Campaigns/Elections

Goldwater Unfiltered

The private journals of the father of the modern conservative movement

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Pure Goldwater, edited by Barry M. Goldwater Jr. and John W. Dean, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 416 pages, $27.95

Even though the names on the cover of Pure Goldwater are those of Barry Goldwater Jr. (son of the senator) and John W. Dean (military academy friend of Barry Jr. and later a key Watergate figure), this book is not written by either of them. In fact, it's that rarest of artifacts within the vast body of literature by and about the 1964 presidential candidate—a book that, unlike more famous works such as The Conscience of a Conservative, was actually written by Sen. Barry Goldwater himself. Well, sort of.

Starting in 1939, when Barry Jr. was born, Goldwater pere intermittently kept a private journal. At first the idea was that the stray thoughts he recorded might be of some use to his son: a guide to business matters in case Goldwater died before his offspring could learn the family trade of managing a chain of Arizona department stores. From the beginning, though, Goldwater included much more than just business advice. He filled the journal with his observations and feelings about the land and people of Arizona. He recorded his experiences as a pilot in World War II. Most important for history, he put down his inner thoughts about his political career: 28 years in the U.S. Senate, interrupted by the most influential failed presidential bid in American history.

Goldwater's 1964 campaign transformed America more profoundly than many a successful White House run. It propelled the conservative movement into national politics (putting to rout the GOP's big-government Rockefeller wing) and won the senator a place second only to Ronald Reagan in conservatives' hearts. Not a few libertarians got their start in the 1964 campaign as well. If they sometimes blanched at Goldwater's saber-rattling Cold War stances, they nonetheless admired his anti-socialist, small-government rhetoric, which was backed up—not always, but often enough—by his Senate votes.

Goldwater was for liberty, as he conceived of it. "Our country, of course, was born on the very simple idea that freedom is our only cause," he wrote in his journal, "and that freedom was not given to us by government." In another entry, he declared, "The American economic system could only work well, and at its best, when it was unhampered by government and was allowed to be controlled only by the marketplace.… Thus, the core of my economic philosophy is the free market system—when it is working as it should."

John Dean and Barry Goldwater Jr. have excerpted the journal and packaged their selections with a smattering of Goldwater's letters, speeches, and other literary remains. Pure Goldwater is so called because it presents Goldwater's own words, unscripted and (mostly) unpolished. The book also includes lengthy passages from Goldwater's testimony in the 1968 libel suit he brought against the journalist Ralph Ginzburg, who in 1964 had published a psychiatric survey that purported to find the senator paranoid, sexually insecure, suicidal, and "grossly psychotic." (Goldwater won the suit, although the jury awarded damages that covered only his legal fees.) In their introduction, Dean and Goldwater Jr. describe Pure Goldwater as "a scrap book of important thoughts; it is more nuggets than narrative."

That's all too true. Goldwater's journal doesn't cover every key period of his life; there is virtually nothing in it about the 1964 campaign, for example. Dean and Goldwater Jr. do not plug this astonishing gap with much supplemental material: There are just two items here from 1964, a letter and a press statement, both of them complaining about the media's biased reporting. For the rest of the story, the editors suggest books like What Happened to Goldwater?, by Goldwater adviser Stephen Shadegg, and A Glorious Disaster, by campaign treasurer J. William Middendorf II. As abundant as the literature about the '64 race may be, that campaign is a hell of a thing to omit from any book about Barry Goldwater.

Despite the fragmentary nature of the journals, a bare-bones narrative does emerge. Pure Goldwater opens with a 1923 letter the 14-year-old Goldwater wrote to Thomas Edison telling the inventor about his interests in radios and electricity—interests that would prove to be lifelong. Selections from later recollections fill in the picture of Goldwater's youth: his work in the family department store as a boy; his father's death in 1929, which led the 20-year-old Goldwater to abandon his studies at the University of Arizona and return to work; his marriage in 1934 to Peggy Johnson, a young woman he met in the department store. The journal itself begins in 1938, when Goldwater was 29. Around the same time, he began writing guest editorials for the Phoenix Gazette, which reveal a confident young businessman adamantly opposed to the New Deal. "The worst thing about your labor plan," Goldwater wrote in an op-ed addressed directly to Franklin Roosevelt, "has been that you have turned over to the racketeering practices of ill-organized unions the future of the working man. Witness the chaos they are creating in the eastern cities. Witness the men thrown out of work, the riots, the bloodshed, and the ill feeling between labor and capital." That's pure Goldwater all right.

