John McCain is No Barry Goldwater

Yesterday I noted the analogies between the race between Obama and McCain and the fictional race on The West Wing between Santos and Arnold Vinick. While there are some similarities such as having a young charismatic Democrat taking on an older, more experienced and somewhat maverick Republican, there are also important differences. John McCain does not share the more libertarian traits of Arnold Vinick. McCain differs from Vinick in opposing choice on abortion and in supporting the folly of the Iraq war. Of course John McCain has never claimed to be Arnold Vinick. Instead he claims to be more like Barry Goldwater. Alison Goldwater Ross, granddaughter of Barry Goldwater, argues that McCain has rejected Goldwater’s legacy.

The two Arizonans clashed on several occasions during their political careers. Goldwater, as documented in “Pure Goldwater,” a book by the Senator’s son Barry Jr., was depressed and angered by McCain’s involvement in the Keating Five scandal. Later in his career, a rift developed between the two after McCain used Goldwater’s name — without his permission — for fundraising purposes.

My grandfather felt that he was deceived by McCain,” she said. “Because he looked at McCain and said, here was this young guy who has a lot of potential in the Republican Party, who is coming through the ranks, and then he pulled something like this. My grandfather had to ask, ‘Is this something I want to be close to?'”

In his later years Goldwater did not go along with many of the changes in the right wing, and even began to think of himself as a liberal. This includes a rejection of the growing influence of the religious right in the Republican Party. While Goldwater was certainly a hardliner on the cold war, such a view in opposing a threat of the magnitude of the Soviet Union does not mean he would necessarily go along with actions counterproductive to our national security such as the Iraq war. Ross agrees:

“I think, at the end of my grandfather’s career, first of all he would be looking at what state we are in today with what Bush has done, and I think he would be just incredibly appalled,” said Ross. “I think his head would be spinning. How in the world did we get ourselves in this state? How did this happen? What went wrong? Where did this Republican Party go?”

On the issues of Iraq, women’s rights, and the separation of church in state, Goldwater’s granddaughter says the gulf between Barry and McCain is vast.

“I don’t think my grandfather would ever pander to the religious right like McCain did. That would get him angrier than anything. He believed in the division between church and state, he fought that constantly. And these guys are getting in there… religion is a wonderful thing but it does not have any place or purpose in politics,” she said. “My grandfather was for women’s rights. The idea that my body is mine, and what I want to do with it, I will do with it… McCain isn’t of that mindset.”

While Ross opposes McCain, this does not mean that she supports the old Goldwater Girl, Hillary Clinton:

So, whom would Goldwater support if he were alive today? Ross, whose dissatisfaction with McCain was first expressed on the website of BraveNewFilms, wouldn’t say. But she herself is “leaning towards” Sen. Barack Obama, despite believing that Sen. Hillary Clinton has gotten the short end of the stick in terms of press treatment because of her gender.

“Hillary, you know, was a Goldwater girl. And she has this great tenacity,” Ross said. “Unfortunately, she has been directed in some ways that haven’t really worked for her campaign… I really like what Obama is representing. I like the fact that if he becomes our next president, the walls will come down; people around the world will view the U.S. as a more enlightened, open-minded country. It will be, overall, an extremely positive mood.”


  1. 1
    John Cellini says:

    I just stumbled on to your web site. Good article. John McCain is definitely very different from Barry Goldwater. I just got back from a talk by Barry, Jr. at our local library . I asked him this question: “Your father was born in Arizona when it was a territory. He knew every inch of the state and Arizona was in his blood. When John McCain moved into Arizona, he immediately ran for office. I am wondering, how did your father feel about McCain’s shopping around for a state where he could launch his political career.” Barry responded that his father was very supportive of McCain but his carpetbagging did not set well with Goldwater, Sr. Goldwater also felt “used” by McCain for the very thing you mentioned in your article; using Goldwater’s name without his permission. Later in the question and answer session, I got into a disagreement about health care. He was against because people were getting something without working for it. I pointed out that Americans deserve and have earned a health program because they work hard and pay their taxes. I would rather see my taxes going to a comprehensive health program than to defense contractors like Haliburton.

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    Betsy Ross says:

    As a former 45 year Arizonan, and “Goldwater Girl” when I was but 11 years old, there is no comparison between McCain and Goldwater.  Senator Goldwater was a straight shooter, but loved Arizona and his country with a heart that John McCain will never have as he never had a real attachment to the state or it’s people, really.   To be so bold as to disagree, though, with the Senator’s granddaughter, I believe Senator Goldwater would support a candidate such as Ron Paul, who was also in the military, and is a believer in individual rights and freedom.  Senator Goldwater’s granddaughter must be much younger, as I don’t feel he supported unrestricted abortion rights, and as a matter of fact know that he did not.  He supported the findins of Roe, which limited that unrestricted right to the first three months, but would not be a partial birth abortion advocate, that much I know for sure.

  3. 3
    Ron Chusid says:

    I think that Goldwater’s granddaughters have a better idea of what Barry Goldwater would have done than you as you appear to be projecting your own beliefs onto him.

    I believe Goldwater would have seen through Ron Paul and seen him as a right wing extremist who is hardly a consistent supporter of individual rights and freedom. He would not have supported someone like Paul who has adopted many of the views of the religious right, and he was also hopefully too smart to fall for the bogus issue of partial birth abortions as created by the religious right.

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