Skip to comments.Barry Goldwater: The Most Consequential Loser
Posted on 01/01/2006 9:16:21 PM PST by Fiji Hill
Lee Edwards, Ph.D.
Distinguished Fellow in Conservative Thought
The Heritage Foundation
Barry Goldwater was the most consequential loser in modern presidential politics. His conservative candidacy forty-one years ago has had a more enduring impact on our politics and our nation than the losing candidates usually mentioned in the history and political science texts--Theodore Roosevelt in 1912, Al Smith in 1928, George Wallace in 1968, George McGovern in 1972, and Ross Perot in 1988.
This judgment might be challenged by some, given that Goldwater received less than 39 percent of the popular vote and carried only six states totaling 52 electoral votes in his 1964 campaign for the presidency. Most political observers of the day agreed with James B. Reston of the New York Times that Goldwater "not only lost the presidential election ... but the conservative cause as well." A few demurred, including the political historian Theodore White, who wrote, "One cannot dismiss Goldwater as a man without meaning in American history. Again and again in American history it has happened that the losers of the presidency contributed almost as much to the permanent tone and dialogue of politics as did the winners." Even White could not foresee just how meaningful the Goldwater candidacy would be.
Because of Barry Goldwater, the Republican Party became the Conservative Party and then the majority party in America. Today, Republicans control the White House, the Congress, more than half of the governorships, and approximately half of the state legislators. As William A. Rusher recently wrote: "Today practically all Republican candidates proclaim their conservatism, and almost all conservative leaders vow their allegiance to the Republican Party. It has been a remarkably fruitful union.
The union was made possible by the impact of the Goldwater candidacy on the five essential elements of politics--money, organization, candidates, issues, and the media.
With his nationwide grassroots appeal, Goldwater enabled the GOP through direct mail and television to broaden its financial base by a factor of 30 to 1. In 1960 there were between 40,000 and 50,000 contributors to the Nixon campaign. In 1964, the number of individual contributors was estimated at nearly 700,000. Goldwater gave the Republican Party broad-based financial independence for the first time in its history.
Politics is people, and thousands of young conservatives entered and stayed in politics because of Barry Goldwater's run for the presidency. Today they sit in Congress, manage campaigns, conduct national polls, head think tanks, edit magazines, and host talk shows. The Democratic Party was always better at organizing than the Republican Party because it could call upon organized labor for its manpower. But in 1964, nearly 4 million people volunteered and worked in the Goldwater campaign--twice as many as worked for President Lyndon B. Johnson. In the June Republican primary in California, for example, an estimated 50,000 volunteers turned out for Goldwater, prompting Rockefeller's outmanned campaign manager to remark, "They kept coming at us like the Chinese Army."
Goldwater was the first ideological presidential candidate. Ideas mattered most to him--he would not pander to the people for their votes. He prepared the way for idea-driven candidates like Democrat George McGovern in 1972 and Republican Ronald Reagan in 1980. Indeed, without candidate Goldwater there would have been no President Reagan for it was Goldwater who gave Reagan the opportunity in the last week of the 1964 campaign to deliver his famous "A Time for Choosing" TV address. That address made Reagan a national political star overnight and led to his running for and being elected governor of California.
Goldwater's structured campaigning, limiting his appearances to two or three major speeches a day in places "where the votes are," was adopted by presidential winners Ronald Reagan and George Bush the elder. Goldwater, who came from a state with only five electoral votes, also set a precedent for outsider presidential candidates like McGovern, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
Goldwater insisted on addressing the issues that have dominated the national debate for the past four decades. They included Social Security, which Goldwater argued was actuarially unsound but could be strengthened by a voluntary option for younger people. Federal subsidies: they should be reduced and eliminated where possible. Privatization: Government-owned properties should be sold to the private sector, government services should be contracted out to private companies. Law and order: the rights of victims should take precedence over the rights of criminals. Morality in government: the president and all in public office should avoid scandal and not misuse their office for personal gain. The Constitution: the president should appoint to the federal bench and especially the Supreme Court jurists who will respect not rewrite the Constitution. Communism: why not victory?
