Barry Goldwater (born 1909) was elected as a Republican to the U.S. Senate five times between 1952 and 1980, leaving temporarily to run unsuccessfully for president in 1964. His outspoken conservatism gained him the label "Mr. Conservative" in American politics. He was considered the most important American conservative between Senator Robert Taft's death in 1953 and Ronald Reagan's election as governor of California in 1966.
Barry Morris Goldwater was born in Phoenix, Arizona, on January 1, 1909, the first child of Baron and Josephine Williams Goldwater. His Polish-born grandfather and great-uncle had migrated to the Arizona territory from the California Gold Rush fields. They discovered that there were easier ways to make a fortune - such as operating a bordello and bar. They also founded a small general store, J. Goldwater & Bro., in La Paz in 1867. Soon the brothers opened stores throughout Arizona with the Phoenix branch, established in 1872, becoming the flagship of the family operation. This store was headed by Barry Goldwater's father, Baron. Barry was an indifferent student at Phoenix's Union High school, where he showed early leadership abilities when his classmates elected him as President of the Freshman class. His principal suggested that he might be happier elsewhere, so young Barry was sent by his family to finish his last four years at Staunton Military Academy in Virginia. There he won the medal as best all-around cadet and began his lifelong interest in the military. Although he hoped to attend the U. S. Military Academy at West point, his ill father insisted enroll at the University of Arizona. He completed only one year, dropping out to join the family department store business when his father died in 1929.
Goldwater showed good aptitude for the retail business, rising from a junior clerkship to the presidency of the firm by 1937. He was an innovative manager, setting up the first employees' health-hospitalization plan of any Phoenix mercantile firm, forming a flying club for his employees, introducing a number of novel product lines, and creating a national reputation for the store by taking out advertisements in the New Yorker. In addition to being the most prestigious store in Phoenix, the Goldwater enterprise shared the city's booster spirit, cooperating in civic initiatives to improve the city and attract new residents.
He was the first Phoenix businessman to hire African-Americans as sales clerks, thereby breaking the "color barrier" in the city's hiring practices. It was during this time as well that Goldwater overworked himself into two nervous breakdowns and began to have trouble with alcohol, two issues that his later political opponents wee always quick to recall.
. In September 1934 Goldwater culminated a brief courtship by marrying Margaret (Peggy) Johnson, daughter of a successful Indiana businessman whose firm later became part of Borg-Warner. The couple had four children, Joanne (1936), Barry Jr. (1938), Michael (1940), and Peggy (1944).
Goldwater eagerly interrupted his business career to take part in World War II. Though his age seemingly disqualified him from the air combat assignment he coveted, Goldwater parlayed his decade-old reserve commission into an assignment in the Army Air Force. He served first as an instructor in the gunnery command. Then, for most of the war, he used the flying skills he had leaned in the late 1920's to pilot supply runs in the India-Burma theater and across the Atlantic as well. When the war ended he accepted the task of organizing the Arizona Air National Guard, eventually achieving the rank of brigadier general in the Air Force Reserve.
By the late 1940s Goldwater was a locally prominent figure, winning acclaim as Phoenix "Man of the Year" in 1949. He had joined in a citizens' reform effort resulting in a revised city charter that gave extensive powers to a city manager and called for at-large election of the city council. When suitable council candidates failed to emerge in 1949 Goldwater ran for a council seat himself, leading the citywide ticket in the nonpartisan election.
Goldwater soon outgrew local politics. Frustrated with the policies of the New and Fair Deals, in 1950 he devoted his energies to managing the successful gubernatorial campaign of Howard Pyle. Sensing an opportunity for the Republican party to become truly competitive in the state for the first time, he decided to challenge Democratic Senate Majority Leader Ernest McFarland in the 1952 election. Campaigning as a staunchly conservative critic of "Trumanism," excessive federal spending, the "no win" U.S. strategy in the Korean War, and what he saw as a weak and futile foreign policy toward the Soviet Union, Goldwater eked out a narrow victory. He squeaked by on the coattails of Republican presidential candidate Eisenhower by over 35,000 votes and began his long and distinguished national political career.
