According to Robert Alan Goldberg, Barry Goldwater’s resilient popularity is the result of his blunt, no-nonsense style, his citizen-politician image, and his advocacy of conservatism and anti-Sovietism. Goldberg believes that there is a more complicated man beneath the popular image. Yet the contradictions he finds are often merely refutations of his liberal preconceptions rather than examples of Goldwater’s inconsistency. Goldberg’s liberalism and his position as an unauthorized biographer should serve as a caveat to readers. In choosing to point out Goldwater’s liberal shortcomings, he fails to define a good conservative. To his credit, however, this biographer can refrain from applying his liberal measuring stick and is thus usually able to analyze his subject’s philosophical and political thinking fairly.
Goldwater’s inspiration and reputation spring from his association with the western United States—the frontier. His grandfather, Michel Goldwasser, a Jewish tailor from Poland, founded a store in Prescott, Arizona, in 1876, and became a family legend who inspired Barry’s ideal of individual freedom and hard work. His father, Baron, successfully managed a branch of the family store in Phoenix. His mother was Josephine Williams. Religious in her patriotism, she taught her children respect for their flag and country and a sense of community responsibility, teachings that Goldwater followed for his entire life.
Born on New Year’s Day in 1909, Barry did not do particularly well in school and eventually entered the family business. The Goldwaters enjoyed a prominent position in the community. Goldberg, suggesting that this privileged background blinded Gold- water to the suffering of the less fortunate, particularly minorities, presents the picture of a young playboy, blithely unaware of social discrimination. He points out that friend Harry Rosenzweig was not allowed to join Barry’s fraternity because of restrictions against Jews, the implication being that Goldwater abandoned his friends in his quest for acceptance. Yet Goldberg gives insufficient weight to several examples of Goldwater’s personal integrity on racial issues: his threat to blackball all nominees to his country club if Rosenzweig were not admitted, his decision to employ black workers in his Phoenix store, his policy of desegregating the Arizona Air National Guard, his membership in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), his private contributions to the Urban League, and his well-publicized financial support of a lawsuit challenging the segregated Phoenix schools. Such actions are minimized by Goldberg, who measures achievement by the degree to which his subject resembles a liberal activist.
Goldwater’s response to discrimination directed at himself was also, in Goldberg’s estimation, inadequate. When he was made the butt of some anti-Semitic remarks at Staunton Military Academy, he did not make a formal public protest or feel himself a victim: “Barry’s confrontation with prejudice did not sensitize him or bring insight or spur action. Throughout his life he would accommodate the bigotry of others while personally distancing himself from it.” Goldberg’s conclusion, deriving as it does from the racial hypersensitivity of post-1960’s liberal thought, does little justice to Goldwater. That Goldwater did not exploit personal victimization or adopt the pretense of a heightened sensitivity to victimization as a means to advance his career is one of the more refreshing aspects of his life’s story.
What emerges from the early part of the biography is the portrait of a fine man who was flawed because he was not a liberal. Fortunately, the reader is treated to Gold-water’s words, a better measure of his principles than the biographer’s interpretations: “I am unalterably opposed to . . . discrimination, but I know that [the federal] government can provide no lasting solution. No law can make one person like another if he doesn’t want to. . . . The ultimate solution lies in the hearts of men.” As Goldwater remarked on another occasion, “Our aim, as I understand it, is neither to establish a segregated society nor to establish an integrated society as such. It is to preserve freedom.” In a time when statistical disparities are used as justification for institutionalizing preferential racial treatment in universities, government, and Fortune 500 companies, these positions seem most sensible. Yet this biography shows little appreciation of their integrity and wisdom.
Goldberg shows his subject rooting himself in his community and region. Barry Goldwater found employment in the family business, eventually working his way through all the departments of the store. In 1934, he married Peggy Johnson, the daughter of a wealthy industrialist, and they eventually had four children. He became active in organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, Masons, Shriners, and Elks. A film he made of a boat trip down the Colorado River developed his reputation as an outdoorsman and rugged individualist who exemplified his native West.
Goldberg demonstrates how the Great Depression and World War II developed in Goldwater the consciousness of a conservative politician. Defiantly he befriended Herbert Hoover and voted for him when the rest of the country supported Franklin D. Roosevelt. He opposed relief programs because they fostered dependency, he expressed outrage at the government’s privileging of labor unions, and he objected generally to federal intrusion into community and individual life. As he wrote later, “I think the foundations of my political philosophy were rooted in my resentment against the New Deal.”
World War II...
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