With regard to the media, the success of the Democrats' attack ads--the Daisy, the Ice Cream and the Social Security TV spots--convinced future presidential aspirants that the most effective advertising was negative advertising. On the other hand, Goldwater's half-hour TV programs were copied three decades later by Ross Perot in his infomercials.
In the fall of 1994, a USA Today-CNN Gallup poll found that 64 percent of Americans agreed with the Republicans' Contract with America. The people wanted smaller government, lower taxes and spending, tougher anti-crime measures and less Washington meddling in their lives. Every one of these ideas was first proposed by Barry Goldwater in his 1964 campaign--he was simply thirty years too early.
Without AuH2O in '64, the Republican Party would have continued to be dominated by its Eastern liberal wing and to remain a regional minority party. There would have been no electoral breakthrough in the South, no development of a two-party system in the South, no emerging Republican majority.
Barry Goldwater was a prophet, an Old Testament Jeremiah, who sternly warned the people to repent of their wasteful ways or reap a whirlwind of debt and deficits. He was a pioneer who led the Republican Party out of the barren East and into a verdant South and West where milk and honey and victory awaited them. He was, in George Will's words, "a man who lost forty-four states but won the future."
He sparked the conservative revolution in America, but he was an unusual revolutionary--the grandson of a Jewish peddler, a college dropout, a master mechanic and ham radio operator, a gifted photographer, an intrepid pilot, a man who never smoked a cigarette or drank a cup of coffee but kept a bottle of Old Crow in the refrigerator of his Senate office for after-five sipping.
His 1964 candidacy for president marked the beginning of a tectonic shift in American politics--from East to West, from the cities to the suburbs, from big government to limited government, from containment to liberation, from liberal to conservative--that shapes the nation to this day.
Lee Edwards, Distinguished Fellow in Conservative Thought at The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org), is the author of many books, including the just-published To Preserve and Protect: The Life of Edwin Meese III. Remarks at "The Conservative Movement: Its Past, Present and Future"
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Lee Edwards wrote a biography of Ronald Reagan in 1967 as well as a more recent biography of Goldwater--and he's still going strong.
Well, I'd prefer that Barry Goldwater be still around to write Lee Edwards' biography.
I was told if I voted for Goldwater, that we would have riots in the streets and be in a long unwinnable war. I did, and darned if they weren't right.
I would go with Woodrow Wilson on that one, although Carter is certainly right near the top of that list.
"I was told if I voted for Goldwater, that we would have riots in the streets and be in a long unwinnable war. I did, and darned if they weren't right."
Thanks so much for this post--an excellent article. I will read this guy when I get a change.
You nailed it.
My knowledge of the Wilson presidency is nil. Could you state in a few words what he did.
>>...it was Goldwater who gave Reagan the opportunity in the last week of the 1964 campaign to deliver his famous "A Time for Choosing" TV address.<<
That speech literally raised the hairs on the back of my neck! I KNEW Reagan was headed for greatness! In fact, we taped that address on our old reel to reel recorder so we could play it for friends.
If you guys ever get a chance to hear that inspirational speech, you'll understand how far above the crowd that man truly was.
He convinced me that ideas are important and I became a Goldwater supporter as a teenager. Because of Goldwater, I eventually persuaded my democrat parents to change their registration. Because of Goldwater, California got Reagan and because of Goldwater, the Nation got Reagan.
I remember Reagan's speech in support of Goldwater. Brillant! And the media tried years later to label Reagan as a mental light-weight, just as they have attacked G.W. Bush!
And I remember the sad state of politics when Goldwater ran and who was in the Senate and House. I heard the pigs left because they could not stand the stench!
I was only 15, but "in my heart, I knew he was right."
I still have my AUH2O pin. Worked my heart out for him.