Goldwater's entry into the Senate was at a critical time for conservatives. The twenty years that had passed since Republicans held power had seen the New Deal Domestic Reforms, World War II and the rise of the Cold War. The American political landscape was very different from when Herbert Hoover promised a "chicken in every pot". Many questioned if conservatism with its emphasis on state's rights and limited central government was even relevant in the new atmosphere Initially a supporter of the Robert A. Taft over Eisenhower for the 1952 Republican nomination, Goldwater maintained independence from Eisenhower's programs and was one of his most outspoken critics. Notably he criticized foreign aid spending and supported Senator Joseph McCarthy's campaign against "Communism-in-government" even after McCarthy clearly lost favor with Eisenhower. In December 1954 the Arizonan was one of only 22 senators (all Republicans) who took McCarthy's side in the vote to censure the Wisconsin senator. Though he agreed with Eisenhower on most domestic issues, Goldwater often took more extreme positions than the president—especially in his condemnation of labor unions, his opposition to federal action in civil rights matters, and his advocacy of a strongly nationalist foreign policy. At one point castigating the Eisenhower policies as a "dime-store New Deal," he opposed Eisenhower's use of federal troops in the Little Rock integration crisis and criticized the administration for producing balanced budgets in only three of its eight years.
Goldwater gained in influence during the 1950s. Through his effective leadership of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee he won affection and respect from his party colleagues. After his solid re-election victory (with 56 percent of the vote) in 1958 Goldwater began to receive considerable media attention as the leader of the conservative movement. He enhanced this image through a thrice-weekly syndicated newspaper column and by publishing in 1960 an extended statement of his political creed, The Conscience of the Conservative (which eventually sold 3.5 million copies). He was viewed, despite often contradictory and inconsistent casual remarks, as a straight-from-the gut conservative whose appeal stemmed from the fact that his own profound confusion somehow reflected his supporter's anxiety. Wisely foregoing a political battle with Republican liberals in 1960, he settled for exercising behind-the-scenes influence on the platform while supporting Richard Nixon for the presidential nomination. His loyalty to the party ticket won him Nixon's support for the future.
Goldwater later contended that he was not eager for the 1964 nomination against the popular Kennedy, but he came increasingly to be regarded as his party's likely nominee. Friendly rivals from their years together in the Senate, he and Kennedy even discussed the type of campaigns they might wage against each other. Kennedy's assassination and the accession of Texas-born Lyndon B. Johnson to the presidency further reduced Goldwater's enthusiasm for the nomination; as Johnson's appeal in the South and West threatened to keep Goldwater from capitalizing on his own natural strengths in those areas. By the end of 1963, however, he succumbed to pressures from the informal "Draft Goldwater" group that had been in existence since 1961; he announced his candidacy on January 3, 1964.
Goldwater chose to enter only selected primaries, while building support in states where delegates were selected by other means. After a damaging loss in the New Hampshire primary at the start of the campaign, he won important victories in Illinois and Nebraska; then, in early June he defeated his only real competition for the nomination—New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller—in the crucial California primary. Goldwater's nomination was then inevitable. He won on the first ballot at the convention in San Francisco, but events revealed the depth of division in the party: Rockefeller was booed by the predominantly conservative delegates, while nominee Goldwater was pilloried by his liberal foes (and the press) for a statement in his acceptance speech: "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."
While Goldwater added to his own problems by making some gratuitous and inappropriate statements in the campaign, he never had a chance to defeat Johnson. Public perception of Goldwater as an extremist was fed by events at the GOP convention and by his well-known opposition to federal civil rights laws (he did not oppose integration, but thought that states properly had jurisdiction in such matters). The result was a Johnson landslide: Goldwater received only 38.8 percent of the vote and carried only five states in the deep South and Arizona. Goldwater's appeal to persons who wanted a return to a prewar American way of life was swept aside in view of Johnson's progressive Great Society.
Goldwater was never again considered a viable presidential candidate, but his stature in the party and as a spokesman for the conservative cause was firmly established. Back in private life (he had given up the chance to run for re-election in 1964), he announced that Nixon was his choice for the presidency in 1968 and then set about putting his own career back on track. In 1968, as Nixon narrowly won the presidency, Goldwater was elected once again to the Senate (with 57 percent of the vote).
His White House ambitions put aside, Goldwater reestablished himself as a forceful presence in the Senate. He strongly backed the American military involvement in Vietnam and, as a prominent member of the Armed Services Committee, he gave strong support to the Nixon administration's aggressive defense policies. He was more critical on domestic issues, where he again thought Nixon too inclined to temporize; in particular, he felt the wage-price guidelines of the early 1970s were a "disaster."
