I WAS ALL of a worldly and wise 12 years old when I first heard of Barry Goldwater. I was a seventh- and eighth-grader at Harlem Park Junior High. Goldwater was running against incumbent President Lyndon Johnson for the highest office in the land.
Goldwater was, my liberal black elders explained at the time, a conservative. He opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This, the dear elders explained, made him somewhat akin to the Antichrist, the fact that the bill was passed before Goldwater was even nominated for president notwithstanding.
That was my introduction to Goldwater, through the biased lenses of my elders. No doubt they were taking their cue from Johnson, whose campaign managers authorized the television ad that implied nuclear war would follow within minutes of a Goldwater inauguration. Johnson's was probably the dirtiest campaign ever, but he was good at dirty campaigning.
Years later, when I was a bit more skeptical of what my elders had told me, I read -- in a Playboy magazine interview -- actor John Wayne's account of what he thought of Goldwater and Johnson. Wayne had campaigned for Goldwater in the 1964 presidential race.
According to the Wayne anecdote, Johnson and Goldwater had the following conversation:
Goldwater: You know, Lyndon, neither of us should make an issue of Vietnam because we both know that we're going to have to send a half-million troops in there.
Johnson: I know that, Barry, but I've got an election to win.
Johnson subsequently made a campaign promise that he would not "send American boys to do what Asian boys should be doing for themselves." The lying scoundrel won in a landslide.
"The S.O.B. ran as a peace candidate," Wayne huffed in the Playboy interview. Goldwater ran the honest campaign and got creamed. But he inspired other conservatives. One of them, also a Goldwater supporter in 1964, won the presidency in 1980.
Goldwater died Friday morning in his home outside Phoenix. The tributes soon poured in. It was Goldwater, pundits said, not Ronald Reagan, who should be given credit for the "Reagan revolution." Lee Edwards, a Goldwater biographer speaking on MSNBC news, put Goldwater's opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act in perspective.
According to Edwards, Goldwater was a member of the NAACP and the Urban League. He was instrumental in integrating Arizona's National Guard, hired blacks in his department store and on his senatorial staff. He thought the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was unconstitutional and voted against it on that basis.
The liberal civil rights propaganda machine of the day ignored the stories about blacks on Goldwater's senatorial staff and no doubt never bothered to ask how many blacks Johnson had on his staff during his days as a senator. Though black churches and ministers were heavily involved in the civil rights movement, none bothered to comment on another Goldwater theme of 1964, the moral decay of the nation.
"In your heart, you know he's right," Goldwater's campaign ads said at the conclusion of his speeches on moral decay. Boy, was he ever. Some 34 years later, we need only look at the rise in teen pregnancies and drug abuse to know we should have listened to the man more closely, even if we didn't vote for him.
Would a President Goldwater have lasciviously listened to tapes of Martin Luther King having sex in a hotel room, as President Johnson was accused of doing? Would he have repeatedly lied to the American people about a "light at the end of the tunnel" in the Vietnam War? Would he have been caught up in the plethora of lies that ultimately undid President Nixon's presidency?
Probably not. Goldwater had an annoying habit of speaking the truth, even when it made fellow conservatives uncomfortable. He said President Reagan was either incompetent or lying when he claimed to know nothing about the Iran-contra scandal. Goldwater also favored abortion and saw no problem with gays in the military.
"They don't have to be straight," Goldwater said of gay servicemen. "They just have to shoot straight."
Simple but piercing logic. It was typical Goldwater. A great politician and an even greater man passed last week. We should all pay him homage.
Pub Date: 5/31/98