Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The Goldwater myth

Was Barry Goldwater a conservative? Was he a different kind of conservative than Reagan, or Bush? Was he always a libertarian on social issues, or only in his old age? Andrew Busch has the answers. And those liberals who liked the old Goldwater, but not the one that ran for president, will not be happy with Andy’s answer.

Discussions - 8 Comments

A great article that addresses a problem in the conservative movement today. By no means is Busch’s answer perfect, and George Will seems to ring truer on the issue.

Goldwater viewed big government as the enemy of liberty and proposed real budget cuts--something Reagan and Bush never have. He understood that cutting taxes, while good, is only great when the government cuts spending. Reagan’s spending increase "cut" when he limited yearly increases in government was a poor excuse for Goldwater, and Bush...well he spends the money even faster.

Morally Goldwater was conservative, but even before his later years the issues of the "religious right" did not interest him. Busch’s observation that they were not hot button issues at the time is a good explanation for that, and paints Goldwater as a moralist that Christians would like. Still saying His campaign ran several television spots on this theme, which he called simply the "moral issue." In one commercial an announcer shouts, "Graft! Swindle! Juvenile delinquency! Crime! Riots!" presents very different moral and government issues than the current moral policies of President Bush.

Are there books/speeches actually written by Goldwater? The Conscience of a Conservative is great but Barry didn’t write it, and some argue that he never reviewed it seriously. Often he seems like a man whose political career and public statements were very handled by writers/influences not always true to his interests. What sources should serve as the ultimate window to Goldwater’s soul?

An excellent article. A must-read for everyone seriously interested in the true history of conservatism, not the canned liberal catechism.

In response to Clint: The question of Goldwater’s exact views is secondary to the question of what animated his historic campaign. After all, it was that campaign, those who nominated him, and those brought into the conservative movement by the campaign, that ended up making a historic difference -- more than Barry himself.

Busch makes an excellent case that moral issues, as they were understood at the time, animated the campaign to a significant extent. Had abortion been a national issue in 1964, it is hard for me to believe that it would not have agitated a great many of the Goldwaterites.

In 1968 Goldwater said this to Karl Hess, one of his chief speechwriters (and later one of the founders of the Libertarian Party):

"When the histories are written, I’ll bet that the Old Right and the New Left are put down as having a lot in common and that the people in the middle will be the enemy."

Here’s another gem--in 1968 Goldwater told students at the University of Arizona that he had "much in common with the anarchist wing of SDS."

Andrew Busch writes: “Goldwater’s move away from social conservatism came only in the twilight of his Senate career--and more starkly after he had left the Senate in 1987.”

But Goldwater deviated grossly long before then. His 1970 book, Conscience of a Majority, includes a remarkable environmentalist chapter called “Saving the Earth” including a long criticism of the problem he identified as “overpopulation.” Citing “Malthusian theory,” Goldwater claimed that mankind is in danger of extinction. In chilling language he wrote: “Will man, in the interest of the future of his own kind, surrender his right to unrestricted parenthood?” adding that government can help lead the way toward population control.

These 35-year old views of Goldwater’s are anathema to social conservatives. One could not imagine Ronald Reagan saying that. In fact nothing written by Al Gore in his 1993 environmentalist tract, Earth In the Balance, dared attack the traditional family so openly and radically as Goldwater was doing by 1970.

That doesn’t seem to be an attack on the "traditional family" so much as a call for restricted fertility. Nothing new about that inside of marriage, so I don’t see the threat.

Besides, had he lived long enough to see the population bust I’m sure he would have changed his tune. And it’s important to realize that many conservatives have had strong opinions about industrialism and ecology (e.g., Tolkein).

Dain: He wrote about surrendering a "right," not just choosing to restrict your fertility...and he added immediately that govt. should do what it can to advance the surrendering of this "right."

I don’t know how you can be so sure that he would have changed since then. The evidence of the pop. "bust" existed well before he died.

HOwever, I am sure that his 1970 position on population constrol could not be espoused by any social conservative.

Well, if that is right then he was pulling one of his famous Goldwaterisms...shooting from the hip. His mouth often got him into trouble. I sincerely doubt he would ever have forced people via government coercion to stop having kids...I just don’t think it was in his character.

But, you are right in the sense that such loose talk poses uncomfortable questions about his beliefs...it’s one of the reasons he wasn’t more influential in the conservative movement (although he was very influential).

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