Study Guide

Barry Goldwater in 1964 RNC Presidential Nomination Acceptance Speech

By Barry Goldwater

Barry Goldwater

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, a baby boy was born to a shopkeeper and his rosy-cheeked wife. He was a mischievous and curious child, and when his parents sent him away to military boarding school after he almost flunked out of high school, they probably had no idea the boy they were disciplining would grow up to be one of the most influential political figures in the United States—and a presidential nominee.

That baby boy was Barry Morris Goldwater, and that faraway land was the great state of Arizona.

This is his story.

Growing Up in the Wild, Wild West

The Arizona Territory officially became the 48th U.S. state in 1912, when Barry Goldwater was just three years old.

Think about that for a second. When this presidential hopeful was born, his home state wasn't even a state yet.

Barry was born to Baron and JoJo Goldwater. Baron had an eye for the finer things; he took his dad's general store and turned it into a chain of upscale clothing and furniture stores. 

Those Goldwater's department stores were eventually bought out by Robinsons-May, which was eventually bought out by Macy's, but that didn't happen until Barry was all grown up.

Fun fact: One of the more popular items the store sold were "antsy pantsy," white shorts covered in printed red ants. We're serious.

JoJo, Barry's mom, was a nurse and a Nebraska native who'd moved to Arizona to soak up the health benefits of its hot, dry climate. JoJo was Episcopalian and raised little Barry as such, though he gave a shout-out to his Jewish ancestry (his father was Jewish) many times throughout his career. (His nomination as the Republican presidential candidate made Jewish writer Harry Golden comment that "I always knew that the first Jewish president would be an Episcopalian" (source).

JoJo was an avid camper, a crack shot with a shotgun, kicked butt at poker, and had a penchant for whiskey, neat—a pioneer woman and a force to be reckoned with. Barry got to reckon with that force when his poopy grades and busy social life put him in danger of failing out of Phoenix Union High School. Despite his protests, JoJo and Baron banded together and sent him off to military school in Virginia.

He loved it.

And turns out, he thrived in the military-style structure. So much, in fact, that he was offered a place at West Point. But he turned that offer down after his dad got sick. He moved back home and enrolled at the University of Arizona in Tucson, only to drop out one year later when his dad passed away and he had to take over the family business.

Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be… Politicians?

Barry still believed, decades later, that he would've made a better career military guy than a career politician. And it's not like he went out looking to hold office; it's more like holding office went out looking for him.

In the 1940s, the population of Phoenix and its surrounding cities and towns doubled and then some. As with any place that experiences huge population growth in a short time, there were big changes happening, and Barry did his best to help shape what Arizona was becoming. He organized the Arizona Air National Guard (and insisted it be an integrated force), was a member of the Colorado River Commission (that's where Phoenix gets its water), and he was heavily involved in a get-out-the-vote drive concerning mandatory union membership (he was against it, though he was generally a fan of unions as long as they didn't go looking for political power).

With all this community involvement, it's probably not too surprising that his buddies, especially his BFF Harry Rozenzweig, talked him into running for Phoenix City Council in 1949.

Coincidentally, or maybe not so coincidentally, this was also the year that Barry was named Phoenix's very first "Man of the Year."

After sitting on the City Council for a few, Barry was again talked into running for office, this time for the United States Senate. His campaign platform: a balanced budget, greater individual freedom, a stronger military, stronger opposition to communism, and more power for local governments instead of the federal government.

As we can see, his platform in 1952 was remarkably similar to his presidential campaign platform in 1964.

But in 1952, instead of losing in a landslide, he won in a landslide. And he kept on winning, every time he ran for reelection. Apparently his positions had a lot more appeal inside the Grand Canyon State than they did outside of it; he didn't retire from the U.S. Senate until 35 years later.

In 1960, in The Conscience of a Conservative (ghostwritten by L. Brent Bozell, Jr.), Goldwater laid out, for a popular audience, his cherished conservative principles of limited government, strong defense, and private enterprise. Goldwater wanted to show how conservative theories could be translated into practical ways of addressing the country's problems.

It turned out to be one of those transformational books in American political history that influenced conservative thinking up through the present day. The book eventually sold almost 4 million copies and established Goldwater as the rock star of the conservative movement in America, a natural choice to run for president on the Republican ticket. Everyone thought that—except for Barry Morris Goldwater.

The Reluctant Candidate

Just like running for City Council and for the Senate, Barry was talked into running for President of the United States.

