May 29, 1998
Barry Goldwater, former senator and Republican presidential nominee, died at his Arizona home. He was 89 years old. Following a a look at his life, Jim Lehrer is joined by syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot, and the NewsHour historians to discuss the life and legacy of Barry Goldwater.
JIM LEHRER: Mark Shields and Paul Gigot are still with us. Joining them now are three other NewsHour regulars: Presidential Historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and Michael Beschloss, and Journalist/Author Haynes Johnson. Michael, any question that Barry Goldwater leaves one huge political legacy?
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
A background report on Barry Goldwater.
Barry Goldwater's political legacy.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: No question. And, you know, the amazing thing, Jim, is that Barry Goldwater lived long enough to 1996 to hear a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, say in his State of the Union the era of big government is over. That's what Barry Goldwater lived his political career to hear from a Democrat. And during the years of liberalism, post-war liberalism from World II really into the 1970's, he was the dominant conservative leader, the leader of the opposition. He didn't try to say me too, the kind of things that the Democrats were saying. He basically held out a body of ideas that was the alternative. And he in 1964 -- when he ran -- was content to say I'm probably going to lose this election, but I'm not going to try to imitate Lyndon Johnson and the Democrats; I'm going to hold out a very different alternative, an alternative of limited government, of a much less aggressive federal government, and my time will come, the cycle will turn again, and when that happens, there will be a coherent body of ideas and also a huge army of leaders who will be ready to go into power. That happened during the Reagan administration of the 1980's.
JIM LEHRER: What would you add to that, Paul?
Mr. Gigot: "The most successful loser in American presidential history."
PAUL GIGOT: I think Barry Goldwater was the most successful loser in American presidential history. He won--in a way the votes in the 1964 election really weren't finally counted until the 1980 election. He won by capturing a party, by having a movement, a core of ideas, as Michael was talking about, capturing a party. And when you capture a party in American political -- in American politics, you can go places. And ultimately, that movement by taking the Republican Party and wresting power from what had been a kind of Eastern/North Eastern Republican Party that he called -- believed in what he called the Dime Store New Deal and taking it into a southern and western populist, small government, anti-Communist, nationalist, anti-Communist, not isolationist, as some earlier conservatives have been, like Robert Taft in the 50's, he made it into a movement that could come to power under Ronald Reagan.
JIM LEHRER: And, Haynes, the influence just in a political sense in bringing the South into the Republican Party, that has to be credited to Barry Goldwater.
HAYNES JOHNSON: Absolutely. And what Paul and Michael were just saying, I mean, this was a transforming thing. The Democratic Party's base was in the old Confederate South, solid democratically. With the age of Barry Goldwater, winning by losing, as you say, he transformed that, captured, made the South and the sunbelt, this sort of burgeoning place or population, conservatism, where he was from. He was, after all, a pioneer, a son of the West, born two years while Arizona was still a territory, wasn't even a state--very much a part of that part of the United States. And his imprint on the whole last 40 years is enormous. There are also paradoxes we'll get into about Barry Goldwater -- as a human being, wonderful figure.
JIM LEHRER: Well, and speaking of that, Doris, when he decided to run for president, his decision was to run against his friend, John F. Kennedy, and it turned out he ran against somebody he didn't like very much, and that was Lyndon Johnson, right?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: You know, I've been thinking all day about the connection between Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater, in part because I remember being at the ranch with Lyndon Johnson during his retirement, when he woke up one day really jealous of Goldwater, because he discovered that Goldwater had built a contraption where he had a button by his bed that he could press and the flag would go up outside and the Star Spangled Banner would sing, and Johnson wanted one. But, you know, in a more serious vein, in some ways, though, Lyndon Johnson won that election in '64, and, of course, became the president and issued a devastating defeat to Goldwater -- in some way life was kinder to Goldwater. For one thing, they were almost the same age, and Goldwater lived a quarter of a century longer, which meant that he lived to see the vindication of his ideas with Ronald Reagan. He lived to be able to change his ideas to meet the changing times, to come out for abortion, to come out for gay rights, so much so that some old conservatives wanted to take his name off streets in Arizona. And he lived with a whole set of hobbies, whereas, Lyndon Johnson had so much trouble having any other interest, besides politics, his retirement was really a sad time for him, whereas, Barry Goldwater had his photography, he was a pilot, he had his book collection, his art collection, lived in some ways a very full life. But the one thing Lyndon Johnson will always have going for him that Goldwater will not is that Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Act in 1964, and Johnson still has that legacy of civil rights that will stand the test of time.
