The centennial of the birth of five-term Senator Barry Morris Goldwater (R-Ariz.), the Republican presidential nominee in 1964, slipped by most of us more than a year ago, on January 1, 2009. I had noticed its approach and in 2008 I wrote a letter to the philatelic division of the U.S. Postal Service inquiring whether there were plans to issue a commemorative postage stamp in his honor. The glossy full-color catalog I received a few weeks later was accompanied by a post card-size form note advising me that such an issue was “under consideration” (underlining in original). I took this as an invitation to refrain from inquiring again.
I turned to my Congressman, Rep. Zach Wamp, a conservative Republican. I had gotten to know him when we worked in the same office building and manned the trenches for him during his first two campaigns, attending strategy meetings and scribbling some drafts of speeches. In 1992 he drew more than 49% of the vote against a nine-term incumbent who had inherited the seat from her late husband. She chose not to run in ’94 and Zach was elected easily. Two letters and one phone call to his Chattanooga office have gone unanswered. His staff is no doubt overworked these days, running a congressional office and his campaign for governor.
It’s not as if a stamp honoring Barry Goldwater would set any radical precedent. Defeated presidential candidates may be considered by many to be footnotes to history, but that has not deterred the postal service. Gov. Al “The Happy Warrior” Smith (1873 – 1944), the first Irish-American and the first Catholic to receive a major party’s nomination for president, lost to Herbert Hoover in 1928. He was honored with a commemorative stamp the year following his death. Sen. Robert A. Taft (1889 – 1953), known in his glory days as “Mr. Republican,” was not even his party’s nominee, having been defeated by Dwight Eisenhower at the 1952 convention. His stamp was issued in 1960. Former Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey (1911 – 1978) carried the flag for the Democrats in 1968 and lost to Richard Nixon. His turn came in 1991. The list is endless.
Meanwhile, perhaps you’ve noticed that your local Post Office has turned into a flea market. First-class postage has increased 76% since 1990, an era of low overall inflation. This has not stemmed the tsunami of red ink caused by the Anthrax cleanup, the inexplicable subsidizing of junk mail and, especially, competition from e-mail. In its attempts to break even the Postal Service has expended much time and energy enticing gullible collectors into buying worthless junk, including overpriced framed doodads with a stamp stuck on them commemorating, well, just about anything imaginable.
Formal commemorative issues come and go very quickly as the postal authorities count on collectors to pay first-class prices for services never demanded. And it’s a con job. With rare exceptions, a stamp dealer will offer you less than face value for your mint U.S. postage stamps issued since 1930. Grinding out new issues requires no major effort. We abandoned the painstakingly engraved plates decades ago and our stamps now have the artistic quality of Christmas Seals, wallpaper, and the free address labels I get from charities to which I almost never contribute. My late father once observed: “I remember when our stamps looked like our money. Now our money doesn’t look like our money.”
So, why no Goldwater stamp?
A look at recent and forthcoming issues tells the tale. Goldwater had a wicked sense of humor, but he was fundamentally a serious guy. Given contemporary standards, he is postally challenged. He isn’t Bart Simpson, Archie or Veronica, Garfield the Cat, or Milton Berle. Neither was he a Western movie star, a leading man, a Hollywood bimbo, or a Chippendale chair. He was also politically incorrect before the term was invented; i.e., he told the truth. He wasn’t female, a person of color, or a member of any other identifiable victim class or minority. Despite being half Jewish he is apparently just another dead white male.
The rules regarding who may be honored with a postage stamp change now and then, but they’re simple now: be dead for at least 10 years unless you’re a former President. They can be immortalized at any time after their death. Goldwater died in 1998 at age 89.
Some presidential also-rans shuffle off into the relative obscurity they deserve. (Is Michael Dukakis still alive?) Not so Barry Goldwater. He served three more terms in the Senate. He was a champion of national defense who had flown “The Hump” during World War II. He stayed in the Air Force Reserve, pushed for the establishment of the U.S. Air Force Academy, and retired as a major general, having piloted 165 different types of aircraft. His stalwart anti-Communism and his opposition to the endless metastasizing of the federal government are well known. Less so is his tireless work on behalf of the native Americans of Arizona, especially the Hopis, who made him an honorary member of the tribe.
In 1974 he led a delegation to the White House to persuade Richard Nixon to resign, telling “the most dishonest individual I have ever met in my life” that perhaps 10 Senators would vote to acquit him at an impeachment trial. Nixon needed 34. He resigned within days.
But his most lasting achievement was setting the Republican Party on a course from which it has deviated at its peril for 46 years. Goldwater deserves much of the credit for the GOP’s seven victories in the last 11 presidential elections and, in particular, the five victories in the first six elections following his defeat. Had there been no Goldwater candidacy in 1964 there would have been no Reagan landslides in 1980 and 1984, no Reagan Revolution, and no outright defeat of Communism in a bloodless battle of wills, nerves, and economics.
Just weeks after Ronald Reagan’s victory in 1980 my wife and I attended the formal dinner celebrating the 25th anniversary of Bill Buckley’s National Review. The senator was ill and the President-elect had an irreconcilable scheduling conflict. George F. Will stepped in as the keynoter. His remarks began: “Well, friends, it’s taken 16 long hard years to count all those votes from the 1964 presidential election, but the results are finally in and Barry’s won!”
But he’s not as worthy of a commemorative U.S. postage stamp as Beetle Bailey.