Barry Goldwater: Moderate or Liberal, but Definately No Longer a Conservative

The HBO documentary on Barry Goldwater which I previously noted airs tomorrow evening. His granddaughter, C.C. Goldwater, who made the documentary, has an article in Newsweek. It is always interesting to compare the views of Barry Goldwater, who considered himself a liberal in his later years, to those of current conservatives to see how far conservatives have gone wrong. C.C. Goldwater writes:

. . .while my grandfather didn’t leave his party, his party has left him. Though he’s often depicted as the father of conservatism, Barry Goldwater would be considered a moderate today. He was firmly pro-choice, a supporter of gay rights and, in his later years, said that he thought it was okay for gays to serve in the military.

Fundamentally, it’s clear that Barry would not have been comfortable with the increasing influence of the Christian right over the GOP. My grandfather would have been appalled by the whole political grandstanding of the Terri Schiavo mess.

The Constitution was Barry’s bible. He felt strongly about what it represented and the guidance it gave to establishing our government. And he thought that most U.S. citizens took it for granted. “Most Americans have never even read it and that’s a shame,” he once said. “Kids are not learning about it because it’s not honored the way it used to be.”

We need to remember the true values and freedoms the Constitution guarantees us. The main lesson I learned from my grandfather: “Government needs to stay out of personal lives, and do the job that we entrusted them with–to run and govern our country efficiently and truthfully, according to the laws our forefathers crafted.” That’s a message worth remembering today.

Barry Goldwater was not the right man to be President in 1964, but in retrospect things didn’t turn out that great with LBJ either. Liberty and Justice and The Moderate Voice question whether Goldwater would really be a moderate today. Moderate would not be the right label for the man who is famous for saying, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice…Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” Goldwater always had strong views and was no moderate, but his views no longer fit either the definition of conservative in the 1960’s or the stereotype of liberals as supporters of big government and higher taxes which conservatives have so successfully campaigned against. He was far closer to Arnold Vinick, Republican candidate for President on The West Wing, than any Republican leaders who actually exist.

Today the best way to predict how someone will vote is whether they go to church multiple times a week, or go once a week or less. The religious right turned the Republicans into something Goldwater would barely recognize. In the era where the greatest growth in government has occurred under Republicans, conservatives have abandoned the free market for corporate welfare, and social issues rather than economics more meaningfully differentiate liberals from conservatives, Barry Goldwater was neither a conservative or a moderate in his later years. He would much better fit into the big tent of modern liberalism or “small l” libertarianism.


  1. 1
    Dave from Princeton says:

    Barry would likely be a center left Democrat today. That seems to be the only place he fits among the two parties.

    He definitely could NOT be a member of the today’s Republican party. Of course, I don’t understand how any American or person of conscience who cares about our country, it’s people and constitution could be, from what they’ve become over the last 15 years. They have absolutely no redeeming qualities left at this point. Not even one…

  2. 2
    Nick says:

    Actually, given Goldwater’s views on labor (he was VERY anti-labor), taxes, and his vote against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, I could see Goldwater still being a Republican today, one growing disillusioned with his party, but still a GOPer

  3. 3
    Roy Haynes says:

    Yes,he opposed progressive labor legislation but to be fair to the man, during the Great Depression when he was in charge of the family’s department store in Phoenix, he didn’t fire a single employee. And a guy who can come up with the line about gays in the military — “You don’t have to be straight to shoot straight” — can’t be all bad.

  4. 4
    Nick says:

    That was an admirable trait (not firing anyone), and sure he wasn’t all bad. I just never considered Goldwater a “liberal” in the true sense of the word. On the other hand, anybody who says that “all good Christians should kick Jerry Falwell in the a–” is most definitely not all bad.

  5. 5
    Ron Chusid says:

    This shows a problem with our terminology. If you are thinking primarily in terms of labor issues, then Goldwater wasn’t a liberal. That’s why I stipulated a big tent view of defining liberals to allow Goldwater in based upon his social views.

  6. 6
    Ron Chusid says:

    Looking back at Nick’s initial comment, I see his vote on the Civil Rights Act was never addressed. It is significant that Goldwater voted against it on libertarian, as opposed to racist, grounds. In his later years, when Goldwater was more liberal, he did change his mind on this,

  7. 7
    Jonathan Carpenter says:

    Wow!! I am surprised by the review. Given the hatchet job Bill Moyers did on Barry Goldwater(ex. Daisy ad, “In your Guts you know he’s nuts! etc), you would think no liberal would praise Barry Goldwater. While what you say about his Libertarian views are dead on, it is a shame you would not devote anything to talk about the way LBJ “stuck it” to Senator Goldwater. It makes Clinton’s “War Room” and Karl Rove’s operations look like rank amateurs.

  8. 8
    Ron Chusid says:

    While I didn’t say it in this post (sorry to disappoint you), I have said in the past that the mushroom cloud ad was one of the lowest, dirtiest political ads ever.

  9. 9
    Jonathan Carpenter says:

    Very True Ron. After reading about that you would not be surprised when Barry Goldwater said Bill Moyers was “A Sanctimonious Phony.” Mr. Moyers was one of the few liberals Sen. Goldwater had open contempt for until he passed away.

  10. 10
    Ron Chusid says:

    Yes, I could see where Goldwater wouldn’t have favorable feelings for some of the people who worked for LBJ.

  11. 11
    Jonathan Carpenter says:

    This is especially true after LBJ called Mr. Moyers in 1964 and both where joking about how Moyers really stuck it to Goldwater. That, and the fact Mr. Moyers never offered an apology or showed any contrition for what he did.