JIM LEHRER: Now, Mark, you knew Barry Goldwater; you covered him.
MARK SHIELDS: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: Tell us about him from your perspective.
An American original.
MARK SHIELDS: Barry Goldwater was an American original. He was -- and Haynes covered him in the '64 campaign. He was straightforward. There was none of the -- you didn't have to parse after you left the office what he was talking about and say, jeez, was he talking subjunctive or past tense-as is so often the case in contemporary American politics, only -- and a man who wore his likes and his dislikes straight up front. He -- only two men he hated -- Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon-and he'd give you chapter and verse why and not hesitate and could be pretty persuasive. But as a national candidate, Barry Goldwater, in my judgment, was the antithesis of Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan was -- Barry Goldwater was five minutes to midnight, the clock. I mean, things were bad; we're going in for gloomy, doomy night, and things were going to get worse. Ronald Reagan was five minutes to sunrise -- just stick with me, ouchless, painless prosperity, cut your taxes by a third, it's going to be terrific. And that was the -- I mean, any candidate for president has to understand this is the most optimistic people on the face of the planet and you'd better not run contrary to American optimism. Bill Clinton understood that; Jack Kennedy understood it; and Ronald Reagan understood it very, very well. Barry Goldwater didn't understand that.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. Paul, what about young conservatives today, how do they see Barry Goldwater?
PAUL GIGOT: They probably don't remember very much about him. Goldwater was much more libertarian, I think, in his roots than a lot of the current Republican Party, social conservatives. He was once asked after he'd run years later, what his abortion position had been in 1964, and his answer was, "Well, I didn't have one. It wasn't an issue." And it goes to show you how much recently some of these hot button social issues have become issues. For Goldwater it was anti-Communism, and it was overweening, big government, and he stuck with that all his -- all of his life really. He was really completely consistent in it.
JIM LEHRER: Haynes, you mentioned the paradoxes of Barry Goldwater.
HAYNES JOHNSON: Well, we've talked about some of them here. I mean, the idea that Barry Goldwater came out for pro-choice so strongly, for gay and lesbian rights, and the difference between the social conservatives of today and the Goldwater conservatives of 1964 are just light years apart, and Goldwater emerges, it seems to me, watching those clips was fascinating -- what Mark said -- he looked forbidding and very grim, whereas, Reagan could say exactly the same things about paving the streets of Vietnam and he said it with a sunny demeanor and everything looked okay. That's okay, we want to pave the streets of Vietnam with bombs, but he could do it with this sort of ambiance. But Goldwater in person was an absolutely remarkably original person.
JIM LEHRER: Charming man.
HAYNES JOHNSON: Lovely guy. You loved to talk to him on the plane or afterwards with a drink and you never knew what he's going to say, but you knew it would be absolutely blunt and breathtaking often, and-
Senator Barry Goldwater
JIM LEHRER: MacNeil covered him in the '64 election for NBC News, and there was some real hair-raising experiences on these planes that Goldwater-
HAYNES JOHNSON: Yes. He was-
JIM LEHRER: --use to fly over to get a-get some good Mexican food and come back.
HAYNES JOHNSON: Yes. That was the way he was. Can I say one more thing?
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
HAYNES JOHNSON: About today. He and Jack Kennedy had made this pledge that when they were going to run against each other-and they thought they were running against each other-- they would debate all over the country, have these forums, and-but then-
JIM LEHRER: Go together.
HAYNES JOHNSON: Go together and then when it was over, they would get together with civility and respect and friendship because they liked each other; they respected each other.
JIM LEHRER: Think about that, Doris.
Barry Goldwater, the person.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: I think there's no question. My husband, Richard Goodwin, was a young aide for John Kennedy, and at one point Goldwater said that Goodwin and Schlesinger should be fired because they were so far left they were taking the country off a cliff, so Dick went to see Goldwater shortly after that. He said he couldn't have been more amiable; he showed him his hobbies, his photography collection, and he ended up liking the guy. But I think there was a civility and a camaraderie that he had that belied some of that fastest lip in the West, which is what he was called sometimes, because he spoke off the cuff a little bit too much.
JIM LEHRER: Michael.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: And one very big lesson. This was a leader, who said exactly what was on his mind, and he didn't do it with the benefit of polls and focus groups and electrodes attached to people's chests in New Jersey. And if it's any consolation to politicians who are thinking about this, he is going to be treated a lot better by history than a lot of politicians in the 90's who observe those things.
JIM LEHRER: And speaking of history, we are. Thank you all very much.