The man liberals grew to love

June 01, 2008|By Theo Lippman Jr. | Theo Lippman Jr.,[SPECIAL TO THE SUN]

PURE GOLDWATER

By John Dean and Barry M. Goldwater Jr.

FLYING HIGH

Remembering Barry Goldwater

By William F. Buckley Jr.

Basic Books / 208 pages / $25.95

John McCain, who was elected to the Senate seat Barry Goldwater retired from in 1987, describes himself as "a Goldwater Republican." I believe he meant to reassure right-wingers, who are suspicious of his philosophy.

But the big news about Goldwater is that "Mr. Conservative," the man who famously said when nominated for the presidency in 1964, "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!" is now beloved by moderates and even liberals.

Last fall the breadth of his following was made obvious when Princeton University Press republished The Conscience of a Conservative, the 1960 book that made him famous. It has an admiring foreword by the conservative columnist George F. Will and an admiring afterword by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Now two new books explore the Goldwater legacy. Flying High is a highly enjoyable read by a conservative wordsmith, the late William Buckley. It focuses on Goldwater's role in the 1950s and 1960s in taking over the moderate Republican Party of Wendell Willkie, Thomas E. Dewey, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Nelson A. Rockefeller.

It is as much a book about Buckley and his cadre of young conservatives who were making an effort to create the right wing's own version of Camelot as it is a book about Goldwater's rise to his brief leadership of his party. His career in the 1970s and 1980s is hardly mentioned.

For that there is Pure Goldwater, edited by Barry Goldwater Jr., a former congressman from California, and John W. Dean III, the White House counsel who testified against Richard M. Nixon in the Watergate hearings.

They selected the senator's words, often explaining the times and context. There are also entries in a journal that he began in the 1930s, "recollections," letters, interviews, statements on the Senate floor, speeches, newspaper pieces, testimony in his libel suit against a magazine after the 1964 election.

Goldwater's own words are readable, agree with him or not. Here is an April 6, 1960, example:

"The overwhelming majority of the columnists favor a liberal Republican candidate [for president] over a conservative one. In fact they seem to be keenly anticipating the day when there will be no conservatives and are doing their evil best to hasten that situation. I offer as witness to these efforts men like Joe Alsop, Walter Lippmann, Roscoe Drummond, the nefarious liar Drew Pearson, Marquis Childs, flitting Doris Fleeson, and others who have spent their formative years of journalism under the influence of the socialist New and Fair Deals."

Sort of Menckenesque, don't you think?

Other entries are thoughtful, informed, even scholarly. Barry Goldwater's appeal to others than hard-line conservatives probably began in the summer of 1974. He and a very few other congressional leaders went to the White House, where Goldwater told President Nixon that he would be removed from office by the Senate if he insisted on an impeachment trial. Two days later, Nixon quit.

As a senator, Goldwater was not in the great category. His one real legislative achievement in his 30 years as a senator was his leadership in 1986, when Congress enacted a reorganization of the Defense Department that has been called the most important piece of military-related legislation since 1947, when the department was created.

Later Goldwater supported a woman's right to an abortion, under certain conditions, and later rejected a constitutional amendment overturning Roe v. Wade. Also, to the left's delight, he opposed those who would deny homosexuals the right to join the military. Typical of his straight talk, he phrased it this way: "You don't need to be `straight' to fight and die for your country; you just need to shoot straight."

Such stands and language won him new fans. Post-Senate Goldwater Sr. criticized Ronald Reagan for the sale of weapons to Iran. He endorsed Democrats in races against Republicans. He gave a sizable campaign contribution to at least one liberal Democrat running for re-election. He criticized Republicans in Congress for impeaching Bill Clinton.

In 1996 he said that he and presidential nominee Bob Dole were "the new liberals of the Republican Party." When Senator Goldwater decided to retire in 1986, he lavishly endorsed Rep. John McCain to follow him in the Senate. According to Goldwater Jr. and John Dean, "The two men had an excellent relationship [until] McCain became embroiled in the Keating Five scandal." Then Goldwater's feelings toward him became "chilly" when he seemed to be using a "salute to Barry Goldwater" as a fundraiser for his own use.

This year, Barry Goldwater Jr. endorsed Rep. Ron Paul in the Republican presidential primaries.

Theo Lippman Jr. is a retired Sun editorial writer and author of biographies of Spiro Agnew and other politicians.

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