!"

Barry Morris Goldwater, politician: born Phoenix, Arizona 1 January 1909; Republican Senator from Arizona 1952-64, 1969-87; married 1934 Margaret Johnson (died 1985; two sons, two daughters), 1992 Susan McMurray Wechsler; died Phoenix 29 May 1998.