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Barry Goldwater Remembered From Both Sides

Feisty Arizona senator praised for achievements, and sowing the seeds of the Reagan Revolution.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 1, 1998



WASHINGTON

Above all else, Barry Goldwater was his own man, never afraid to go against the grain of his country, or his party.

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Dubbed "Mr. Conservative," Goldwater set the stage for modern Republicanism in the 1964 presidential election against Lyndon Johnson. His message was anti-big government, anti-social welfare, and anti-communist. It was a message strongly rejected at the time, but it sowed the seeds for the Reagan era.

In later years, after this five-term senator from Arizona had succeeded in moving his party from moderation to conservatism, he had no qualms about views that seemed out of step with the GOP. They included support for homosexual rights and for a woman's right to choose an abortion, as well as an embrace of various environmental causes.

The man with the trademark horn-rimmed glasses, who passed on Friday, was decidedly outspoken. He did not hesitate to tell his opponents where they could go, using language that might prompt a mother to wash her son's mouth out with soap.

Throughout his long political life, which spanned four decades and six presidents, Goldwater remained true to what he felt was right.

He defended Joseph McCarthy long after "McCarthyism" was recognized as an overzealous anti-Communist campaign. He joined fellow Republican leaders in a face-to-face meeting urging President Nixon to resign, later calling him "the most dishonest individual I have ever met in my life." And he urged Republicans to back off from their pursuit of President Clinton over the Whitewater scandal.

William Buckley Jr., founder of the National Review, called Goldwater "the primary political figure in the '60s. Around him flowered a number of ideas that galvanized the '80s."

One need only go back to Goldwater's first book to identify his core beliefs. In "Conscience of a Conservative," published in 1960, he wrote:

"I have little interest in streamlining government or making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom."

When he campaigned in New Hampshire he told voters that Social Security should be made voluntary, arguing that "if a person can provide better for himself, let him do it...."

That's the talk of the town today, but then it scared senior voters, and he lost that primary.

WHAT also scared voters in 1964 was fear that Goldwater may go as far as nuking Vietnam. He said "defoliation of the forest by low-yield atomic weapons" could damage Vietnamese Communist supply lines.

The Johnson campaign played off that fear. In a TV ad played only once by the campaign but aired repeatedly on news casts, a little girl picked petals off a daisy and counted them. When she reached the number "nine," a countdown kicked in, ending with a huge mushroom cloud.

Goldwater was easily defeated by LyndonJohnson, who won 61 percent of the popular vote and all but six states, which were all in the South. Arizona, which first sent their native son to the Senate in 1952, was one of those six. How could it be otherwise? Goldwater was as much a part of Arizona as Saguaro cactus.

A hiker of Arizona's deserts and a skilled photographer, he also revered the Navajos, and had a collection of 450 Kachina dolls. "There is something essentially Western about his personality," observed the late Howard Pyle, who became Arizona governor in 1952 with the help of Goldwater as campaign manager.

Goldwater was born to a Jewish father and Episcopalian mother in 1909 in Phoenix. At that time, Arizona was just a territory. When he was 20, he joined the family business. He started at the bottom as a clerk, but by the time he was 28, he was president of Goldwater's.

It was in his department store that he met the woman who would be his wife of over 50 years, Margaret Johnson.

Goldwater, a pilot who ferried planes overseas in World War II, got his feet wet on the Phoenix City Council and running Pyle's campaign before he attempted a pass at the Senate, where he served a total of 30 years (from 1952-64 and from 1968-86).

Perhaps his most noteworthy legislative accomplishment was in 1986, his last year in Congress. As chairman of the Armed Services Committee, he pushed through a bill which broke down rivalries between the various branches of the military. It established the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff as the primary adviser to the president and the secretary of Defense.

It was in the 1980s that Goldwater parted with some of the moral values of his party. He assailed Jerry Falwell, the founder of Moral Majority and called supporters of TV evangelist Pat Robertson "kooks." In the Senate, he consistently voted to uphold the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion and was later honored by Planned Parenthood.

In 1993, in a letter to The Washington Post, he declared his support for the Clinton position that the military should lift its ban on homosexuals. His grandson, a homosexual, has said the letter was prompted after he brought a guest to visit who was about to be discharged from the Air Force because he was gay.

Goldwater supporters say these positions simply reflected his passion for individual freedom. In a 1994 commentary published in The Arizona Republic, the retired senator wrote:

"The conservative movement is founded on the simple tenet that people have the right to live life as they please, as long as they don't hurt anyone else in the process."