The early journal entries are less polemical, more personal. In 1939 Goldwater was glad when he could get away from business and politics, escaping into a weeks-long tour of the Arizona desert. Several sources (not just Ralph Ginzburg) have suggested that Goldwater suffered a nervous breakdown before embarking on this desert odyssey. Maybe it was nothing as dramatic as that, but in his journal Goldwater writes of getting himself "into such a stew that this trip became a necessity." In 1941 Goldwater, who had been an Army reservist since 1930, enlisted in the Army Air Corps, and a dozen journal entries from 1943 tell of his flight across the Atlantic from Delaware to Scotland by way of Greenland and Iceland in a single-engine P-47, part of an operation to fly fighters to Britain. Goldwater didn't see combat, but his trans-Atlantic jaunt and later Air Corps service in Asia had risks enough of their own.

After the war, Goldwater launched his career in politics, getting elected to the Phoenix City Council in 1949, managing the successful gubernatorial campaign of John Pyle the following year, and defeating Democratic Sen. Ernest McFarland, the Senate majority leader, in 1952. A 1949 journal entry expresses Goldwater's belief that campaigning and governing could be, and should be, "clean": "I think…that politics can be governed by the same set of laws or rules that govern our actions towards each other. I believe that things can be done outright and not on the sly cloak and dagger treatment politics have always carried. I think that people who work under [city] politicians, the clerks, the police, the engineers and all the others, they will work for men and women that they admire and trust much better than for those they fear and distrust."

"Clean politics" meant, among other things, that in 1964 Goldwater would not make a campaign issue out of Lyndon Johnson aide Walter Jenkins, who was arrested for homosexual activity in a YMCA bathroom. In the 1980s, the cause of clean politics led Goldwater to call for strict campaign spending limits; he even went so far as to propose a constitutional amendment to get around the Supreme Court's 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision, which held that Congress could not place limits on federal campaign spending. "The Court held that such a campaign lid is an invasion of the opportunity of individuals and organizations to exercise free speech," he said in a 1983 Senate floor speech included in Pure Goldwater. "My answer is that we should try again.… The success of our national experiment in self-rule is on the line." That's not to say Goldwater would have seen eye to eye with his Senate successor, John McCain, on campaign finance. For one thing, Goldwater opposed public financing of elections, warning "it could lead to a loss of all freedom, with the government gaining power to manipulate elections."

Clean politics is not a theme anyone would associate with Richard Nixon, but Nixon had campaigned loyally for Goldwater in 1964, and Goldwater returned the favor in 1968 and 1972. But the senator brooded extensively on the 37th president, well before Watergate. "Nixon was the most prevalent subject in his private journal," Dean and Goldwater Jr. note, "suggest[ing] that Richard Nixon was something of a puzzle to Goldwater, which he continued to work on until he gave up in disgust."

Goldwater was frustrated by President Nixon's reluctance to consult him for advice. Whenever the two did meet, Goldwater always told Nixon the same thing: The president had to rid the State Department and other government agencies of Kennedy and Johnson holdovers who were preventing Nixon from implementing conservative policies. Nixon, in turn, would always tell Goldwater that he wanted to meet with him more regularly, but he never did.

By the time the Watergate scandal erupted, Goldwater's patience with Nixon had frayed. At first he blamed the press and Nixon's staff for the affair, but he soon came to suspect Nixon as well. He wondered in his journal whether Nixon had engineered the downfall of his vice president, Spiro Agnew, who resigned after being accused of taking bribes. "Many of us in Washington have felt for some time that someone was out to get the vice president," he wrote. "That someone could well be the president of the United States wanting to get rid of Agnew so he could replace him with either [Texas Sen. John] Connally or [former New York Gov. Nelson] Rockefeller…as the person to succeed him."

Still, as late as the summer of 1974, Goldwater did not believe Nixon should step down over Watergate. But on August 7, Goldwater and the Republican leaders in the House and Senate, Rep. John Rhodes of Arizona and Sen. Hugh Scott of Tennessee, told the president what he could expect from impeachment proceedings. "I told him I doubted if he would get as many as fifteen votes" in the Senate, Goldwater recorded in his journal, noting that he was unsure how he himself would vote. Shortly after their meeting, Nixon resigned.

