TODAY there is Ronald Reagan. But first there was Barry Goldwater -- the blunt-talking Arizonan dear to the hearts of millions of conservative Americans. It was Senator Goldwater's futile bid for the White House 22 years ago that blazed the trail for the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s. Inspired by Goldwater, hundreds of young Americans went to work for conservative causes.
They laid the groundwork for Ronald Reagan's eventual victory and today's rise of the right.
Now, after five years of Reagan rule in the White House, Goldwater's view of the future has brightened. During an interview at his Capitol Hill office the other day, he concluded:
``I think America is going through a rebirth.''
Yet his outlook wasn't always so hopeful. In the 1950s and '60s, Goldwater criss-crossed the country with cries of alarm. The New Deal, the Fair Deal, and the Great Society were crushing freedom under the heel of an omnipotent government, he warned.
Often in those days he harked back to the Founding Fathers. He observed that in 1787, a woman had approached Benjamin Franklin at the close of the Constitutional Convention. ``What have you given us?'' she asked.
``A Republic,'' Franklin replied, ``if you can keep it.''
Senator Goldwater then added somberly: ``We haven't kept it.''
The essence of the Goldwater philosophy has always been the overriding importance of personal liberty. The freedom of the individual is everything.
Not just political freedom, but economic freedom.
Goldwater contends that liberty is as crucial to a strong economy as it is to a strong democracy. They are inseparable.
Today, thanks to a surge of American patriotism and a conservative political tide, he sees personal liberty being renewed and strengthened. The benefits are being felt across the country and around the world.
``I think the [growing] economy today is built on a basis that our economists don't understand,'' he says, adding with a twinkle in his eye: ``I don't have a lot of faith in economists, to tell you the truth.''
What we are seeing, he says, is ``a rebirth of what my father and my grandfather believed in -- hard work and do your job and have pride in it. I think this country, unbeknownst to a lot of people, particularly those people who live over in the Congress, this country's turning the corner.''
There's a spreading realization around the world, says Goldwater, that freedom is ``the sponsor of everything.''
``You go to a town like Singapore -- you've never seen such business! You [see it in] Arabian towns. . . . I travel to a place like Taipei; [it's growing so fast] they make our free enterprise system look out of date.''
There's even evidence that freedom's hand is beginning to reach into communist countries.
``I think it's taking hold in Russia. I think Gorbachev's biggest worry is the economics of his country, and you can't have good economics when you have the government trying to run business.''
If there is one major unfinished item on the conservative agenda, says Goldwater, it is the huge federal budget deficit. The deficit could shatter recent gains. The outlook, however, is unclear:
``If this rebirth of free enterprise is as great as I think it is, we may not have to worry about the deficit, because it could take care of itself.
``We've already had five reductions in interest rates in under a year and a half, and we have a normal inflation rate. No economist talks about this.''
On the other hand, ``if we don't do away with the deficit [within five years], then this country is in for real trouble. Because we'll have growth of interest rates, and we'll have growth of inflation, and we can't stand it.''
The senator, who retires to his home in Arizona in January 1987, uses a personal example to explain the dangers of rekindled inflation.
``I built a home 33 years ago. It cost me a terrible amount of money -- $80,000. I can get $5 million for that house today.
``But I keep asking, `Can you afford to live in it?'
``I figure when I retire, I might have an annual income of about $70,000 a year. And if the taxes keep increasing on my property the way they do, if I live to be 90, I may be spending my whole income on taxes!''
Today, Goldwater's message to the nation remains what it has always been:
``The only real job of an American is to remain free, to maintain freedom in this country, and to try to help other people realize what freedom can do.''