This book constitutes Barry Goldwater’s farewell to public life. Rambling and at times superficial, it is no literary masterpiece. Nor does it provide much in the way of raw material for historians or political scientists. The book does, however, bear Goldwater’s unique stamp. In it, he reveals his strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, insights and oversights. He also successfully conveys his concerns and hopes for America’s future.
Goldwater opens the book in a curious manner, launching into a chapter-long sermon in which he chastises Congress, media moguls, and the United States Department of Education, to name only a few of his targets. This critique of current institutions and policies is both mercurial and familiar enough so that it does little else than remind readers (as if they needed reminding) that the author has a reputation for shooting from the hip. His personality thus established, Goldwater returns to his Arizona roots in the second chapter, proceeding more or less chronologically from that point to discuss his youth, experience in the military during World War II, and entry into politics in 1949. He then moves to his early years as a senator in Washington, D.C., the presidential race of 1964, the war in Vietnam, Watergate, the state of the American intelligence establishment, and the effort, during his last term in the Senate, to bring about reorganization of U.S. Armed Forces. He closes with a homage to his wife, to whose memory the book is dedicated, and adds some choice comments about the future of the nation, conservatism, and the Republican Party (in descending order of importance).
“Big Mike” Goldwater (originally Goldwasser), Barry’s grandfather, was the first member of the family to set foot in Arizona. This took place in 1860. A Jewish political dissident, Big Mike had emigrated from his native Poland (then under the control of Russia) and arrived in San Francisco in 1852. Joined later by one of his brothers, he ultimately settled in Arizona, establishing a successful retail business. The book’s account of this transition from the shtetl of Eastern Europe to respectability in the frontier West is spotty, particularly regarding the family’s conversion from Judaism to Episcopalianism, certainly an enabling factor in Goldwater’s political career. What does come through, however, is a definite frontier mentality, which, along with an interest in the retail business, Goldwater inherited from his ancestors.
Goldwater’s political views were also influenced by his mother, Josephine (or as her family called her, “Mun”), an energetic and extraordinarily patriotic woman. According to Goldwater, it was from his mother that he learned his conservative principles, including a healthy disdain for Frank D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Goldwater also remembers his mother as loving but a strict disciplinarian when he overstepped his bounds. Nevertheless, he was not always a model youngster, and ultimately got into enough trouble so that he was sent off to military school by his father, Baron (or Barry). There he learned his lifelong love of things military, with much of the credit going to Sandy Patch, one of his instructors. With the help of his military school education, Goldwater came of age in one piece (although football injuries would limit both his military career and his mobility in later years) and without getting into serious trouble. His college career was cut short when his father died in 1929. Goldwater took over the family business and guided it successfully through the Great Depression, claiming to have done so without laying off a single employee.
Aside from tending the family business, Goldwater pursued several hobbies, the most avid of which was flying. An officer in the Army Reserve, Goldwater probably would have become an army pilot if his eyesight had been up to standard. Indeed, his preference for a military career over one in politics is made clear several times in the book. (The manpower shortage which developed during World War II did give Goldwater a chance to serve as a pilot, mostly as an instructor.) In 1934, Goldwater was married. He and his wife, Peggy, were to enjoy fifty-one years together before her death in 1985.
After the war, Goldwater moved back to Arizona, working in his family’s store and starting up Arizona’s Air National Guard. At the urging of friends and in the footsteps of his revered Uncle Morris (who, ironically, had founded the Democratic Party in Arizona), Goldwater entered politics in 1949 as a reform candidate for the Phoenix City Council. Quickly establishing his credentials as a legislator as well as his flair for plain speaking, Goldwater ran successfully for the United States Senate in 1952. Once again, he had entered the fray reluctantly, at the urging, this time, of fellow Republicans looking to resurrect their party’s strength in the wake of the Democratic New Deal coalition which had come to power in 1932.
Washington, D.C., was a brand new world for Goldwater. It never replaced his deep attachment to Arizona, which remained his home, but it did become his life. When Goldwater arrived in Washington, McCarthyism and other forms of Redbaiting were still fashionable. It would not be so for long. Within the first two years of Goldwater’s term, Senator Joe McCarthy, head Communist-hunter, had fallen into disgrace. He would later be censured by...
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