Barry Goldwater, GOP Hero, Dies
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 30, 1998; Page A01
Barry M. Goldwater, 89, a five-term U.S. senator from Arizona and a champion of conservatism whose 1964 presidential candidacy launched a revolution within the Republican Party, died yesterday at home in Paradise Valley, a suburb of Phoenix.
He suffered a stroke in 1996 that damaged the part of the brain that controls memory and personality. Last September, family members said he was in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.
Mr. Goldwater, who retired from the Senate in 1986 as one of his party's most respected elder statesmen, suffered a resounding defeat when he ran for president. But his efforts helped prepare the way for the election of another conservative Republican, Ronald Reagan, as president in 1980.
Mr. Goldwater carried only six states and 36 percent of the popular vote in 1964. After the election, most analysts and commentators concluded that the Republican Party was hopelessly divided, and that Mr. Goldwater and his conservative philosophy were all but politically dead.
During his 1964 presidential campaign, Mr. Goldwater was attacked by Democrats and opponents within his own party as a demagogue and a leader of right-wing extremists and racists who was likely to lead the United States into nuclear war, eliminate civil rights progress and destroy such social welfare programs as Social Security.
But that perception mellowed with time. Mr. Goldwater returned to the Senate in 1969 and went on to serve three more terms. Long before his retirement, he had come to be regarded as the Grand Old Man of the Republican Party and one of the nation's most respected exponents of conservatism, which he sometimes defined as holding on to that which was tested and true and opposing change simply for the sake of change.
His friends said he was often misunderstood, but his reputation for personal integrity was unblemished. At the height of the Watergate crisis, when the Republicans in Congress needed someone to tell President Richard M. Nixon he should resign, they chose Mr. Goldwater. But instead of telling the president what to do, Mr. Goldwater simply informed him in the Oval Office on Aug. 7, 1974, that the Republicans in Congress were unwilling and unable to stop his impeachment and conviction should he remain in office. Nixon announced his resignation the next day.
'An American Original'
A stickler for the Constitution, Mr. Goldwater refused to join the Republicans of the New Right during the 1980s when they began to press for legislation that would limit the authority of the federal courts to curb organized prayer in public schools or to order busing for school integration. He opposed busing and he backed prayer in schools, Mr. Goldwater said, but he thought it a dangerous breach of the separation of powers for Congress to be telling the courts what to do.
In all, he served 30 years in the Senate, but he was out of office for four years after losing his bid for the presidency, and he was in a political limbo for almost 10 years after that defeat. He reemerged during the Watergate crisis of the early 1970s.
Then, the bluntness and candor that had so often damaged Mr. Goldwater's presidential campaign a decade earlier and his outspoken and harsh criticism of Nixon's failure to deal with the growing Watergate scandal were among the vital ingredients of his political renaissance.
The president, he contended, had shown "a tendency to dibble and dabble and argue on very nebulous grounds like executive privilege and confidentiality when all the American people wanted to know was the truth."
A quintessential westerner and a man of great personal charm, Mr. Goldwater was an incurable gadgeteer who loved such devices as the electronically operated flagpole at his Arizona home that was rigged to raise the flag at the precise moment it was struck by the rays of the morning sun. He was an enthusiastic ham radio operator, airplane pilot and photographer who loved to take pictures of the people and landscapes of the American West.
He championed a brand of rugged individualism, and he never hesitated to speak his mind. He could be both colorful and profane, and he often said things he later wished he hadn't. "Barry, you speak too quick and too loud," former president Dwight D. Eisenhower once told him, and Mr. Goldwater acknowledged that Eisenhower was right.
"There are words of mine floating around in the air that I would like to reach up and eat," he once said.
Asked by journalist Stewart Alsop in 1963 what it might feel like to wake up as president some day, Mr. Goldwater remarked, "Frankly, it scares the hell out of me."
When members of his own party advocated policies that he considered too much like those of the Democrats, he ridiculed them for "me-tooism." Once he called the Eisenhower administration "a dime store New Deal," and the former president never fully forgave him.
In December 1961, he told a news conference that "sometimes I think this country would be better off if we could just saw off the Eastern Seaboard and let it float out to sea." That comment came back to haunt him for years, as did remarks about making Social Security voluntary and selling the Tennessee Valley Authority.
"He was truly an American original. I never knew anyone quite like him," President Clinton said shortly after the death was announced. He called Mr. Goldwater "a great patriot and a truly fine human being."
