Senator's Legacy Shifts With Times

Posted on May 26, 2003 | Type: In the News
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'Goldwater' label moves from right as GOP changes

In 1964, Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater delivered the words that simultaneously defined a conservative political force and doomed his presidential campaign:

"Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."

The statement caused some fellow Republicans to label Goldwater a conservative radical on the outer fringes of the party of Lincoln.

Following the landmark speech in San Francisco accepting the GOP presidential nomination that contained his most famous quote, Goldwater lost in a landslide to Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson at the dawn of the Great Society era of social liberalism.

Now, as Thursday's five-year anniversary of Goldwater's death approaches, his straightforward political philosophy has taken on a more mainstream aura in the current era of conservatism in Arizona and the nation, Republican and Democratic observers say.

Goldwater, who lived in Paradise Valley during the last years of his life, was a staunch supporter of personal freedom, individual initiative, a free-market economy and a strong national defense.

"In a sense, he has become so unique, people use the term a 'Goldwater conservative,' said Darcy Olsen, president and CEO of the Goldwater Institute, a Phoenix-based think tank.

"You actually hear people use that term because it has a different meaning than just saying, 'I am a Republican,' because when you say, 'I am a Republican,' people assume that you're involved in the Moral Majority," she said.

"It's its own brand. It's very libertarian, very Founding Fathers, very traditional American principles, really," she said.

Goldwater's political beliefs stemmed from his upbringing as a member of one of Arizona's pioneering families. He was born in 1909 in Phoenix, then a dusty little town in the Arizona Territory.

Goldwater was a rough-around-the-edges Westerner in cowboy boots who brought a new, unsettling mind-set to the U.S. Senate after his election in 1952.

He openly opposed many of the Democrat-inspired entitlement programs of the John F. Kennedy and Johnson eras.

By 1974, fellow Republican lawmakers entrusted him enough to ask him to tell President Richard Nixon he needed to resign to avoid being impeached.

By 1981, he openly opposed what had become the ultraconservative fringe of his own party. After Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell said 'good Christians' should be worried about Supreme Court nominee Sandra Day O'Connor of Arizona, Goldwater told reporters, "Every good Christian ought to kick Falwell right in the ass."

Herbert Roskind, a Scottsdale Democrat Party precinct committeeman who is sponsoring a speaking engagement by liberal Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., in his home next month, said the Republican Party has moved past Goldwater.

"He would be considered probably as a moderate Democrat," Roskind said.

Goldwater's take on personal freedom included respect and equal rights for American Indians and other minorities. All of that appears to be standard-issue Democratic policy in 2003, Roskind said. Further, Goldwater, an avid outdoorsman and photographer, was a strong advocate of land and water conservation, another initiative Democrats now claim as their own. Yet Goldwater was widely recognized for setting the Republican Party on a new conservative path during his years in office, said Republican Sen. John McCain, who won Goldwater's seat when he retired in 1986.

"Ronald Reagan, many times, said he would never have been president of the United States if it hadn't have been for Barry Goldwater. So he certainly took the party out of the hands of the Eastern establishment and moved it west," McCain said.

However, Goldwater later went to some extent to distance himself from the far right wing of his own party, McCain said.

"Barry Goldwater, in his later years, disliked the religious right, because he felt they were intolerant, because Barry was not only conservative, but he was also to a degree libertarian," McCain said.

Placing Goldwater at any point in the political spectrum is more difficult today, partly because the overall political landscape has shifted, political observers say.

Reagan moved the Republican Party to the right in the 1980s, and Bill Clinton moved the Democratic Party to the right in the 1990s, Olsen of the Goldwater Institute said.

Goldwater, with his trademark thick black-framed glasses and wavy white hair, continued to influence national politics even after he left office. He had earned the privilege to speak his mind candidly, and he used it-perhaps more often than fellow Republicans would have liked.

McCain recalled a speaking engagement by then-Vice President Dan Quayle at the Arizona Biltmore Resort Hotel in Phoenix during the 1992 Bush-Quayle campaign.

"We were having a press conference touting the re-election of President Bush. Barry stood up and said, 'By the way, Dan, tell George to start talking about the issues.' Silence descended upon the room. And guess what the news story was that evening and the next day," McCain said.

Barry Goldwater Jr., who represented California in Congress from 1969 to 1983, said politics overall drifted toward his father's conservative views, and in many ways became more conservative than the so-called Goldwater standard. As a result, his father's philosophy no longer would be considered on the outer edges of the Republican Party.

"When you start throwing in the religious right, you get a little bit of a different taste. They have an agenda that is primarily religion-based, and they are very vocal," he said.

"That's all it is-it's a group of people who have a point of view that's basically conservative with a twist to it, a little bit of religion thrown in? But the fundamentals of the philosophy that govern still go back to the tenets of Goldwater," said Barry Goldwater Jr., now a Phoenix political consultant.

As both parties adopted more conservative leanings over the years, the remaining differences in political philosophy became more pronounced and divisive, the younger Goldwater said.

"I served 14 years in the House of Representatives, and it was a friendly place. You could beat each other up on the floor and then go out and have a drink. Today you feel the tension, the anger, the hostility," he said.

Many of the people influential in the Arizona Republican Party are now farther to the right than the elder Goldwater ever was, said former Rep. John Rhodes, R-Ariz., whose political career paralleled Goldwater's.

"In many ways they have outdistanced him as far as the 'let me alone' philosophy is concerned," he said.

Asked if two of those influential leaders include former Republican congressman and gubernatorial candidate Matt Salmon and possible future gubernatorial candidate and current Rep. J.D. Hayworth, Rhodes responded, "Well, you're putting names on them, I'm not, but I'm not saying, 'No,' either."

No matter where the whole of political thought wanders during the next five or 40 years, Goldwater's brand of conservative politics will remain based in the ideals of the Old West, Rhodes said.

Individualism. Self-reliance. States' rights. Free markets.

"His philosophy is still well-known and well-respected, but not necessarily followed," Rhodes said.

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