His ideas live on, but only as campaign promises and dreams of those that continually pull levers for Republicans.
Wilson is the godfather of international globalism and domestic socialism.
Indeed, the Senator was the political godfather to many of us.
My first vote for President. And still the best one I ever cast...
Barry Goldwater was also pro-choice.
That makes him an obvious CINO -- conservative in name only. </sarcasm>
I was one of those 50,000 volunteers. Those were indeed the glory years.
"Conscience of a Conservative" was one of the first political works I read, and, whether Barry wrote it or not, it made a deep impression on me. My first vote for Prez, sitting on a foot locker at Ft Hood, Texas.
My first vote as well. And in those days, we paid a poll tax to do so! Those were the good old days, eh?
I still maintain that we should reinstate that pesky old poll tax. Heck, raise the price on it too! Clear the wheat from the chaff.
Thanks for the summary. I do remember now reading about the League of Nations. I believe that was one of Wilson's projects after WWI. That would be in the late 1910s, just at the time classical laissez faire liberalism took a 180 degree turn and redefined itself in imitation of German, Bismarck socialism. I needed my memory joggled. Thanks.
...and so, you built America.
Thank you so much!
By golly there... That just about sums 'er up!!!
LOL, not sure about building America, but a bunch of us sure enjoyed seeing the birth of conservatism! Prior to Goldwater, the outlook was bleak.
A lot of un-toward things happened in America that year, but Barry wasn't one of 'em.
Oh! That was also the year of the devastating Earl Warren's SCOTUS decision that "Cows Don't Vote!" (One Man, One Vote) America society has been out of balance between Metro-Sexuals and Rural-Sexuals ever since!!!
Its pretty funny how now all the lefties who used to hate Goldwater pretend to like him for all the ways he was different from Reagan and Bush.
I was 6 years old during that election, I remember my dad took me to see him when he came to Seattle. My political was to smack the kid across the street who knocked down the Goldwater sign in our front yard. After my father passed away in 2004 I found his "Goldwater" tie clasp and his brother wore it during his funeral (I wore his Boeing 727 tie clasp).
God bless Mr. Goldwater and Mr Reagan.
Who knows for sure what they're going to do with the iran -contra situation?
I suspect this segment is where they take their potshots
Oh come on.
We all know Kerry is the man.
OMG! I cannot possibly thank you enough for that link.
BOOKMARKED - in spades!
Well, he was certainly no friend to religious/social conservatives.
Good morning, stripes1776. Happy new year to you and yours. Hope the following helps answer your question:
Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924), born in Virginia four years prior to the Civil War. Though his family had recently relocated from abolitionist Ohio, his father, a Presbyterian minister, was pro-slavery and a supporter of the Confederacy. Wilson was still a boy when the family moved to Augusta, Georgia, where he grew up amid the Civil War and Reconstruction.
As a young adult, Wilson moved north to attend Princeton, later rising to become that university's president. A Democrat, he was the governor of New Jersey at the time he was elected president in 1912.
Domestic: Wilson maneuvered through Congress three major pieces of legislation. The first was a lower tariff, the Underwood Act, which included the first graduated federal income tax. The passage of the Federal Reserve Act establishd the Federal Reserve system. In 1914 (as WWI began in Europe) Wilson's antitrust legislation established the Federal Trade Commission to prohibit unfair business practices. By virtue of this legislation and the slogan "he kept us out of war," Wilson narrowly won re-election.
In his 2nd term, the Spanish Flu pandemic, which killed more people than any other pandemic in human history, began in army camps in the midwest. Wilson did absolutely nothing to prevent its spread. In fact, he obstructed attempts to quarantine soldiers and continued to allow them to be moved from one camp to another, and then overseas to the battlefields of Europe. There is an excellent book, "The Great Influenza," by John Barry. Here is a brief excerpt from a review:
...begun when sick farm animals infected soldiers in Kansas, spreading and mutating into a lethal strain as troops carried it to Europe, it exploded across the world with unequaled ferocity and speed. It killed more people in 20 weeks than AIDS has killed in 20 years; it killed more people in a year than the plagues of the Middle Ages killed in a century. Victims bled from the ears and nose, turned blue from lack of oxygen, suffered aches that felt like bones being broken, and died. In the U.S., where bodies were stacked without coffins on trucks, nearly seven times as many people died of influenza as in the First World War.
