BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

An amazing look at an icon ...

This has been sitting in my “to be read” piles for a few years … I picked it up at the Dollar Store down in the Back of the Yards neighborhood when I was working with “the worm guys” … which was a strange place to find a book on Barry Goldwater. That's the old stomping grounds of the nefarious Saul Alinsky (philosophical godfather to both the execrable current POTUS, and the equally vile Democratic presidential candidate), but maybe the hard-left skew of the area is the reason this was still sitting on the shelf for a misplaced Libertarian to find it..

This might have sat around longer, waiting for me to randomly develop a hankering for some “political history”, if not for my recent read of Wayne Allyn Root's The Conscience of a Libertarian, which was primarily inspired by Goldwater's The Conscience of a Conservative (which Root claims to carry with him everywhere) … and my curiosity was piqued enough to delve into Pure Goldwater.

I'm am very glad I decided to finally get around to reading this, as it is a fascinating book. It is put together by Goldwater's son, Barry Jr., and John Dean (yes, Nixon's White House lawyer), who have been friends since their early teens – both, obviously, having close connections to the subject of the book. However, this is not written by them, but assembled from the vast stores of archival material held by the Goldwater family and the Arizona Historical Foundation. There is so much material because Goldwater was a dedicated recorder of his activities, both carrying around a portable typewriter and camera (he was an award-winning photographer), and later making taped notes for others to type up. In the Preface the “authors” write:
In fact, this is a book by Senator Goldwater about himself, although he did not write it for publication. Throughout his adult life he paused from time to time – albeit on an irregular basis, yet with sufficient frequency to create a meaningful collection – to gather and share his thoughts and put them down in written form.
The current book is nearly 400 pages, and they note that it was seriously trimmed down to reach that length, as the amount of available material is quite voluminous (not even counting official government/legal transcripts – some of which are excerpted here), and they eventually had to bring in outside editorial help to tighten things up and bring down the page count.

The primary source material for Pure Goldwater is the journals that he intended as a record of his life to provide to his children … so this is quite personal (and occasionally somewhat pedagogical in a “Dad says” mode), and, by extension, revealing of the man far beyond what an intentional autobiography would provide. In fact, the authors point out that there were several significant items in there that they had never known, including that Nixon had at one point promised Goldwater the ambassadorship to Mexico (which they say he would have loved), and that Ford had asked him to be his Vice President … which, if it was news to his family, it's probably the first time this info has gotten out to the public.

Again, this is collected of various materials in various forms, and from various dates … and while Goldwater had put down a number of “recollections”, much of what is in the earlier parts are pieces he composed some 50 years after the fact, so they are, understandably, not as immediate as his later journals. One amazing item (which is where the book starts) is a letter he wrote to Thomas Edison when he was 14 years old, letting the famous inventor know that he was operating a radio station and was very interested in electricity – this having surfaced in Rutgers' Edison archives in 1989, and sent to the Senator. One of the first recollections here was of how early his interest in flight appeared … he pegs it to 1917 (he would have been 8) … and he got his pilot's license in his late teens (and flew for the military – eventually reaching the rank of Major General – as well as personally for decades, with many of the notes here recorded while in flight).

Goldwater's family owned a mid-size department store in Phoenix, AZ, and when his father died at the end of his freshman year at University of Arizona, he opted to join the family business rather than continuing with college. Instead of being a “silver spoon” kid coming in to run the show, he wanted to learn the business: “I started literally at the bottom in the piece goods section … after that I worked in every department in the store except for corsets and shoes … I gradually worked my way up until I was merchandise manager of ladies ready-to-wear ...”. He helped the business navigate the depression (“the business didn't make any money but it didn't lose any either” and they “were able to maintain our employees and our salary scale”), and he was elected as president of the board in 1937, running the company until he left for military service in 1941.

As a Libertarian (a movement strongly influenced by Goldwater, although he was a life-long Republican), I was amazed at how much what he wrote fifty (or more) years ago could just as easily be put out there today as criticisms of the government. In a 1937 piece directed at FDR he says “Instead of the businessman having confidence in you today, he distrusts you and fears your every utterance.”, and “Are you going further into the morass that you have led us into or are you going to go back to the good old American way of doing things …? I would like to know because I like the old-fashioned way of being an American a lot better than the way we are headed for now.” – how 2016 of him!