  12. 12
    Nick says:


    Good point about Goldwater’s vote had more to do with libertarianism-and not racism. Agreed also that Goldwater’s views on this vote changed.
    Just to clarify though, I’m a believer in a big-tent and certainly find it shocking that Goldwater might very well find himself outside the GOP tent today is certainly shocking.
    What I meant to say earlier (though I admit I didn’t do a good job of conveying) is that while it would be a stretch to call Goldwater a “liberal” the fact that Goldwater (on either economic or social issues) could today be described as something other than very right-wing is a sign of inner virtue in Goldwater yes-but more importantly how truly waaaayy right the GOP has become-and how closed minded they have become as well.

  13. 13
    Nick says:

    Just went back and saw Ron’s comment about GOldwater. “He would much better fit into the big tent of modern liberalism or “small l” libertarianism.” Yeah, that sounds about right.

  14. 14
    Bill says:

    Last night I came across Barry Goldwater’s position paper from his 1964 campaign in my effects. Funny how I termed him “reactionary” back then. If I can find a scanner I will try to place it on this website. He supported collective bargaining and the right to strike as fundamental civil liberties and opposed government intervention to end strikes, except where matters of public safety were concerned. He also opposed foreign aid to dictatorships. Contrary to popular impression, he was supportive of the UN’s mission and did not advocate leaving the organization. He was definitely strong about communism, as was any public figure back then. His proposal to end diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union would have been a step backwards, but I doubt that Capitol Hill would have backed him up when he consulted the Senate, as he said he would. He advocated easing the progressive steepening of the income tax — whose rates could go very high during those times — and advocated that the taxes collected should be channeled solely into running what he called the legitimate functions of the Federal government. Makes me wonder what he would have said about LIHEAP (Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program). Back in those days, of course, heating bills weren’t nearly the problem for the poor that they are today. From what I see in his position paper, the farming out of jobs outside of the U.S. would have earned his scorn.

  15. 15
    Gary says:

    I completely disagree with all the center left stuff and liberal name tags here. The guy is probably more conservative that 90% of the GOP today. He was pretty much a soft core libertarian with his social views his whole life, hate deficit spending and keynesian economics and loved individual responsibility.

  16. 16
    Ron Chusid says:

    Being a “soft core libertarian” would hardly leave him more conservative than 90% of the GOP today.

  17. 17
    Dave Randal says:

    I wouldn’t say he was more liberal in his later years.  If anything he had libertarian views which gets confused with being defined as republican or democrat views all the time.
    -Dave Randal-

  18. 18
    Ron Chusid says:

    It is somewhat ridiculous to worry about which label to apply considering that there are a wide variety of views which fit under both the liberal and libertarian labels. It was Goldwater himself who described himself as a liberal. In some cases his views could be classified as either considering the overlap between the two. In some cases he rejected more libertarian views and came closer to liberal vies of the time. For example, he previously voted against the civil rights act on libertarian grounds, but he reversed this position in his later years. The key issue dividing Goldwater and many Republicans was Goldwater’s opposition to the views of the religious right. He took liberal views on such issues. They could also be called libertarian depending upon which libertarians you are speaking of. Many libertarians would agree with Goldwater on these issues, but others (such as many of the Ron Paul supporters) take the conservative as opposed to liberal position.

  19. 19
    Eclectic Radical says:

    In his later years as a senator, Goldwater took a ‘left wing’ position on the Drug War that was far to the left of any Democrats of serious national stature. Ever. Now, certainly, this was a ‘libertarian’ position rather than a ‘liberal’ position if one wishes to throw labels around. However, it’s the sort of thing that crazy conspiratorial right wing bloggers call ‘communist.’
    Ron is right about the silliness of arguing about labels, and the above certainly goes to show it.  The important point is that Goldwater was a believer in individual civil liberties and skeptical of what he called ‘group rights’ that he felt infringed on personal liberty. I’m an out-and-out /socialist/, and I approve of that attitude whole-heartedly.

  20. 20
    giantslor says:

    In the near future, the culture wars of old will basically be over, with social and religious issues no longer being the main motivating factor for most conservatives. Instead, most conservatives will be distinguished mainly by their economic libertarianism and small-government views. Barry Goldwater will once again look like a conservative.
    Also, I’m dismayed to see the negative comments about Bill Moyers. The man is a national treasure and has been a champion of truth telling and liberal and progressive values.

  21. 21
    Ron Chusid says:

    There’s no saying for sure what will happen in the future, but current trends show that social issues are continuing to increase as the dividing issue between liberals and conservatives. There is certainly no sign of conservatives supporting small government or anything resembling libertarianism–looking at their actual policies as opposed to rhetoric. Conservatism has become a big government, socially conservative authoritarian movement, and all current trends suggest this is worsening, not coming to an end.

  22. 22
    John H. says:

    I don’t think I could disagree more on Barry being considered a moderate or liberal today. He was socially a liberal, in his day or arther what a liberal originally stood for but he was fiscally more conservative then either party today. Barry Goldwater’s speeches would all resonate with Libertarian, Ron Paul fans today. In fact he preatty much was a prototype libertarian tea partier.  Both the GOP and DNC camps have gone away from liberalism as it was originally meant, and are very much demagogues with idea of  orthodox ideals, and little room or patience for any that disagree on their socially values. Neither respect diversity of thought, and both parties have embraced socialist economics only differing on extremes.

  23. 23
    Marc Parella says:

    Barry Goldwater was the right man in 1964 because we are still talking about him today.  

  24. 24
    Ron Chusid says:

    Talking about him has no bearing on whether he should have been president, especially when much of the talk about him is about how he opposed the conservative movement in his later years.

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