In his zeal to get American troops to Europe to fight in a war he promised not to get us into, Wilson virtually nationalized the media and public relations. At his direction, public authorities were dishonest and deliberately minimized the damage and dangers to the public. Cities across the country were left to deal with the public health crises on their own as the federal government abdicated its responsibility.
President Bush read "The Great Influenza" early in 2005. I wish we could know what he thought of his predecessor's gross malfeasance as regards this pandemic.
Foreign Affairs: After promising for years to keep the U.S. out of WWI, and after even running on that promise, he broke it just as the war was winding down in Europe. On April 2,1917, he asked Congress for a declaration of war on Germany. Wilson went before Congress in January 1918, to enunciate American war aims--the Fourteen Points, the last of which would establish "A general association of nations...affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike." The League of Nations was Wilson's idea.
After the Germans signed the Armistice in November 1918, Wilson went to Paris to try to build an enduring peace. He later presented to the Senate the Versailles Treaty, containing the Covenant of the League of Nations, and asked, "Dare we reject it and break the heart of the world?" Although the Senate did not ratify the treaty, it was implemented in Europe. It's extremely harsh provisions choked Germany, led to out-of-control inflation in that country, toppled the government and led directly to the rise of Adolph Hitler. The Treaty of Versailles led to WWII, which Wilson's League of Nations utterly failed to prevent. The League was disbanded during WWII. Yet, despite its total failure, after the end of WWII, Wilson's League was resurected in the form of the United Nations.
As if all of the above were not enough damage for one president to inflict on his nation, Wilson returned from Versailles utterly exhausted. He suffered a serious stroke, but did not have the decency to resign from office. Instead, his wife and doctor hid his true condition from the government and the nation. His wife essentially acted as de facto president until her husband was well enough to resume at least a semblance of office.
In his day, Wilson was considered a conservative Democrat. We must understand that the terms conservative, liberal and progressive did not have the same meanings they do today, nearly 100 years later. Wilson was actually a forerunner of what became known as the Dixiecrats in the 1940's. Wilson was genuinely, deeply racist. He introduced Jim Crow practices to the federal government. From a 2003 article published in Reason: "Blacks all over the country complained angrily about the administration--Wilson had actually courted the black vote in the 1912 campaign, and they felt betrayed. The president was unmoved. 'If the colored people made a mistake in voting for me,' he told The New York Times in 1914, 'they ought to correct it.' "
Of course, after the JFK assassination the Democrats were bound to win in 1964. And the Republicans didn't have a unifying candidate. At first it looked like the race would be between Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller, the leading Republican proponent of big government. Other candidates like Margaret Chase Smith, Henry Cabot Lodge and William Scranton were also from the liberal wing of the party.
The Goldwater campaign worked out very well in the end for America and for the Republicans. Once the Democrats had made their mistakes and the Republicans had gotten their act together, a lot of Americans decided that we agreed with Barry after all. But it's understandable that many at the time saw it as a disaster. It would have been all to the good if Republicans had been able to get their act together earlier, but when one set of attitudes loses its grip and another begins to form it takes time to sort things out.
Thanks. I will put it on my list to read. And I really like your moniker.
Thanks for the summary. That gives me a good overview of things.
You're welcome. We have had a small number of genuinely great presidents and some very good ones. Most were mediocre, and a few were truly bad. I put Wilson at the top of my list of worst presidents ever despite the fact that liberal historians have tried to sell the notion that he was great because he created the League of Nations.