Never one to waver in a political cause, Goldwater remained loyal to Nixon, suspending judgment while the Watergate crisis unfolded in 1973 and early 1974. He did not finally break from Nixon until the revelation, on August 5, 1974, that the president had indeed acted to obstruct justice in the Watergate case. Because of his stature and unquestioned integrity, Goldwater's defection was a symbolic final blow to Nixon, who resigned from the presidency four days later.
Goldwater won his most convincing re-election victory in 1974, being returned to the Senate by a 58 percent vote. He was impatient with what he regarded as President Ford's vacillations on policy—as he had been with Nixon—but again he was a loyal (if outspoken) follower, supporting the president over Ronald Reagan for the 1976 Republican nomination. Ford's defeat placed in the White House a president for whom Goldwater developed genuine contempt, Jimmy Carter. He opposed Carter on nearly every major issue, including defense cutbacks, diplomatic recognition for the People's Republic of China, and the Panama Canal treaties. In 1980 he was an early, enthusiastic backer of his fellow conservative, Ronald Reagan, for the Republican nomination. Reagan's easy victory over Carter was accomplished on a platform echoing many of Goldwater's earlier positions. Goldwater himself was again re-elected in 1980, though with a narrower margin of victory than every before. His age (71) and frequent hospitalizations apparently played a part in making the result so close, a fact suggesting that his fifth term in the Senate would be his last.
Although he regained his seat in 1988, Goldwater nevertheless was never again a power in the conservative movement. His libertarian streak made him uncomfortable with his own party's New Right social agenda. The strong desire of this New Right to use coercive power of the state to influence morality were at odds with what Goldwater believed were matters of personal choice. In 1979 Goldwater published his political memoir, With No Apologies; he wrote it early, he said, because he believed "the Republic is in danger" and "time is short." With Reagan's re-election in 1984, Goldwater's fears for the future abated somewhat. Yet he remained curiously unconnected to the upsurge of political conservatism reflected in Reagan's successes. Fiercely independent and seemingly out of step with the majority throughout his political career, he somehow seemed apart even from the "New Conservatives" dominating his party in the 1980s.
Nearing the end of 30 years in the Senate, Goldwater seemed to take special pleasure in the license afforded an elder statesman, daring to speak out against spokesmen for the Moral Majority whom he thought too self-serving as well as against his more traditional moderate-to-left targets.
After his retirement in 1987, Goldwater returned to Phoenix where he was still considered an asset to any political campaign. During the 1996 Presidential campaign, Goldwater's opinions and endorsements were continually sought. He eventually supported the candidacy of Senate majority leader Robert Dole, he was highly vocal in his praise of the possibility of former Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell as president. One of Goldwater's major interests as Chairman of the Armed Services Committee was the passage of the Goldwater-Nichols Military Reform Act, which authorized the chairman of the Joint Chief's of Staff's ability to order other branches of the military to cooperate with one another. This act cut through bitter interservice rivalry that often crippled military operations, and enabled theater commanders to simply order different services under their command to work together without first going up the chain of command in Washington.
Though he suffered one of the worst electoral defeats in history when he sought the presidency, Barry Goldwater will certainly be considered one of the leading political figures of his era as he was responsible for ushering the conservative wing of the Republican party and relegating the moderates to a secondary position, thereby changing the face of American politics for decades.
Further Reading on Barry Goldwater
The best account of Goldwater's life and career is his autobiography, With No Apologies: The Personal and Political Memoirs of United States Senator Barry Goldwater (1979). In the 1960s, when he was considered a presidential possibility, two biographies appeared; the more valuable is Jack Bell, Mr. Conservative: Barry Goldwater (1962); Barry Goldwater: Freedom Is His Flight Plan (1962), written by his long-time political aide Stephen Shadegg, is naturally very favorable in its view. Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign is treated in John H. Kessel, The Goldwater Coalition: Republican Strategies in 1964 (1968); Richard Rovere, The Goldwater Caper (1965); F. Clifton White, Suite 3505: The Story of the Draft Goldwater Movement (1967); and Theodore H. White, The Making of the President 1964 (1965). In addition, Goldwater wrote a number of books expressing his political credo, including The Conscience of a Conservative (1960), Why Not Victory? A Fresh Look at American Foreign Policy (1962), The Conscience of a Majority (1970), and The Coming Breakpoint (1976). Finally, a number of studies of the Republican Party in recent times give considerable attention to his political impact, including Michael W. Miles, The Odyssey of the American Right (1980) and David W. Reinhard, The Republican Right Since 1945 (1983). A lively interview in Jet describes Goldwater's ongoing independence July 24, 1995.