To many, Mr. Goldwater was a man of contradictions. He ended racial segregation in his family department stores, and he was instrumental in ending it in Phoenix schools and restaurants and in the Arizona National Guard. But he also voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act, contending that it was unconstitutional, and he backed restrictive amendments to earlier civil rights legislation. Blacks voted overwhelmingly against him in 1964.
Mr. Goldwater's relations with the news media were never smooth. He often complained that what he said was misinterpreted or distorted or both. During the 1964 campaign, reporters sometimes complained that Goldwater aides asked them to "write what he means, not what he says." Mr. Goldwater said he would have voted against himself in 1964 if he believed everything that had been written or said on radio and television about him.
In May 1963, he caused an international uproar when he suggested on an ABC-TV "Issues and Answers" program that "defoliation of the forests by low-yield atomic weapons could well be done" to expose the supply routes for the flow of arms from North Vietnam to the Viet Cong guerrillas in South Vietnam.
Mr. Goldwater and his supporters argued strenuously that the senator had never suggested that atomic weapons actually be used, but the remark only provided fuel for his critics who contended the next year that electing Mr. Goldwater president could only increase the likelihood of a nuclear disaster.
In the Republican primaries, it was New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller who stumped the country raising questions about what he called Mr. Goldwater's "extremism." Pennsylvania Gov. William W. Scranton, at the Republican National Convention in San Francisco, told Mr. Goldwater in a letter that "you have too often casually prescribed nuclear war as a solution to a troubled world."
President Lyndon B. Johnson, who defeated Mr. Goldwater in 1964, assailed him in a similar vein. Bill Moyers, director of Johnson's efforts to attack Mr. Goldwater's position through television advertising, approved two controversial TV spots aimed at linking a Goldwater victory with nuclear war.
One showed a little girl in a field, counting as she plucked the petals from a daisy. As she counted, a male voice, deep and ominous, counted backward from 10, getting progressively louder. The male voice reached zero as the girl reached 10, and the scene was rent by a nuclear explosion. As a mushroom cloud rose, a tape of Johnson's voice said: "These are the stakes, to make a world in which all of God's children can live or go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die."
The other television spot was of a girl licking an ice cream cone while a woman's voice talked off-screen about how radioactive fallout from atomic bombs exploding in the air made children die. There was a treaty prohibiting testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, the voice said, but a man who wants to be president of the United States voted against it.
"His name is Barry Goldwater," the voice said against a crescendo of Geiger counter clicks, "so if he is elected they might start testing all over again." Then there came a male announcer's tag line: "Vote for President Johnson on November 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay home."
Only the first of the two spots was used on commercial television during the campaign, and it was broadcast only once. Political tacticians decided not to use the second one at all.
In his personal and political memoirs, "With No Apologies," published in 1979, Mr. Goldwater observed that his run for the presidency in 1964 "was like trying to stand up in a hammock." He said he knew that his chances of winning were slim and contended that his fellow Republicans cost him any chance he might have had during the battle for the Republican nomination.
"By the time the convention opened, I had been branded as a fascist, a racist, a trigger-happy warmonger, a nuclear madman and the candidate who couldn't win," Mr. Goldwater recalled.
That convention, at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, was long remembered for the spectacle of Goldwater partisans drowning out Rockefeller with a chorus of boos and hoots when he addressed the delegates from the platform. It was also remembered for Mr. Goldwater's own acceptance speech, in which he declared that "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice and . . . moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."
Mr. Goldwater would later explain that the phrase was borrowed from the Roman statesman Cicero, who used it in one of his orations against his archenemy, the patrician Cataline. But like his comment on defoliation in Vietnam, it caused an immediate uproar, and Mr. Goldwater had to explain himself.
In a letter to Richard Nixon, who asked Mr. Goldwater for a clarification, he said that what he meant was that "wholehearted devotion to liberty is unassailable and that halfhearted devotion to justice is indefensible."
From Store to Senate
Barry Morris Goldwater was born in Phoenix on New Year's Day, 1909, three years before Arizona was admitted to the Union. He was the eldest son of Baron and Josephine Williams Goldwater, and the grandson of "Big Mike" Goldwasser, a Jewish immigrant from an area of Poland that was then ruled by the Russian czars. Although Jewish on his father's side, Mr. Goldwater was raised in the Episcopalian tradition of his mother.
