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Book World: 'Pure Goldwater'

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John W. Dean
Author and Former White House Counsel
Tuesday, May 6, 2008; 3:00 PM

"Only yesterday, or so it seems, American conservatives were on the verge of becoming a political majority. Now, burdened by internal divisions and a discredited president, the conservative movement is in retreat; in a recent Pew survey only a third of Americans called themselves conservative. Facing an uncertain future, conservatives have become increasingly celebratory about their leaders of the past, especially the iconic Ronald Reagan and the recently departed William F. Buckley Jr., who lit the torch at National Review in the 1950s and kept it burning for half a century. Conservatives are also rediscovering Sen. Barry M. Goldwater of Arizona, honored in ... Pure Goldwater as an American original and a seminal conservative hero."

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John W. Dean, author and former White House counsel, was online Tuesday, May 6 to discuss Pure Goldwater, his new book about influential Arizona senator Barry Goldwater, which was reviewed in Book World. The book was co-authored by Sen. Goldwater's son, Barry Goldwater, Jr.

Dean served as counsel to President Richard Nixon, and was implicated in the Watergate scandals. In recent years his books and commentary have criticized the Bush presidency and the direction of the Republican party. Pure Goldwater uses rare source materials, including the late senator's personal papers, for a fresh look at Goldwater's life and his legacy to the conservative movement.

A transcript follows.

Join Book World Live each Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET for a discussion based on a story or review in each Sunday's Book World section.

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John W. Dean: John Dean checking in for our chat. I found the Lou Cannon review of Pure Goldwater interesting, and realized that Cannon views the entire political world in terms of Ronald Reagan, which is not a bad north star, but a somewhat limited view. Anyway, I did not drop by to review our reviewer, rather to answer your questions.

Bring 'em on (so to speak).

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Charlottesville, Virginia: If Senator Barry M. Goldwater of Arizona were alive today, what would he think of the current GOP, George W. Bush and the Bush Administration at large?

Was this "Pure Gold" Senator not the true, original "straight talker" before the title was usurped by others?

Thank you for responding.

John W. Dean: Good question. It became a very different party while he was alive and he was not very happy with the direction it was going. He and I talked at some length about it, and we were going to do a book about it because he wanted to understand what had happened. Indeed we started on the project but his health failed him so we put the project on the shelf hoping he would feel better. But we did progress far enough to come up with a title: "Conservatives Without Conscience." Years later when I did write that book I discovered the unpublished private journal he kept, which is the basis of "Pure Goldwater."

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Poplar Bluff, Mo.: Mr. Dean, thanks for taking questions. How do the neo-conservatives and the religious right who run the GOP today feel about Goldwater now? You hear Republicans mention how Reagan and Buckley were their intellectual heroes, but not Goldwater.

John W. Dean: Goldwater was a politician -- a term he liked because he believed in its true meaning -- and not interested in political theory. He and Buckley were friends, but he once told me he was not surprised that Buckley could not get elected to anything. Goldwater would not think well of neo-conservatism, nor do they much like him. He was a "common sense" conservative, and no one will ever say the neocons have common sense.

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Plainville, Conn.: Hi, John. In 1964, any scenario that a Republican could have defeated LBJ? In your opinion, if JFK had not been assassinated, would Goldwater have risen to the nomination, and if he had, would it still have been a Democratic landslide?

John W. Dean: There is fascinating material in his journal about running against JFK, for they were good friends and both looked forward to it in 1964. When JFK was killed, it really killed Goldwater's interest in the presidency, and he ran in 1964 only because so many young people wanted him to do so.

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New York: Before my question, a personal comment as to how remarkable your life has turned out to be.

I haven't read your book, but I read Lou Cannon's review of it. There was only a vague allusion to civil rights in the review. It's impossible to honestly discuss Goldwater and the opposition to LBJ's "Great Society" programs without being candid as the anti-Black racism that underlay him and it. Do you do so?

John W. Dean: I think if your read Goldwater's journal entries in Pure Goldwater you will see that there is not a bone of racism in the man. To the contrary, he is a civil rights leader in AZ. First at his store, then integrating Phoenix public facilities as a member of the City Council, then the AZ Air National Guard, long before President Truman integrated the US military, etc.

I once asked Senator Goldwater why he voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act (for he had voted for all civil rights legislation before and after), and he said he got some bad legal advice from a fellow at Yale Law School (Robert Bork) and a young Phoenix lawyer (Bill Rehnquist).