Goldwater started out slowly in politics, getting involved in local Phoenix and Arizona politics as an outgrowth of his activities as a local business leader with the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce … eventually being elected to the Phoenix City Council, and becoming the campaign manager for a Republican candidate for Governor. Here's a bit from a speech he gave in that campaign:
Our founders pledged their lives, their fortunes but most important of all they pledged their sacred honor. Today, because of the almost total ignoring of those basic concepts, we find our nation treading on the threshold of socialism. Our government's being run by people who think one way and act another. Whose fault is this? It is yours and mine – the people of this state and nation. Plato once said, “The penalty that people pay for not being interested in politics is to be governed by people worse than themselves.” Now, hasn't that come true?
The briefest glance at D.C. would confirm that! He, obviously, did have an interest in politics, and mounted his first Senate campaign in 1952, creating quite a splash by defeating the sitting Senate Majority Leader. There are numerous pieces here that Goldwater wrote as he was acclimating to the way that things get done in Washington … the last bit of this particularly stood out:
While I am trying to learn to be patient, I find it exasperating. It is difficult to get used to the time that is wasted here, for it is a fact that much time is wasted. Nonetheless, this may be just fine. For I subscribe to what I heard someone say the other day: It isn't the laws that are passed here that help the country; it's the legislation that doesn't pass that really does the country more good.
This clear distrust of the ever-growing power of the government is also reflected here (my edits to focus on the main point):
I have learned some things in this year. I have learned that our fears in the West about people in this country wanting to circumvent the Constitution are certainly true. And I am just as fearful as I was a year ago when I was heading to Washington that this could and might happen to this country. People here don't recognize rights of the states. Rather they laugh at them. The concept of government here is one of federal domination. It's one of the federal operations doing everything. … Members of Congress … have lost sight of this basic fundamental concept of government that the power of the federal government stems from the states and the people, and not in the other direction.
And this was decades before a dictatorial madman decided that he could completely “circumvent the Constitution” by pen & phone fiat! Interestingly, in the (highly recommended) book referenced above, Mr. Root charts out a superb plan for re-organizing government – no doubt originating out of these sorts of concerns initially voiced by Goldwater.

Oddly, there is very little from Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign, as it appears that he had largely put aside his journal writing during that time. There is material here indicating that he and JFK were friendly (there's a pic of Kennedy included with a note he'd written on it encouraging Goldwater to follow his “talent” and become a pro photographer rather than a politician!), and they had discussed the upcoming campaign, even to the extent that “we talked about the possibility of staging an old-fashioned cross-country Lincoln-Douglas type debate on the issues of the day”. However following the assassination, Goldwater was certain that he didn't have a chance, with the Democrats using JFK's death to push through massive legislation that would have been hard to pass otherwise, and Johnson into the White House.

Another thing I found strange is that about 1/3rd of the book is looking at Richard Nixon. Sure, the Nixon years were those when Goldwater was strongest in the Senate, but it seemed “off tone” for the rest of the book (perhaps this is due to John Dean being as familiar with that administration as he is). I didn't flag a lot to bring up in here from that part of the book, but there is one bit that I hope is top-of-mind for the aforementioned Mr. Root in his current political ventures … this in a meeting with other Congressional leaders and Nixon, where each was able to raise key concerns:
I minced no words in saying the administration reminded me of when Eisenhower came into power and failed to remove some thirteen thousand Truman appointees, and went on to subject himself to eight years of abuse from people in government who actually hated the Republican Party and who would never follow the policies laid down by the leadership. I reminded the president that only a few weeks after his inauguration I had advised him that if he did not get control of his government by May he would never get it, and I said, frankly, Mr. President, you don't have control now and I don't see how you are going to get it unless something drastic is done.
Needless to say, the past 50 years have been a long ugly slide away from greatness in this country, and Goldwater saw this all too clearly. At several points here he is questioning remaining in the Senate because of how bad things were even then, and this is part of his thinking on that:
We are following the same paths that were followed by the ancient government of Rome and by the government of Austria when it brought on the depression of the late 1920s and 1930s. We are becoming a military power of second rate stature at a time when the world only understands strength and needs more of it, not less of it. … I am deeply concerned at this point in our history and my life, as to whether or not this country is going to remain a free Republic or whether we have gone so far down the road to socialism, particularly now that we have controls over the economy here in Washington, that we will find it impossible to return. No country in the history of the world has ever made an exploration into government control and then found it possible to completely extricate themselves from that situation. … It is a terrible time in our history, a very particular one, but not unusual in the sense that we might think no other country or people have ever faced it; in fact they all have. The sad and terrible thought is that none of them has had he guts to come back after facing the failure of the loss of freedom.
Oh, one thing to note on the Nixon material … I don't know if this has surfaced in other sources, but it appears that Nixon kept his VP, Spiro Agnew, totally “out of the loop” on nearly everything, to the extent that it became a recurring point of contention in Goldwater's journals. Another factor that I had not been aware of was how much a “player” General Al Haig had been in the Nixon White House – as Chief of Staff … as my view of him was almost exclusively from his tenure as Reagan's Secretary of State.

The last parts of Pure Goldwater look at his stands of a wide range of issues, many of which might surprise you (there's a lot of reasons he's an icon to Libertarians), plus a very detailed chronology of his life. By the time I was done with this, I felt I'd been able to follow a great man around and be privy to his thoughts over his whole life. Needless to say, this makes the book stand out as something special. It's not an outsider telling a life story, nor is it a “for publication” somewhat sanitized autobiography, but something else, with the protagonist telling his story, but in a manner intended for his kids, and not for the whole world.

It sadly appears that this is out-of-print, except for an e-book edition, even though it's a reasonably recent publication (2008). There are numerous copies in the new/used vendors channel, however, with “like new” copies offered for as little as a penny plus shipping … so it's available. Obviously, 400 pages of a politician's reminiscences isn't something that's “for everybody”, but if you're libertarian-inclined, or have an interest in politics in general, I urge you to pick up a copy, as it brings a near-mythic figure to life in a way that I certainly didn't expect when I got mine!

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Tags: book review
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