"Big Mike" Goldwasser left Poland at the age of 14 and went first to London, then to California and, in 1859, to Arizona where with his brother, Joe, operated a trading and mercantile operation in Prescott. In 1896, Baron Goldwater -- the surname had long since been Anglicized -- opened a branch of the family business, M. Goldwater & Sons, in Phoenix. The Goldwater stores would remain in family hands until 1962, when they were sold to Associated Dry Goods Corp. of New York for $2.2 million in Associated Dry Goods stock. Associated Dry Goods also assumed nearly $2 million in debt on the Goldwater stores' books.
Growing up in Phoenix, the future senator was popular with his schoolmates but an indifferent student; after a disastrous freshman year in high school, his parents sent him to Staunton Military Academy in Virginia. There, Mr. Goldwater thrived on the rigorous discipline and military atmosphere, and he graduated at the top of his class. He returned to Arizona and enrolled as a freshman at the University of Arizona in the fall of 1928. His father died the next spring, and Mr. Goldwater left college to work in the family store.
Associates said he was a natural merchandiser with a gift for recognizing the sales potential of an offbeat item. Early in his career, he purchased a design for "antsy pantsy" men's shorts with red ants crawling all over the white cloth, and the item proved to be a tremendous success. By age 27, he was general manager of the Phoenix store. He initiated a five-day workweek for his employees and improved fringe benefits.
In 1930, Mr. Goldwater decided he would learn to fly, and he began rising before dawn to be at the Phoenix airstrip by daybreak, when air conditions in Arizona were best for neophyte pilots. Flying would become a major part of his adult life, and he would become a major general in the Air Force Reserve while serving in the Senate. "Perhaps it is the splendid isolation of being alone in the air which fascinates me," he said in his memoirs, "or it might be the perspective which comes from looking down on every part of the world."
During World War II, Mr. Goldwater tried but was unable to get a combat flying assignment. He did get an assignment to the Ferry Command, a newly formed unit made up mostly of overage pilots who delivered aircraft and supplies to war zones all over the world, and he spent most of the war flying between the United States and India, via the Azores and North Africa or South America, Nigeria and Central Africa.
Back in Arizona after the war, Mr. Goldwater soon found he was no longer interested in running a department store, and he became involved in a municipal reform movement in Phoenix. In 1949, others in the movement prevailed upon him to run for the Phoenix City Council. "Don't cuss me too much. It ain't for life, and it may be fun," Mr. Goldwater told his brother, Bob, in explaining his decision to run for public office.
He had no plans at the time, he insisted, of making politics a career, but he found that he liked campaigning. Two years later, distressed at what he considered the "no win" policy that the United States was pursuing in the Korean War, he began to think about running for the Senate.
Although Arizona had always been overwhelmingly Democratic, Howard Pyle, a radio commentator with a large following in Phoenix, had been elected governor as a Republican in 1950, and Mr. Goldwater had helped in the campaign. In 1952, he decided to challenge Democrat Ernest W. McFarland, a proven Arizona vote-getter and the majority leader of the Senate. Mr. Goldwater admitted his candidacy was a long shot, but with some aggressive campaigning and the help of Eisenhower's popularity in the presidential election that year, he won by 7,000 votes.
Once in the Senate, Mr. Goldwater argued strenuously in favor of cutting back the power and spending of the federal government. He was against any kind of accommodation with the communist world and against what he perceived to be an increasing concentration of power in organized labor. He denounced foreign aid, high taxes, unbalanced budgets and anything else he thought threatened individuals or free enterprise. "I found myself becoming a political fulcrum of the vast and growing tide of American disenchantment with the public policies of liberalism," he said in 1970.
He was reelected to the Senate handily in 1958, and by then was much in demand as a speaker at Republican gatherings across the nation. With the help of aides, he wrote a book, "Conscience of a Conservative," which drew heavily on his earlier speeches. It was intended, Mr. Goldwater said, "to awaken the American people to a realization of how far we had moved from the old constitutional concepts toward the new welfare state." The book sold 3.5 million copies.
Delegates to the 1960 Republican National Convention gave him 10 votes on the first ballot, but Mr. Goldwater asked that they be withdrawn in favor of Nixon. The conservatives, he said, had "made a splendid showing" and soon would be able to "take this party back."
As chairman of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee in 1960, Mr. Goldwater visited almost every state and appeared at dozens of party conventions and smaller gatherings. That experience more than anything else, he recalled later, put him in contact with grass-roots Republicans and "made me the Republican nominee in 1964."
More than two years before the 1964 election, Goldwater committees were being formed. Mr. Goldwater was enthusiastic about the prospects of running against President John F. Kennedy, whom he liked personally but disagreed with politically.
After Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, Mr. Goldwater seriously considered withdrawing his candidacy. He said a major reason for his decision to go ahead with the campaign was his desire to keep control of the party out of the hands of Eastern liberals.
His record in the party presidential primaries was mediocre. He lost in New Hampshire to Henry Cabot Lodge, then U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, who won as a write-in candidate, and he lost in Oregon to Rockefeller. He won disappointingly narrow victories in Illinois, Indiana and Nebraska. But he upset Rockefeller, who had been the favorite, in California, and the New York governor dropped out of the race.
A Stop-Goldwater movement, with Pennsylvania's Scranton as its candidate, was launched only weeks before the Republican convention, but it fizzled. Mr. Goldwater won the nomination on the first ballot in San Francisco, with 883 delegates to Scranton's 214. Mr. Goldwater proclaimed his candidacy as "a choice, not an echo."
Solid in his support of Mr. Goldwater was Ronald Reagan, who was known then as a movie actor with minimal political experience and less exposure. Reagan was co-chairman of California Republicans for Goldwater in 1964, and it was in that capacity that he delivered a televised speech on behalf of the Arizona senator's candidacy. The speech turned out to be a political barn-burner that news reports said drew more contributions than any speech in political history. It convinced many wealthy conservatives that they had a grade A political prospect in Reagan, helping to launch him on a career that would lead to the California governor's mansion in 1967 and to the White House in 1981.
As a presidential candidate, Mr. Goldwater attacked what he described as a "corrupt, power-mad administration which has failed to provide moral leadership or control crime and disorder." He called Lyndon Johnson "the phoniest individual that ever came around."
Johnson, in turn, called Mr. Goldwater "a raving, ranting demagogue . . . who wants to tear down society," and he made effective use of the charges already made against Mr. Goldwater by his opponents for the Republican nomination.
Having criticized Johnson harshly in 1960 for running simultaneously for vice president and the Senate from Texas, Mr. Goldwater did not seek reelection to the Senate in 1964. He held no political office for four years, a period he recalled as "four of the most satisfying years I have had as an adult."
The course of the war in Vietnam served to make some of Mr. Goldwater's positions appear less radical than they initially had seemed. As he had been during the Korean War, Mr. Goldwater was bitterly critical of what he considered to be a "no win" policy in Vietnam, and he was an early advocate of bombing Hanoi and laying mines in the harbor at Haiphong, positions that were called outrageous at the time. Before the war ended, both actions were taken by U.S. forces.
Especially during his final term in the Senate, Mr. Goldwater's health began to deteriorate, and he no longer projected the robust image of his earlier years. He underwent surgery on his knees and hips and, in 1982, a triple coronary bypass operation. For long periods he was confined to a wheelchair.
But his tongue was as sharp as ever. In 1980, after The Washington Post and the New York Times published stories about secret U.S. arms shipments to anti-communist rebels in Afghanistan, he urged that journalists who publish sensitive national security information be tried for treason.
Mr. Goldwater declined to run for a sixth term in the Senate in 1986, and he retired from politics as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee. "If I had a chance to do it again, I'd do it again," he said at the time.
More than anyone else, he was responsible for the unanimous Senate passage of the Defense Department Reorganization Act of 1986, the last major achievement of his political career. That measure, approved over the objections of the military establishment, streamlined command channels at the Pentagon. It was "the only goddamn thing I've done in the Senate that's worth a damn," Mr. Goldwater said.
Living in Arizona after retiring from the Senate, he continued to speak out on public issues and to preach his own brand of conservatism.
"A lot of so-called conservatives today don't know what the word means," he told the Los Angeles Times in a 1994 interview. "They think I've turned liberal because I believe a woman has a right to an abortion. That's a decision that's up to the pregnant woman, not up to the pope or some do-gooders or the religious right. It's not a conservative issue at all."
During the 1990s, Mr. Goldwater spoke out in favor of allowing gays to serve in the military, and he worked in Phoenix to end job discrimination against gays. In 1994, he became honorary chairman of a drive to pass a federal law preventing job discrimination against gays.
"The big thing is to make this country, along with every other country in the world with a few exceptions, quit discriminating against people just because they're gay," he said. "You don't have to agree with it, but they have a constitutional right to be gay. And that's what brings me into it."
In 1934, Mr. Goldwater married the former Margaret Johnson of Muncie, Ind. She died in 1985. Their four children are Michael, Joanne, Peggy and Barry Jr., who became a Republican member of the House of Representatives from California and later an investment counselor.
In 1992, he married Susan Schaffer Wechsler, a health care executive, who also survives.
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