Thursday, August 16, 2007

Mr. Conservative

Tonight I attended the Goldwater Institute's screening of the HBO documentary "Mr. Conservative," a biography of Barry Goldwater produced by his granddaughter, CC Goldwater, who was in attendance along with Barry Goldwater Jr. The audience was a mix of people who still call themselves conservative, libertarians, and even a few liberals. (Gary Peter Klahr sat directly behind me, and his question in the Q&A session was what Goldwater would have thought of the Bush administration's power grab and war in Iraq. Barry Goldwater Jr.'s answer was that his father disliked foreign entanglements and supported the Constitution.)

The film features footage and photographs taken by Barry Goldwater himself--the film notes that he always had a camera in his hand, and at least three books of his photographs have been published. He was born in Arizona prior to its statehood, to a Jewish father and an Episcopalian mother--which led to one quip from Goldwater reported by Robert MacNeil in the movie: "He would say things like, 'I went to a golf club where they wouldn't let Jews play, and I said, "I'm only half Jewish. Can I play nine holes?'"

The movie features interviews with people ranging from George Will, Barry Goldwater, Jr., and Sandra Day O'Connor to Ben Bradlee, Sally Quinn, Al Franken, Julian Bond, and Hillary Clinton. Also featured is the exceedingly evil Jack Valenti.

The film covers Goldwater's life in Arizona, including his mother teaching him to shoot guns, his coming home from the University of Arizona to run the family store in Phoenix so his smarter older brother could stay at Stanford, his love of ham radio and flying airplanes (he would hear on the radio of medical emergencies among the Hopi Indians and personally deliver medicine from Phoenix--and this during his political career). He was a very early runner of the Colorado River (in 1940 using wooden dories--when fewer than 100 people had run the river; Goldwater was #73). He ran the river with camera equipment, making a film which he traveled about Arizona to show, which made him well-known before running for office. He won his first election to the Phoenix City Council, and went straight from the City Council to the U.S. Senate.

In his later life, he was outspoken in his support for a woman's right to abortion, for gays to serve in the military, and for the religious right to stop pushing their religious views into politics. The film reveals that he supported his daughter obtaining an abortion before Roe v. Wade, and that he has a gay grandson. Several of the more liberal interviewees say that they thought Goldwater became liberal later in life (and some in the audience seemed to have a similar view), but Goldwater himself is shown making a statement that preempts this claim, back in 1963--that he is a conservative, but that at some time in the future people will call his views liberal.

He was a supporter of individual liberty who wanted the government's role in private life minimized across the board, on both economic and social issues--it wasn't he who changed, but the political environment that changed.

I recommend the movie--it is well done, it fairly points out his foibles and flaws as well as his strengths. It is sad that there are virtually no politicians today who are as forthright, honest, and outspoken about their views--who are as genuine as he was. We need more people in the public sphere who speak out with integrity and honesty, rather than with dissembling and spin.

UPDATE (August 17, 2007): I glossed over Goldwater's negatives in my last paragraph, but the film doesn't. It reports on how he lost the 1964 election in the biggest landslide in history, and why--including his opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (though he supported the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960, supported the Arizona NAACP, and helped desegregate the Arizona National Guard), his remarks about the use of atomic weapons for defoliation in Vietnam, and his remark about sawing off the eastern seaboard of the U.S. and letting it float away. LBJ's political ad graphically depicting the latter remark and his famous "Daisy" mushroom cloud ad are shown in the film. Goldwater's reaction to the latter is reported as saying that if he thought that accurately depicted what he would do, "I wouldn't vote for me either."

A few other points of interest in the film: Goldwater was a friend of John F. Kennedy, and they were looking forward to running against each other in the 1964 election, flying from city to city on the same plane together to campaign against each other face to face. That would have been an interesting match up. (I should note that my opinion of JFK is not as positive as the general public's view, after having read how he made use of the CIA. He was one of the worst abusers of the CIA for interventions in attempt to overthrow the governments of other countries who ever sat in the White House.)

Barry Goldwater Jr. was a long-time friend of Nixon White House counsel John Dean, and Dean consulted with Goldwater Sr. before testifying in front of the Senate about Watergate. Goldwater told him to go ahead and nail Nixon, because Nixon was a liar.

During Watergate, Goldwater, whose wife had decided to remain in Arizona, spent much of his time in D.C. at the home of Lt. Gen. William W. Quinn and his wife Bette. The Quinn's daughter Sally was a journalist engaged to Ben Bradlee, publisher of the Washington Post. Bradlee reports that Goldwater told him that he thought Nixon was going to resign, but not to publish a story about it because if he did, Nixon was so stubborn that he'd then refuse to do it.

The Wikipedia page on Goldwater is quite comprehensive.

UPDATE (August 18, 2007): Apparently the golf story is apocryphal. The discussion page on Goldwater's Wikipedia entry says "In his autobiography, 'Goldwater,' BG attributes this joke to his brother Bob, speaking about HIS brother Barry at 'a golf pro tournament near Los Angeles.' B. Goldwater adds, 'The story got a big laugh, but the incident never occurred.'"

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