WASHINGTON -- Barry M. Goldwater, the straight-talking "Mr. Conservative" whose campaign as the Republican presidential nominee in 1964 laid the groundwork for a movement that eventually dominated national politics, died at his Arizona home yesterday at age 89.
In wresting that GOP nomination from the hands of the party's liberal-to-moderate Eastern establishment, the uncompromising Westerner was the John the Baptist of the modern conservative movement. He was not its savior -- that role would fall to Ronald Reagan -- but Mr. Goldwater paved the way for Mr. Reagan in a failed and quixotic yet ground-breaking White House bid.
When Mr. Reagan was elected president in 1980, Mr. Goldwater told a news conference in his characteristic cowboy language: "It was me who got Reagan into politics. If it hadn't been for me, he would still be chasing cows over the horizon."
A popular and widely respected five-term senator, who retired in 1986 but continued to frequently make news with his outspoken pronouncements, Mr. Goldwater died at home of what his family called natural causes.
"He was in his own bed, in his own room, as he wished, overlooking the valley he loved with family at his side," said a statement released by the family. "He died as he lived: with dignity, courage and humility."
At his bedside was his second wife, Susan -- a woman 32 years his junior whom Mr. Goldwater married in 1992. His first wife, Peggy, with whom he had two sons and two daughters, died in 1985, the year before he left Congress.
A pilot and mountain climber who remained in vigorous good health until his 80s, Goldwater suffered a stroke in 1996 that damaged the frontal lobe of his brain, which controls memory and personality. In September 1997, his family said Mr. Goldwater was in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. In recent months, he made no public appearances.
Praised by Clinton
President Clinton, recalling several meetings with the former Republican standard-bearer, called him "a great patriot and a truly fine human being."
One who knew him much better was a fellow Republican Westerner in the Senate, Paul Laxalt. The former Nevada senator said that "without his vision, courage and leadership, the conservative movement would probably have had a much less significant impact on our nation."
Former first lady Nancy Reagan called Mr. Goldwater "a man of tremendous grit and conviction. He was a forward thinker who initiated a crusade that launched a revolution. It wasn't fashionable to be conservative back then, but Barry was willing to defy conventional wisdom and inspire us as the conscience of the conservative movement." Despite Senator Goldwater's lopsided loss to President Lyndon B. Johnson -- he collected only 39 percent of the vote and carried only five Southern states and his own Arizona, the campaign gave party conservatives a toehold they have yet to relinquish.
Even in defeat, Mr. Goldwater became the emblem of a conservatism that rose from the ashes only four years later in the 1968 comeback election of Republican Richard M. Nixon and that reached full flower in Mr. Reagan's landslide capture of the White House in 1980.
In the Senate, Mr. Goldwater was known predominantly as staunchly pro-military and anti-Communist. He became chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
He was sharply critical of what he called no-win policies pursued by the United States in the Korean and Vietnam wars but was always a stalwart champion of the men and women who fought in them.
An Army Air Force pilot in World War II, Senator Goldwater wanted to be known first and foremost as a patriot. But as a result of his blunt rhetoric, he was chided by his Democratic foes as "the mad bomber" whose finger on the nuclear button as president would be a dire risk the country could not afford to take.
Most memorable words
His most memorable words were uttered in his acceptance speech at the raucous GOP convention in San Francisco's Cow Palace in 1964: "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!"
The declaration fired his supporters in the convention hall to a frenzy, but it only gave more ammunition to the Democrats to shoot him down in November.
Mr. Goldwater's nomination amounted to a party coup d'etat. The GOP was then supposedly in the tight grip of its Eastern establishment headed by former Gov. Thomas E. Dewey of New York, a two-time loser as the party's presidential nominee.
But Mr. Goldwater, suggesting at one point that the country would be better off if the whole Eastern seaboard were sawed off and floated out into the Atlantic Ocean, beat Eastern favorite Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller of New York in the campaign's critical late primary in California. He was nominated by dint of a masterful state-by-state grass-roots quest for convention delegates, focused on conservative states in the South, the farm belt of the Midwest, and the Far West.
