Goldwater, Barry M.

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(b. January 1, 1909; d. May 29, 1998) Senator and presidential candidate active in support of conservative Cold War policies.

Born in Arizona Territory into a family of Jewish immigrants to the West, Barry Goldwater was raised an Episcopalian and inherited the family department store chain in Phoenix. Goldwater served in the U.S. Senate for five complete terms, a career stretching from his first victory in 1952 to his retirement from the Senate in 1987. He was the Republican candidate for the presidency in 1964.

As the owner of a medium-sized business, Goldwater held conservative political views shaped in his opposition to New Deal programs and growing government bureaucracy. During World War II, Goldwater enlisted in the Army Air Force, flying dangerous resupply missions over the Himalaya Mountains from India to China. Goldwater remained in the Air Force Reserve after the war and entered politics, initially in the Phoenix City Council. Young, dynamic and a veteran, Goldwater was recruited to run against seemingly untouchable New Deal Democrat Ernest McFarland, whom he defeated for the Senate seat in 1952.

A Cold Warrior, he supported Joseph McCarthy and voted against his censure in 1955. He won reelection in 1958. Seeing him as a potential vice-presidential candidate for 1960, a group of conservatives led by Clarence Manion organized Goldwater's campaign speeches into a book, largely ghostwritten by L. Brent Bozell, an editor of the National Review. It was published in March 1960 as Conscience of a Conservative.

Conscience of a Conservative was a political bombshell. Goldwater's controversial anticommunist statements received criticism in the early 1960s when opponents tried to link him to the John Birch Society, and especially to the views of its founder, Robert Welch, who had once called President Dwight Eisenhower "a conscious agent of the communist conspiracy." Goldwater's public statements on winning the Cold War, risking nuclear war if necessary to do so, now were denounced as pronouncements of extremism.

1964 campaign

After Kennedy's assassination, Goldwater agreed to run for the Republican nomination, winning it with the support of grassroots conservatives (including John Birch Society members). At the 1964 GOP convention in San Francisco, Goldwater gave a fiery acceptance speech, defying his liberal critics in the party with the memorable phrase "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." Knowing he had no chance of defeating Lyndon Johnson, Goldwater campaigned ineptly, sticking to his conservative ideas and allowing the national press to misrepresent his views. No candidate in the post–World War II era drew such negative press coverage. Routinely, Goldwater was labeled a "madman," and a "far right extremist" who would drag the nation into war. Editorials compared Goldwater's views to Hitler's. With such intensely hostile coverage, it was little surprise that Lyndon Johnson won the election in a landslide.

Goldwater consistently supported Johnson's Vietnam policy during both the campaign (he voted for the Tonkin Gulf Resolution in August 1964) and the war, even though he wished Johnson would focus his strategy on trying to win the war. He was dismissive of the threat of Chinese intervention and even privately surmised that it might be useful to have the Chinese intervene; the military would have the opportunity to knock out China's nascent nuclear capability.

Returning to the Senate in 1968, he supported Nixon's Vietnam policies and consistently proved a loyal backer of the president in Congress. After the Watergate scandal, with Congress nearing a vote of impeachment, Goldwater led a delegation that emphasized to Nixon that he did not have the votes to prevail in Congress, thus forcing Nixon to resign.

Despite their shared conservative views, Goldwater had a poor relationship with Ronald Reagan, attributable,

perhaps, to growing recognition of Reagan's rising star in the conservative movement, as well as jealousy over Reagan's political success compared to Goldwater's failure in 1964. Goldwater was especially committed to Reagan's anticommunist efforts, embodied in support for covert activities against communist regimes. As chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence he supported the CIA and its activities in the 1980s.

Goldwater was an important figure in modern American politics. The first conservative candidate to draw national attention, his failure to win the 1964 election led not to the imminent demise of conservatism within the GOP, as many pundits suggested it would at the time, but rather to its reformulation and eventually, its political success. His consistent support for the containment of Soviet communism and for increased defense spending, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, gave Reagan and conservatives the ability to shape a strategy that would allow for victory over Soviet communism and the end of the Cold War. He remained outspoken in his retirement and died in 1998, after a long illness, in his beloved Arizona.


Edwards, Lee. Goldwater: The Man Who Made a Revolution. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 1995.

Goldberg, Robert Alan. Barry Goldwater. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995.

Goldwater, Barry M. Conscience of a Conservative. Shepherdsville, KY: Victory Publishing, 1960.

Goldwater, Barry M. With No Apologies: The Personal and Political Memoirs of United States Senator Barry M. Goldwater. New York: William Morrow, 1979.

Goldwater, Barry, with Casserly, Jack. Goldwater. New York: Doubleday, 1988.

Perlstein, Rick. Before the Storm: Barry M. Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus. New York: Hill & Wang, 2001.

Rusher, William A. The Rise of the Right. New York: William Morrow, 1984.

Gregory L. Schneider

See also:Communism and Anticommunism; Containment and Détente; John Birch Society; Johnson, Lyndon Baines; Politics and Elections; Preventive War .