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Washington, D.C.: How would you characterize Goldwater on race? My father was a bigot, and loved him. Thanks.

John W. Dean: See above.

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Lyme, Conn.: What were your personal thoughts as you were working on this book and it covered the Nixon years? It seems Nixon realized his Presidency was over when Barry Goldwater stated it was time for him to resign. What was it like returning to these memories?

John W. Dean: I was very surprised to find that the most extensive material in Goldwater's journal related to Nixon and Watergate. He spends his entire political career trying to figure out Nixon -- with whom he was very friendly -- and finally finds Nixon so self-serving and dishonest that he breaks totally with him (but long after Nixon has left office.)

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Crestwood, N.Y. : Mr. Dean, I always look forward to your appearances on TV and radio, because you remind me of the good old days when the GOP was not under the control of radical ideologues: in the immortal words of Charles Barkley, "I was a Republican before they lost their minds."

If we can agree that Sen. Goldwater, who was thought to be quite radical in the early 60's, would be far too libertarian for today's Bush/Cheney party, why hasn't there been a groundswell to take the party back from the Terri Schiavo right? There are enough GOP governors and senators, and others who live in the real world, to form a solid base. Or do they think that McCain will restore sanity?

John W. Dean: I would not pretend to enter the collective mind of the powers that control GOP politics today, but it is clear that there is less and less to hold the many factions together. The only glue left is desire for power, and Supreme Court appointments, otherwise, those I visit with in the GOP are all over the lot.

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Detroit, Michigan: I remember seeing Goldwater interviewed in his later life. He seemed to have changed some of his ideas regarding governance and did not seem the arch-conservative of years ago. What did he think about the direction of the Republican party in the 1980's and 1990's?

John W. Dean: Many think Goldwater changed his views later in life, when, in fact, he remained highly consistent throughout his life. That was one of the reasons we published pure Goldwater for his views and insights have remained rather timeless.

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Laurel: I know you're going to disagree, but as a lifelong Democratic leaner, J'accuse the Republican party (with Goldwater as bandmaster) of becoming the majority party by flipping the South with the issue of Civil Rights.

The difference between the political map today and in the 50s is that the South has changed parties. And how did they do this? By lumping together civil rights laws with high taxes and business regulation as examples of federal government interference.

The Republicans took control by being 100% wrong on the most important domestic issue of my lifetime.

John W. Dean: Goldwater was a good party man, and as the head of the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, he went where he could find the votes. He later discovered votes for himself in 1964. But he did not flip the South on civil rights, the South was racist long before he ran for president. This is far more complex than I can briefly answer, which is another reason we published this book, so people can see what was truly in this man's head and heart.

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Leominster, Mass.: Thank-you for taking my question, Mr. Dean.

How (in your judgment) would the mainstream media treat Barry Goldwater today if he were a young senator with his extreme conservative views? Would he even be electable ?

John W. Dean: Today, Goldwater's conservatism places him well left of center (he was pro-choice, for example). And he always had a good relationship with the press -- after 1964, when they savaged him.

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Tampa, Fla.: I recall that during the congressional hearings on "don't ask, don't tell," a retired-Senator AuH2O wanted to testify in favor of letting gays serve openly in the armed forces. I also recall that then-Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga) of the Senate Armed Services committee refused to let Sen. Goldwater appear.

Is this true?

If it is, I think it shows clearly how the modern GOP has changed since Reagan.

John W. Dean: We talk about this in Pure Goldwater, and how Goldwater's libertarian fundamentals influenced his thinking about gays in the military. As he famously said, he didn't care if soldiers were straight, only if they could shoot straight.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: If I recall correctly, Barry Goldwater, Jr. defeated Democrat Don Imus for Congress. Did Barry Goldwater, Jr. ever mention what it was like having Don Imus as an opponent?

John W. Dean: I am not aware that Goldwater ever had Don Imus as an opponent :-)

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The devolution of conservatism?: How did the party of Goldwater, fiscal responsibility, and cautious, analytical decisionmaking become the party of authoritarianism leaning toward fascism, disregard for working people, reckless deficits, corporate enrichment and bedroom snooping?

John W. Dean: May I refer you Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney and George Bush for the answer to this, and I believe their response would be called political expediency....

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Washington: Putting aside that McCain is from Arizona, would he still be the candidate that Goldwater would support in this election?

