Conservatives' patriarch Barry Goldwater: An outspoken and engaging senator, he prepared the way for 'Reagan revolution.'


WHEN Barry M. Goldwater retired from the U.S. Senate after 30 years, a Sun editorial called him "a seminal figure in American history." He played Moses to the conservative movement -- leading it to the edge of the Promised Land.

Though Mr. Goldwater's Republican presidential campaign in 1964 was a fiasco (he lost by a staggering 16 million votes), he planted seeds of conservatism in the political arena. They would take root under Richard Nixon and bear fruit under Ronald Reagan.

Barry Goldwater, who died yesterday at 89, was an outspoken -- and endearing -- political figure. Honest to a fault. Of his dreadful race for president, he said, "The whole campaign was run on fear of me. In fact, if I hadn't known Goldwater, I'd have voted against the SOB myself."

His 1960 book, "The Conscience of a Conservative," gave birth to the movement. It sold 3.5 million copies and became a bible for the right, laying out a cohesive blueprint for translating disparate libertarian ideas into action.

"Politics," Mr. Goldwater wrote, is "the art of achieving the maximum amount of freedom for individuals that is consistent with the maintenance of social order."

What were viewed as wild-eyed notions in the 1960s became accepted political dogma by the 1980s. An end to federal paternalism. A balanced budget. A healthy, free economy without runaway inflation. Lower taxes. Greater reliance on individual responsibility.

The crusty Arizonan was an absolutist in denouncing actions that intruded into the lives of ordinary citizens, even if it shocked his fellow conservatives.

For instance, he defended gays in the military: "The Republican Party should stand for freedom and only freedom," he said. "Don't raise hell about the gays, the blacks and the Mexicans. Free people have a right to do as they damn well please . . ."

It was vintage Goldwater. Fearlessly outspoken, standing up for what he believed was right.

Indeed, his 1964 declaration that generated a furor back then -- "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice . . . moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue" -- now can be seen through a different prism: as a fitting epitaph for a rugged individualist determined to defend, in his own way, this nation's most fundamental ideals.

Pub Date: 5/30/98

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