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Who is Barry Goldwater?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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Barry Morris Goldwater was born in Maricopa County, Phoenix, Arizona on 1 January 1909. He was an Arizona senator for five terms as well as a Republican presidential candidate, though he lost the presidential election to Democrat Lyndon Johnson in 1964. However, many political pundits saw Goldwater as a winner in the sense of his power within the Republican party and the influence of his conservative vision in the South. He was also credited for helping Ronald Reagan become president in 1981.

Goldwater graduated in 1928 from Virginia's Stauton Military Academy. He had a military career and was a pilot in World War II. He loved flying and continued to fly as a hobby even when he was well past the age of eighty. He began his career in politics in 1949 by founding the Phoenix City Council with the goal of eliminating the spread of gambling and prostitution.

Often referred to as one of the most original American politicians, Goldwater was consistently outspoken and direct in his views. He more than once candidly voiced that he hated both Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. Unlike many other politicians, he did not concern himself with adjusting his speech to look good in the polls. He was also often described as charming and agreeable, however, though unpredictable, to even his strongest opponents when he wanted to be.

Especially in his later years, he was pro-homosexual rights and pro-abortion rights which many took to be paradoxical since he was known as "the father of conservatism." But Goldwater insisted that imposing will that took away the freedom and rights of others had nothing to do with conservatism. He took issue with the Christian right for the same reason. He made his points clear in his 1994 essay published in the Washington Post. He stated that religion has no place in politics and that church and state should be separate.

Goldwater did once support prayer in schools, but later stated that the actions of the religious right made him change his mind. He pointed out that TV preachers were collecting millions of dollars in the name of God and that long standing violence over religion such as the war in Northern Ireland should make it clear that religion is devastating when mixed with politics. He never wavered in his negative view of communism and often said it would be dangerous for America to lean anywhere near the left. He died at age 89 on 29 May 1998.

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Discussion Comments

By FernValley — On Dec 06, 2011

@watson42- I agree. I want more leaders to seem like real people...and this is not something I think one side of the aisle does any more than the other, really. I think politics in general is too much about appearances now and not much else.

By watson42 — On Dec 05, 2011

I always thought of Barry Goldwater as really right-wing, in terms of "Goldwater conservatism" and all of that. It's cool to think that he did have some more liberal views as well. I think so many politicians these days are not very layered.

By Izzy78 — On Dec 05, 2011

@jmc88 - That is a hilarious and fantastic story and it is fun to think that two legends at what they do were neighbors and shared lively times together.

It does not at all surprise me that Goldwater had grown tired of politics. He was a very polarizing figure back when he was at the zenith of the political game and this could have worn him down quite a bit.

I am a historian and I see Goldwater as a figure who gets blamed a lot for the problems that occur in politics nowadays, such as the divide between the parties, but I feel that the Republican Party has derived far away from the politics of Goldwater and what he tried to establish.

I feel like if there were politicians in the Republican Party like Goldwater today there may not be such a divide between the Democratic and Republican Parties. Men like him are needed in Washington in these trying times.

By jmc88 — On Dec 04, 2011

My Great Uncle used to be neighbors with Barry Goldwater with Larry King living on the other side of the property. Before he passed on he shared with me some favorable stories about both Barry Goldwater and Larry King.

My great uncle once made Goldwater a top of the line coffee table and charged him a modest price. He told me that Barry Goldwater was a very nice man, who had grown tired of politics at that time and was just looking to finish out his days, in peace, away from all the hustle and bussel which is political life.

He also shared a story in which he, Goldwater, and Larry King were having the fence posts in their property replaced and while talking together they say a worker jump in the back of a truck, only to see a rattlesnake, then immediately jump out and get caught on a garden hose. In trying to get loose and get away from the snake he ended up wrapping himself in the hose worse and eventually ran out of the truck wrapped in a garden hose. He told me both Goldwater and King were laughing so hard with King saying it was the funniest thing he had ever seen.

By LisaLou — On Dec 04, 2011

I have read one of Barry Goldwater's books, an autobiography titled 'With No Apologies'.

This was a very interesting read as it gave me some interesting insight into who this man was.

I have always found that reading a biography or autobiography of someone helps me get a better understanding of what is behind some of the decisions they make.

Whether you agreed or disagreed for what he stood for, it is hard to argue the fact that he felt very strongly and passionately about his views.

By John57 — On Dec 03, 2011

I am too young to remember when Goldwater ran against Johnson in 1964. I do remember when he helped Ronald Reagan get elected though.

As I look back on that, it really doesn't seem like a whole lot has changed in politics since then.

It seems like those who are familiar with Goldwater either have very positive or negative things to say - not much riding on the fence there.

Whether you agree with him or not, or even liked him or not, he seems to be a fairly common face of many politicians we have today.

By whiteplane — On Dec 03, 2011

While I have a lot of respect for Barry Goldwater the man I have little to no respect for his politics, especially the modern form his ideas have evolved into. The last 40 years of American politics have been essentially conservative, and I think that this has really led to a lot of problems.

By backdraft — On Dec 02, 2011

My dad volunteered on the Goldwater campaign way back in the day and he still identifies himself as a Goldwater Republican. This is actually a source of a lot of frustration for him because he believes that the contemporary form of the party has deviated from the principles that Goldwater tired to establish.

By robbie21 — On Dec 02, 2011

@dfoster 85 - Yep, that ad was from this campaign. It showed a little girl picking daisies and counting them (badly, 'cause she was quite little). When she got to "nine," the screen flashed to a missile countdown and then a mushroom cloud. You can probably find it on YouTube if you'd like to see the ad for yourself.

The Johnson campaign put on the ad against Goldwater in 1964 to suggest that Goldwater would lead the country into nuclear war. Evidently, Goldwater had raised the possibility of using nukes in Vietnam.

The Johnson campaign only ran the ad once, but of course news stations showed it and it really got around. You can look at it as a kind of ancestor of Hillary Clinton's "three a.m." ad and others of that ilk--the "scary" ads.

By dfoster85 — On Dec 02, 2011

Hearing about him being more moderate socially makes sense of some things I've heard about his supporters. For instance, 1964 was the year Strom Thurmond became a Republican. (If you recall, before that he was a "Dixiecrat" - in 1948 he challenged Harry Truman for the Democratic nomination because Thurmond opposed civil rights, as did many in the South.) He supported the Goldwater campaign.

And, if you can believe it, Hillary Clinton was a Goldwater Republican in high school!

I feel like I've heard something about the infamous "daisy" ad being part of the 1964 campaign, but I can't remember which side put it on or exactly what the context was. Someone help me out?

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