John W. Dean: I wrote my Findlaw.com column on this last week. And there is material in the book that suggests Goldwater would not be a big McCain supporter. Goldwater helped McCain win his Senate seat the relationship cooled fast. And as I see it, Goldwater was not doing John McCain a favor, rather John's father Jack McCain, with whom Goldwater had a warm relationship.

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Anonymous: would you consider Ronald Reagan an extension of Taft/Goldwater conservatism into the "new right" movement, or did he effectively bury it?

John W. Dean: Reagan learned the basics of conservatism from Goldwater. They were good friends. Reagan would join his wife Nancy in Phoenix to visit with her parents when he was still a New Democrat, and Nancy's father, who was Barry Goldwater's friend, would say to him, "Can't you work on Ronny, and get him to see there is another side?" And Goldwater did just that. But Reagan's handlers -- as he progressed politically -- embraced the Religious Right, which Goldwater felt a serious mistake mixing religion and politics.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: It seems to me that Barry Goldwater had a consistent conservative philosophy, in that he sought to reduce government intrusion into people's lives, and that included government regulations, taxes, abortion and gay rights. How would he view today's conservatives and their philosophical inconsistencies?

John W. Dean: As I said when answering another question he was remarkably consistent. But when he was wrong, and realized, it changed his position. For example, in his classic The Conscience of a Conservative he cast doubt on Brown v. Board of Education. He realized this was wrong, and became a solid supporter of the holding.

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Pacifica, Calif.: After watching part of "American Experience" on PBS last night regarding George H. W. Bush I was struck by Nixon's unabashed use of the young, aggressive future president as a tool of deception during the Watergate coverup attempt. Apparently, Bush did not know how involved Nixon really was in Watergate.

It seems that the atmosphere of secrecy and deceit that existed then has morphed to a level these days that is unparalleled in our history. Did Goldwater see this as a problem that would come back and hurt the party and the country?

John W. Dean: Denial and rationalization explain those who stayed with Nixon longer than reason would justify. But this is a common political trait. As I said in Worse Than Watergate, today's secrecy makes Nixon look transparent.

Goldwater did not like unnecessary secrecy.

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New York, N.Y.: Do you believe Reagan carried any of the "old right" dogma into his new coalition of "new right" movement conservatives?

John W. Dean: Reagan built on the old right dogma, as Pat Buchanan has written and knows well. Goldwater was not as ideological as Reagan became.

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Nantucket, Mass.: I'm on travel and I hope I get this correct.

Over a year ago I read "Conservatives without Conscience" (loved it!) in which Mr. Dean made a comment, and here I'm working from memory, that a true conservative does not believe in many of the tenets of the country's founding documents, in particular, that "...all men are created equal." Mr. Dean did not go deep into that claim as to the justification conservatives use to make their argument. I'm asking if he can provide that rationale now?

PS: I am going to buy your new book!

John W. Dean: In Conservative Without Conscience (CWC) I discovered that authoritarian conservatives pretty much make up the rules as they go along, and they have little respect for "conserving" the past, for they are most interested in preserving their power -- which they rationalize any way that works.

Btw, Goldwater was not an authoritarian conservative.

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Washington, D.C.: My father worked at the State Department and apparently was so nervous he could lose his job over the bumper sticker my mother put on their Opel that he removed it at 5 am one morning with nail polish remover. It read:

In Your Guts, You Know He's Nuts

Was that the country's general response to Goldwater? He seemed to want to transplant libertarian AZ/NV/CA values to the rest of the country where farmer's co-ops, unions and religious communitarian groups created our great country. And pretty much they don't make sense to us.

John W. Dean: There was a serious effort to paint Goldwater as crazy in 1964, and when Ralph Ginzburg published his special issue of FACT magazine to prove this, Goldwater refused to walk away from it after the campaign. We placed the previously unpublished testimony of Goldwater in his libel suit against Ginzburg in Pure Goldwater, a case he won. He was determined to not let others call presidential candidates nuts and get away with it, and succeeded.

But I don't think your father was in any danger with a bumper sticker, for Goldwater also had a great sense of humor. Indeed, he claimed he would not vote for the Goldwater portrayed by the news media in 1964.

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washingtonpost.com: Contrary to His Claims, Senator John McCain Is Not a Goldwater Conservative (FindLaw)

John W. Dean: I will say more on this subject because in putting together the book with Barry Goldwater Jr. I saw many documents that made clear to me that Goldwater would not think much of McCain as presidential timber. But we did not want to make the book overly political or partisan, rather anyone who reads his journals will understand that McCain and Goldwater are cut from very different cloth.