In fact, he was pretty much forced into it.

No, seriously. There was a committee created specifically to draft Goldwater as the GOP's presidential nominee. It was called—wait for it—the Draft Goldwater Committee. Creative, we know.

Where many presidential candidates tend to talk the party line during the primary season and then shift to the center once they're nominated so they can get votes from the other side, Goldwater didn't do that. He stayed true to his own beliefs, his own convictions, his own platform, radical as it might have seemed at the time. And he kept his outspoken, impulsive, take-no-prisoners style of politicking.

His supporters loved it. His non-supporters couldn't believe it. As one reporter who was covering the 1964 RNC Convention said: "My God, he's going to run as Barry Goldwater!"

Barry Goldwater, of course, being the guy President Eisenhower once told, "Barry, you speak too quick and too loud." Goldwater had to admit Ike was right. "There are words of mine floating around in the air that I would like to reach up and eat," he told a reporter (source).

Anyway, we know now what Barry knew then: he wasn't going to win that election. After his campaign bombed, he went home to Arizona, took a little time off, then got back into the Senate in 1969, where he stayed until retiring in 1987.

During that long career, he stayed true to the conservative principles he outlined in The Conscience of a Conservative. He opposed the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education) decision that made desegregation the federal law of the land, even though he himself was anti-segregation. He voted against farm subsidies, federal aid to education, and foreign aid, and a slew of social welfare programs. He thought Social Security should be voluntary. He thought the feds should just get completely out of whatever domestic programs it gave money to.

In 1954, he was one of only 22 senators to oppose censuring the loathed Commie-hunter and demagogue Sen. Joseph McCarthy. In Goldwater's opinion, no degree of anti-communist enthusiasm was too extreme. He'd called Harry Truman the "architect of socialism." And never one to mince words, Goldwater once called the president of the United Auto Workers a "more dangerous menace than the Sputnik or anything Soviet Russia might do to America" (source).

You can't accuse the guy of being inconsistent.

But even after he'd left D.C., Barry wasn't done making heads shake just yet.

The Right-Wing Retiree

In an interview in 1986, shortly before he left the U.S. Senate for good, Barry said: "I don't think I've had the great influence that is attributed to me. I was just fortunate in coming about when the country was beginning to leave liberalism and look towards conservatism."

His supporters and followers would probs say otherwise.

Because even after retiring, the Senator continued to make headlines.

In a move that surprised everyone except his fellow conservative libertarians, Barry took up a new cause in the 1990s: gay rights. He stood firm against discrimination in the military. ''You don't need to be 'straight' to fight and die for your country,'' he wrote in in a letter to The Washington Post. ''You just need to shoot straight'' (source). He even lobbied for local and federal legislation designed to stop discriminatory employment practices against gays.

For the Senator, it was kind of a no-brainer; he thought all citizens, regardless of sexual orientation, had constitutional rights that ought to be protected. This fell right in line with the philosophy he'd been preaching for decades: individual freedom is the most important consideration. He didn't really get why some people thought he'd turned his back on conservatism; this was conservatism. Some of his former supporters thought he'd lost his marbles (source).

Those same folks also raised an eyebrow when Barry G accused the Radical Right—unaffectionately known to some as the Moral Majority—of nearly ruining the Republican Party. He referred to them as "a bunch of kooks" who had stepped far, far away from the principles of the Constitution, specifically the wall of separation between church and state. He didn't like them pushing a religious agenda in order to legislate personal behavior.

To be fair, he'd been preaching on that subject for a long time. A speech he gave to the Senate in 1981 says a lot of the same stuff:

And I'm frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in 'A,' 'B,' 'C,' and 'D.' Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me?

Goldwater thought the religious right was spending too much time on social issues like abortion, pornography, sexual orientation, prayer in schools, etc., and this distracted from the more pressing issues of the time: national security and the economy.

But back to the 1990s.

Barry came out in support of medical marijuana, abortion rights, local environmental conservation measures, —all positions that caused some to wonder if he'd gone over to the liberal dark side.

But in reality, the Senator's guiding ideology never wavered: minimize government, maximize individual freedom. Whether we read a book from 1960, a speech from 1980, or an article from the 1990s, that never changed.

One thing is for sure: From his early days as a city councilman until he left public life after a stroke in 1996, Barry Goldwater could accurately be called one thing and one thing only. He was Barry Goldwater.

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