Mr. Goldwater was unable, however, to shed the image of a reckless, shoot-from-the-hip extremist effectively saddled on him by the Democrats.
To the Goldwater billboard slogan, "In his heart you know he's right," came the Democratic retort: "In your gut you know he's nuts."
The most memorable advertisement against him in that campaign, in which television ads were just beginning to have an impact, showed a little girl picking petals from a daisy as a voice intoned an ominous countdown, ending with a nuclear mushroom cloud obliterating the scene. The ad was so devastating that its users aired it only a single time, and then pulled it off the air, fearing a voter backlash.
On Election Day, Senator Goldwater's defeat was so resounding that it gave rise to predictions of the demise of the Republican Party. But he had broken the Democratic hold on the Deep South.
Mr. Goldwater, who had served 12 years in the Senate before his presidential bid, was returned there by Arizona voters in 1968 and served 18 more years. He had written a best-seller called "The Conscience of a Conservative," and was still widely regarded as his party's conscience.
Urged Nixon to quit
In 1974, he led a contingent of GOP leaders to the White House to inform Mr. Nixon that his support in Congress had been deeply eroded. He urged the president to resign rather than face near-certain impeachment, and Mr. Nixon did so two days later.
Barry Morris Goldwater was born in Phoenix on New Year's Day, 1909 -- three years before Arizona was admitted to the union as the 48th state. He was the first of the three children of Baron and Josephine Goldwater.
As he put it in his memoir, "With No Apologies," his first year in high school "was not a scholastic success," and he was enrolled in the Staunton Military Academy in Virginia. "Probably the best thing that ever happened to me," he said.
There he graduated as the outstanding military cadet of his class with a West Point appointment in his grasp. Instead, with his father ill, he returned to Arizona. Mr. Goldwater entered the University of Arizona, but because his father died, dropped out before completing his freshman year and joined the family dry goods store, which later became a department store chain.
His romance with airplanes began in 1930 when at the age of 21 he secretly took private flying lessons so as not to worry his mother.
Mr. Goldwater applied to be an Army Air Corps cadet in 1932 but was rejected for faulty eyesight. He and a friend helped build a crude landing strip in Phoenix that later became the city's Sky Harbor International Airport.
When World War II broke out, Mr. Goldwater was accepted for a desk job in the Army Air Forces and eventually wangled a pilot's assignment ferrying planes and military supplies to India, Burma, and points between.
After the war, he helped activate and lead the Arizona Air National Guard, rising to four-star general in the Air Force Reserve. He learned to fly nearly every kind of military plane, from propeller-driven to jet-powered.
In 1949 he was elected to the Phoenix City Council as part of a reform movement. He credited "Dwight Eisenhower's coattails" to his election to the Senate in 1952, upsetting the Democratic incumbent, Senate Majority Leader Ernest McFarland.
As an avid advocate of unyielding Cold War policies toward the Soviet Union, Mr. Goldwater earned the adoration of Republican conservatives who pushed him for the GOP presidential nomination in 1960 and finally achieved it for him in 1964.
Voluntary Social Security
Mr. Goldwater through most of his public career was ridiculed for such proposals as making the Social Security system voluntary and privatizing the hugely successful Tennessee Valley Authority notions that later got Mr. Reagan in hot water.
He warned of the demoralizing influence of public welfare and lived to see the "social safety net" he abhorred shredded by a Republican Congress with the acquiescence of Mr. Clinton.
Mr. Goldwater's intelligence was often questioned, and he had a reputation for goofiness, as when he once took off his trademark horn-rimmed glasses and poked a finger through to show there were no lenses in them. Cartoonist Paul Conrad was inspired to draw Mr. Goldwater similarly poking his finger in one ear and out the other, implying there was nothing inside his head, either.
Another time, when a reporter called on him at his home in Scottsdale, he was found lying on his back at the bottom of his filled swimming pool, breathing through a long pipe that protruded above. Asked why he was doing that, he replied that it was the only place he could find restful quiet.
