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A Great American Next-Door Neighbor: Mr. Conservative, Goldwater on Goldwater (2006)

Posted by Charles Reece, January 16, 2008 02:57pm | Post a Comment
Now, I'm liberal, but to a degree
I want ev'rybody to be free
But if you think that I'll let Barry Goldwater
Move in next door and marry my daughter
You must think I'm crazy!
I wouldn't let him do it for all the farms in Cuba.
-- Bob Dylan, I Shall Be Free, No. 10
Back when I was living in Detroit, I had a philosopher friend who was as smart as they come, but as bugfuck crazy a right-winger as they come (well, the right-wing can get pretty goddamn insane, so maybe I exaggerate a bit for rhetorical effect, but he was a good deal nutty, regardless).  He was an atheist with a militant libertarian streak whose silver tongue could convince you of the rational basis for just about any right-wing position if you didn't have every 't' crossed and 'i' dotted in your own arguments.  Over drinks, we'd see who could one-up each other in our beliefs of how many freedoms a person should be permited.  I'll save our conclusions for the faint/pc of heart, but suffice it to say that his ideas for what should be socially permissible (at least, by law) might make the most ardent ACLU attorney blush.  On social issues, having his view in ascendancy in the political world would only make for what I would consider a much better society.  But, then again, he'd also proclaim his admiration for dipshits like Jesse Helms. 

To this day, I find it odd that such libertarians tend to side with right-wing extremists while holding civil views much more in line with my own.  I suppose it comes down to some radical belief in states' rights -- as if a state is any less bureaucratically unfair to its citizens than the federal government -- and seeing businesses as individuals possessing the same rights as, well, actual individuals.  That last belief tends to ignore the long history of businesses being prime real estate where those in power freely piss on the rights of those not in power.  The former tends to tie the more radicalized libertarians, at least, with certain egregious unreconstructed Southern apolegetics regarding the Civil War (as the recent brouhaha over Republican candidate, Ron Paul, demonstrates [1]).

My friend would always get a chuckle at my suggestion that I was, in fact, more libertarian than he, since I believe in using government for maximizing the freedom of individuals when the states or businesses don't see fit to grant individuals their inalienable rights.  Why, I wonder, isn't there a libertarian branch of the Democrats?  If libertarians can swallow all the anti-personal freedoms of the influential Christian Right in the Republican Party, why can't some swallow the anti-laissez faire tendencies of what is by now only a minority in the Democratic Party?  It's a telling sign of just what's ultimately the most important to the majority of socalled libertarians who, instead of "throwing their vote away" on the Libertarian candidates or having no such candidate to vote for, choose, like the rest of us, the lesser of two evils.  Only they tend to choose the more evil.  Unless, that is, we're talking about Barry "Mr. Conservative" Goldwater.

In her celebratory and loving, without being hagiographic, documentary of her grandpa, Barry, Julie Anderson provides multiple reasons why I wouldn't mind living next to the man or having him for a son-in-law:
  • If the Rockefeller-favoring press were expecting some mealy-mouthed acceptance speech from Goldwater at the '64 Republican convention, he didn't oblige.  Instead, he delivered his famous lines: "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.  Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!"  Granted, the devil is in the details, but them's words to live by, providing a worthy complement to Kris Kristofferson's "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."
  • In '86, Robert MacNeil went to interview the retiring Senator for one of those nostalgic puff pieces the media tend to do with politicians.  After concluding the interview and shutting down the camera, Goldwater asks MacNeil if he's going to ask him about the recent reports of the Reagan administration selling weapons to Iran.  MacNeil asks him what he has to say.  He replies, "it's the goddamnedest stupid foreign policy blunder this country has ever made."  With the camera turned back on, Goldwater is a bit more diplomatic, saying for the record, "it was a dreadful mistake; perhaps one of the major mistakes the United States has ever made in foreign policy."  This then turned into a question for a very surprised Reagan at a subsequent press conference by MacNeil's partner, Jim Lehrer, making him one of the first reporters to put the president on the spot for what turned out to be the Iran-Contra Affair.
  • With that thin tie, well-fitting dark suit and industrial iron jaw line underneath his slicked back hair and thick-framed glasses, Goldwater presented a visage which deserved to be on those beautiful Soviet propaganda posters.  Who wouldn't want to leave for work in an Oldsmobile with a face like Barry's watering his perfectly geometrical lawn and waving at you?  Just look at that dvd cover above; that's a suburb worth dying for, alright.


















  • Being deeply troubled by Watergate, legal counsel John Dean arranged a meeting with Goldwater over just what he should do in his testimony before the Senate, feeling some loyalty to President Nixon, while morally not wanting to lie for his boss.  Goldwater advised, "that SOB was always a liar, so go nail him."  The rest is history.
  • Although the supposedly Goldwater conservative, Ronald Reagan, was willing to applaud a theocrat like Rev. James Robison at a 1980 Evangelical conference as he went on about the perverts, liberals, leftists and communists "coming out of the closet" and how it's time for "God's people" to "come out the closet and change America," Goldwater himself wouldn't have any of it. He knew that it was nothing more than another attempt by some group using moralism as a facade for bureaucratic administration of our freedoms.  In reference to Jerry Falwell and his moral majority play for power, Goldwater said, "all good Christians should kick him in the ass."  With the examples of Ted Haggard and Cardinal Roger Mahony "coming out of the closet" by mixing religion with political power, any good Christian shouldn't have to look very far in his or her heart to know Barry was right.
  • After retiring from the Senate, Goldwater came to regret his past belief that homosexuals shouldn't be allowed in the military, realizing that such a position was a hypocritical contradiction of his conservative beliefs.  He wrote an op-ed piece entitled The Gay Ban: Just Plain Un-American, wherein he used quite familiar conservative rhetoric: "Government governs best when it governs least - and stays out of the impossible task of legislating morality. But legislating someone's version of morality is exactly what we do by perpetuating discrimination against gays."  Can you imagine our current Democratic frontrunners being that consistent in their philosophy, much less the Republicans?
  • Finally, he supported his daughter getting an abortion back in the 50s and continued supporting a woman's right to choose all the way up till his death.  This became most notable in his stalwart defense of Sandra Day O'Connor's nomination for the Supreme Court against all the conservative Christian backlash in the early 80s.  His view was that their horseshit should have no role in politics.
Besides his honesty, what's so admirable about him was the way he made a distinction between open ideological discourse and ideological politics.  He wanted to fly around the country with JFK in 1964 debating issues for the people to make up their mind on whom to vote for.  On the other hand, he recognized the rise of the socalled moral majority as an attempt to seize control over public discourse where one contingent wants to set into law how others have to act.  It's never enough for the right-wing Christians and like-minded ideologues to behave according to their own beliefs, you have to, as well.  That's not discourse, but a power grab.  It's what Goldwater opposed in communism and it's what he opposed here at home.  Our cultural property value went up when he moved in.

[1] James Kirchick, "Angry White Man" in The New Republic.  Since they don't seem to allow hyperlinks, here's the link for you to copy and paste:

http://www.tnr.com/politics/story.html?id=e2f15397-a3c7-4720-ac15-4532a7da84ca

It's a good article.

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Dvd Criticism (26), Conservative Christians (1), Gays (71), Abortion Rights (1), Freedom (6), Conservatism (2), Libertarianism (2), Gay Rights (5), Barry Goldwater (1), Bob Dylan (45)