Thanks for posting.

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Anonymous: you mentioned earlier Reagan's handlers steered him toward the religious right. Paul Krugman also mentioned once there were "apparatchiks" responsible for the new turn of conservatism. Would you consider these to be new interests on the scene or settlers of old scores?

John W. Dean: Goldwater once told me that he felt bad that many of the people he had brought into the conservative movement were "religious nuts" and they stayed long after he left.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: I know terms like "nation building" and the issues relating to domestic terrorism were before Goldwater's time, yet I am wondering how you would describe Barry Goldwater's philosophies of foreign relations and war and how his ideas might be applied to issues of today, such as the war in Iraq.

John W. Dean: He believe the best offense was a strong defense, and that we should not -- and cannot -- police the world. We included in the book a lot of his thinking about national security, for he spent his career thinking about it.

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Stewartstown, Pa.: It seems to me that Goldwater was a "true" conservative, in a way that today's Republican conservatives aren't, because he was very consistent. He opposed government intervention in areas like economics, but he also didn't think the government should interfere in people's personal lives (his pro-choice stance, for example). It seems very strange to maintain, as today's conservatives do, that government has no business telling people how to run a business, but has every right to tell them what to do in their bedrooms. Yet very few seem aware of this contradiction. Your thoughts?

John W. Dean: There is no consistency in today's conservatism because it seeks to satisfy too many diverse and often conflicting factions. Goldwater was, in truth, a centrist, who did not believe either right or left had all the answers, and the country runs best when we stay in political center.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Mr. Dean - What would Goldwater have thought about the recent raid on the Polygamist group of Mormons in Texas?

I feel like conservatism as we hear of it today is more morally judgmental than what Goldwater espoused in his early days.

Did conservatives bend in hooking up with the religious right to win elections?

John W. Dean: I have no idea how he might feel about the polygamists other than he believed everyone had to play by the rule of law. He did not believe religion and politics mixed because politicians had no business preaching morality and preachers no business claiming moral authority regarding matters political.

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Newton, Mass.: What would you say were Mr. Goldwater's major concepts in his personal code of ethics? Further, what do you think he would be most (a) surprised about, and (b) dismayed about, in regards to the ethics of our current Federal Administration leaders? My Father, a WWII and Korean War veteran, deeply admired Mr. Goldwater. Thank you for your time here today. A Viet Nam Era Veteran, Army Nurse Corps (today is National Nurses' Day).

John W. Dean: Goldwater had one fundamental about which he was unyielding: that politicians be honest. He was honest to a fault and as the book shows, he worried if honest politicians could get elected because voters don't want to know the truth. What would surprise him: a presidency like that of Bush and Cheney. It also would dismay him.

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New York, N.Y.: Considering the twists and turns of the GOP since the 1964 campaign, where do you believe Goldwater would focus his interests now? Reverting to the orthodoxy of the past before the "moral corruption", or could there possibly be someone from the current crop he'd admire and consider mentoring? possibly an Obama?

John W. Dean: It is interesting that in the last years of his life he developed a warm relationship with both Bill and Hillary Clinton, who -- on separate occasions -- visited him in AZ in his retirement. I think he would be thrilled that a woman and African-American could be the next president of the United States. Indeed, I suspect no 2008 candidate will benefit more from Goldwater's passing from the scene than John McCain, for the late senator's silence will help him.

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Lake Tapps, Washington: I remember Barry Goldwater as a fiscal and political conservative but not a social conservative. In his last years, I believe, he was quite supportive of his gay grandson. Am I mistaken? Did he become more liberal in later years?

John W. Dean: Correct. We have a section of the book where he talked at length about gay rights.

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Newton, Mass.: Thanks for the responses; very interesting. If you are willing to share a bit, what did Mr. Goldwater say to you about the Watergate situation and your role in it?

John W. Dean: I wrote about that in Blind Ambition many years ago, but in brief, I did not want to give him any inside information that could involve him in the mess but he told me before I testified, tell the truth, and blow that s.o.b. Nixon out of the Oval Office -- which I did.

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Nashville, Tenn.: Speaking of Goldwater being "honest to a fault" can you confirm the story which appears on the web that when one of his campaign supporters starting selling a "Gold Water" soft drink product to raise campaign funds that Barry had to tell him, "It tastes like p***, I wouldn't drink it with gin."?

John W. Dean: I've heard a story like that, but have no details.

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John W. Dean: Let me thank you all for your questions. I am going to get back to work now.

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