Prior to Watergate, Goldwater had planned to retire from the Senate in 1974, and Nixon had offered to make him ambassador to Mexico—one of a few minor revelations contained in Pure Goldwater. Another nugget is that when Gerald Ford became president, he asked Goldwater whether he should appoint an African American or a woman as vice president—or even Goldwater himself. A black V.P. might work, Goldwater replied, if Ford "could find a competent black Republican," but the country wasn't ready for a female vice president, even though "women are excellent in politics." Goldwater, who elected to stay in the Senate post-Watergate to be a force of stability, didn't want the job himself. According to his journal, his desire to ensure stability was why he supported Ford over the more conservative Ronald Reagan in the 1976 Republican primaries.

Regrettably, Pure Goldwater tells us little about the senator's relationship with Reagan. The book's historical sequence breaks off after the Ford administration, and the last three chapters survey, in scattershot fashion, Goldwater's views on a handful of controversial issues: foreign policy, abortion, homosexuality, immigration, and campaign finance. The policy thought on display here and throughout the book will by turns delight and infuriate every part of the political spectrum. When he first came to the Senate, Goldwater abhorred France's colonial meddling in Indochina. "It seemed rather inconsistent to me, inconsistent certainly with the principles of this Republic," he wrote in his journal, "that we, who have fought so hard for freedom against Britain, would now be supporting openly a country like France with colonizing ambitions." Later he ardently supported the U.S. war in Vietnam—in the name of anticommunism rather than colonialism—urging Nixon to mine the harbors and bomb the dikes of North Vietnam.

His business experience and military service taught Goldwater to be skeptical of government spending, especially military spending. In his first Senate run, his statement of principles included a plank declaring, "The military is the greatest waster of money and manpower we have. They must be made to conduct their affairs in a businesslike manner." But during the Nixon years, Goldwater became a fierce advocate for a civilian aeronautical boondoggle: federal aid for the development of an American supersonic transport to rival the British-French Concorde and (believe it or not) a Soviet commercial SST. Goldwater's reaction upon seeing the instrumentation in the Russian prototype is a vintage slice of Cold War paranoia: "What I saw in the Russian 144 appeared to be very old and extremely unsophisticated but, frankly, no one knows what they had hiding under the floor."

Today's conservatives will balk at Goldwater's social views. He initially welcomed the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. "I think that abortion should be legalized," he wrote to a constituent in 1973, "because whether it is legal or not, women are going to have it done." He quickly adopted a vaguer stance, dropping his talk about legalization and telling constituents "the issue [is] squarely up to each state legislature." After leaving the Senate in 1986, however, he came out explicitly in favor of abortion rights. He also became an outspoken advocate of gay rights, not only calling for an end to the ban on homosexuals in the military but endorsing anti-discrimination legislation as well.

Decades earlier, Goldwater had voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act precisely on the grounds that its anti-discrimination clauses would infringe on states' rights and individual property rights. His turnaround on anti-discrimination legislation has never been fully explained, though a 1994 statement included in Pure Goldwater supports the idea that his reasons were more personal than philosophical. "My grandchildren and great-grandchildren are growing up in Arizona," he said. "Some of them are gay, some of them aren't. But because Arizona doesn't have a law barring discrimination based on sexual orientation, they may not all get a fair shake."

From any vantage point, Barry Goldwater was far from perfect and far from perfectly consistent. Yet he still finds admirers among conservatives, libertarians, and even liberals. If everyone can find something to object to in his record, nearly everyone also can find something to like. And imperfect though he was, Goldwater at least tried to live up to his ideal of clean politics. He wasn't always candid, but he shot from the hip often enough that voters could tell themselves they were hearing something like the truth.

No Goldwater fan can do without a copy of Pure Goldwater; but no one who isn't already a fan will get much out of it. This book is a stopgap at best, until the journal itself is published—assuming there's any more substance to it than what's on display here, which may or may not be the case. An edition of collected letters is much needed as well. But until those come along, readers can get their fix of the unscripted, unghosted conscience of a conservative from Pure Goldwater.

Daniel McCarthy
is associate editor of The American Conservative.