Although Senator Goldwater's positions and eccentricities constantly bore the brunt of press criticism, he was one of the most popular Washington political figures among reporters. He was direct in what he said, but seldom mean-spirited.
Favored abortion rights
In later years, after his retirement from the Senate, Mr. Goldwater occasionally and conspicuously broke from the conservative orthodoxy.
He endorsed a woman who supported abortion rights for a congressional seat in Arizona, defended gays in the military, supported a ban on semi-automatic assault weapons, even urged Republicans to "get off Bill Clinton's back" when the Whitewater scandal threatened to engulf his presidency. Some attributed such views to the influence of his much younger second wife.
Mr. Goldwater was never one to worry about the fallout of his cutting remarks.
In an autobiography in the late 1980s, he flatly called Mr. Nixon "the most dishonest individual I've ever met in my life" and said Mr. Reagan "had to know" about the details of the Iran-contra scandal that scarred his presidency.
When Mr. Goldwater chose the obscure Rep. William E. Miller of New York, an equally sharp-tongued partisan, as his running mate in 1964, he said he had done so because "he drives Lyndon Johnson crazy."
Asked by CNN's Bernard Shaw five years ago how he wanted to be remembered, the senator replied: "As an honest man who tried his damnedest."
Important dates in Goldwater's life
Jan. 1, 1909: Born in Phoenix, son of Baron and Josephine Williams Goldwater and grandson of immigrant Polish peddler who launched the Goldwater department store chain.
L 1928: Graduates from Staunton Military Academy in Virginia.
Sept. 22, 1934: Marries Margaret "Peggy" Johnson.
1941-45: Pilot and colonel, Army Air Forces.
1945-52: Major general and chief of Arizona Air National Guard
1949: Elected to Phoenix City Council.
1952: Wins first term in Senate.
1960: His name goes before Republican convention as presidential candidate, but he withdraws in favor of Richard M. ,, Nixon.
1964: Captures 1964 presidential nomination after convention fight with Nelson A. Rockefeller.
1964: Loses to President Lyndon B. Johnson.
1968: Re-elected to Senate.
1974: Tells President Nixon that impeachment is inevitable. Nixon resigns same week.
1985: Wife dies.
1986: Retires from Senate.
1992: At 83, marries Susan Schaffer Wechsler, 51.
1996: Endorses Bob Dole for president.
1996: Suffers stroke.
L 1997: Doctors say he shows symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.
May 29, 1998: Dies at his home in Paradise Valley, Ariz.
Barry Goldwater's strong opinions
"None of us here in Washington knows all or even half of thanswers. You people out there in the 50 states had better understand that. ... If you cherish your freedom, don't leave it all up to BIG GOVERNMENT."
The book "Why Not Victory?," 1962.
"We must make clear that until its goals of conquest arabsolutely renounced and its relations with all nations tempered, communism and the governments it now controls are enemies of every man on Earth who is or wants to be free. ... I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, and let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."
Republican Convention, 1964.
"In your heart, you know he's right."
From Goldwater's 1964 campaign commercials.
"No Republican could have beaten Johnson."
"I knew too much about Lyndon Johnson. We got along. I knew it wouldn't be a good campaign. It was a campaign I couldn't win. I thought I had a chance against Kennedy, but I wouldn't have a chance against Johnson. So I decided not to run, but then I got so much darn pressure from young people all around the country."
1983 interview on why he entered the 1964 presidential race.
"Religious factions will go on imposing their will on others unless the decent people connected to them recognize that religion has no place in public policy. They must learn to make their views known without trying to make their views the only alternatives."
"It was just a hell of a bad campaign. If he had continued to campaign after the war in the Persian Gulf, he would have won it, but he quit campaigning. He had a bunch of idiots in the White House advising him."
1992 interview, on President George Bush's defeat
"I don't think there was any Reagan revolution. This country ibased, its economy is based, on free enterprise. The government's based on a constitutional democracy. And all Reagan did was to continue what Harry Truman did and George Washington started."
"You don't need to be 'straight' to fight and die for your countryYou just need to shoot straight."
1993 opinion piece in the Washington Post on gays in thmilitary.
Pub Date: 5/30/98