HBO Hijacks Barry Goldwater's Ideology

Shortly after I was appointed director of information for the Goldwater for President Committee in February 1964, I met with Sen. Barry Goldwater to outline an ambitious public-relations campaign about the man I had long admired. I had barely begun to explain how we intended to highlight his love of flying, his award-winning photography, his fascination with electric gadgets such as the electronic flagpole outside his Phoenix home, his state-of-the-art ham radio, and other personal hobbies and habits when the senator stuck up his big hand and growled that if I tried any such “Madison Avenue stunts” he would throw me out the door and out of the campaign. “This is going to be a campaign of principles, not personalities,” he declared. I reluctantly followed orders.

It is one of the major ironies of the 1964 campaign that Barry Goldwater, the master salesman of conservatism, refused to allow any campaign publicity about his highly engaging personality, which would have helped to dispel at least some of the public fears about Goldwater as “warmonger” and “destroyer of Social Security”—fears created mainly by his Republican opponents in the primaries, President Lyndon Johnson in the general election, and the mass media all the time.

So I am grateful to CC Goldwater, the late senator’s granddaughter, for her documentary film of his life and career that recently aired on HBO. She skillfully presented the colorful, personal side of “Mr. Conservative,” a side unknown to most Americans.

I was particularly pleased she demonstrated that far from being a racist and a bigot (slurs heaped on him after his vote against the Civil Rights Act of 1964), Barry Goldwater had desegregated the Arizona Air National Guard and supported the Arizona chapters of both the NAACP and the Urban League in their early struggling days. She could have added that he integrated the Senate cafeteria with one telephone call in 1953 when his legislative assistant, a female black lawyer from Tucson, was denied service.

But I cannot allow Miss Goldwater to ideologically hijack her grandfather. In the last part of “Goldwater on Goldwater,” the senator is presented as a life-long libertarian who always favored abortion and gay rights and despised the Religious Right.  

To the contrary, Goldwater’s record as senator, presidential candidate and author shows convincingly that he was a conservative, albeit with libertarian inclinations.  

In his best-selling manifesto “The Conscience of a Conservative,” for example, Goldwater says that man is not only an economic but “a spiritual creature.” The first obligation of a political thinker, he writes, is “to understand the nature of man”—an assertion not echoed in the works of Hayek, Von Mises or other libertarian writers.

In his 1964 run for the presidency, Goldwater stressed the urgent need for smaller government, lower taxes and spending, tougher anti-crime measures, morality in government, and victory over communism—all traditional conservative ideas.

Regarding abortion, he endorsed a Human Life Amendment in his last Senate race in 1980 and sought and obtained the endorsement of Arizona’s pro-life organization. He did not favor decriminalizing drugs and in 1985 opposed, in his words, a “so-called Gay Rights Bill.”

In 1964, while running for president, he said that “it is impossible to maintain freedom and order and justice without religious and moral sanctions.” If the Christian Church doesn’t fight totalitarianism, he had written a little earlier in HUMAN EVENTS, “then who on earth is left to resist this evil which is determined to destroy all virtue, all decency.”

When I asked him in 1991 to describe himself, he said simply, “I’m a conservative.”

Barry Goldwater was in truth a cradle conservative who opposed the Bigs of America—Big Government, Big Business, Big Labor, Big Media. He defended the entrepreneur, the man and woman who asked only to be given the opportunity to go as far and as high as their talent and ambition could take them. And he believed in custom, tradition, and, above all, the Constitution.

He was as paradoxical a politician as ever came to Washington. While he had strong reservations about the Religious Right, their public support was indispensable to his narrow victory in the 1964 California primary, without which he would not have been nominated for president.

He was the most important loser in modern presidential politics. His candidacy for president marked the true beginning of a tectonic shift in American politics—from East to West, from the cities to the suburbs, from big government to limited government, from containment to liberation, from liberal to conservative—that continues to shape our nation to this day.