This is the third installment in a series on losing American presidential candidates of the last 50 years. Note to students: you should not use the information provided below as the basis for your term paper, as I tend to make shit up. This is intended as a humorous article. Although I will try to make any invented “facts” ridiculous enough to set them apart from the real historical facts, anyone familiar with Poe’s Law is aware of the pitfalls inherent in that strategy.
Barry M. Goldwater was the big loser in the 1964 presidential election; known for years as “Mr. Conservative,” he is often credited with sparking the resurgence of political conservatism that resulted in the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan. As pundit George Will once wrote, “it took 16 years to count the votes from 1964, and Goldwater won.”
George Will also makes shit up.
Still waiting on that birth certificate, although most historians agree he was not a Kenyan.
Born into a family that owned the largest department store in Phoenix, young Barry had a comfortable upbringing that included attending an elite private school, Staunton Military Academy in Virginia. During World War II, he received a reserve commission in the Air Force, eventually becoming a command pilot and retired with the rank of Major General. Furthering his badass credentials, Goldwater was one of the first people to run the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in a recreational boat in 1940.
Elected to the Senate in 1952, Goldwater won re-election in 1958 and became known for fighting corruption in the labor unions and for his strong anti-communism. He gave up his Senate seat in 1964 to run for president, defeating the more liberal and slightly wealthier Nelson Rockefeller for the Republican nomination in a tough campaign that was decided by a narrow margin in the California primary.
Of course Rockefeller then put aside his disappointment and threw his full support behind Goldwater in the general election.
What Went So Horribly, Horribly Wrong
Goldwater had spent years establishing himself as the leader of the opposition to the “East Coast Liberal Elite,” first within his own party and then, after John F. Kennedy, democrat from Massachusetts, became president, in national politics as a whole. In 1961 he told a news conference that “sometimes I think this country would be better off if we could just saw off the Eastern Seaboard and let it float out to sea.”
A policy obviously inspired by his mentor, Senator Bunny.
Goldwater had marked his territory like a Doberman and was preparing to campaign against everything John F. Kennedy epitomized: east coast, Ivy League education, big-spending liberal, not aggressive enough in opposing communism. On November 22, 1963, Kennedy threw the first curveball in the 1964 campaign by getting his head blown off in Dallas, Texas.
And they’re off and running.
At that point, Kennedy became a National Treasure, an icon of America, a symbol of hope who died tragically young; really, sort of a cross between Abe Lincoln and James Dean. And his successor, Lyndon Baines Johnson (Kennedy’s vice-president) was a skilled Texas politician out of the conservative southern democrat tradition, a down-and-dirty campaigner with a down-home southern drawl. And he sold his policies as honoring the memory of The Nation’s Fallen Leader; in short, he was nothing like what Goldwater had been preparing to run against.
And he looked so trustworthy.
Goldwater was also one of those public figures who tended to say, in no uncertain terms, exactly what was on his mind (note the comment regarding the eastern seaboard, above). He was widely quoted suggesting the United States “lob one (nuclear weapon) into the men’s room at the Kremlin,” and, more famously, said this to the nation while accepting the presidential nomination:
“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.”
Essentially, Goldwater managed to paint himself as an extremist, ready to saw off pieces of his country and lob nukes at the Soviet Union. And remember, this was a time when Americans were still practicing “duck and cover” as a nuclear defense and building fallout shelters. Nuclear war was still a major worry in those days.
Unlike today, when it’s considered “action violence” and gets a PG-13.
And Goldwater’s campaign slogan, “In your heart you know he’s right,” didn’t exactly catch fire either, suggesting as it does the reliance on unverified, internal revelations to make important decisions. Not to mention the ease with which the Johnson campaign was able to parody it.
Yes, respected long-time U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater was so successful at making himself look like a dangerous dingbat that the Johnson campaign only had to run the following ad once:
Whoa, subtle. That, people, is the legendary “Daisy” spot.
This game was over early. Johnson, winning 61.1% of the vote nationally, won 44 states plus the District of Columbia to total 486 electoral votes; Goldwater polled 38.4%, won six states, and picked up 52 in the Electoral College. Although five of the six states he won were in the south, a part of the country that had been dominated by democrats since the civil war and thus represented a breakthrough for the Republican party, the landslide proportions of the victory enabled Johnson to pass much of his “Great Society” social legislation with ease during his following term.
Ironically, Johnson, the “peace” candidate, was the president who first sent combat troops to Vietnam. This conflict cost the lives of 58,000 Americans, polarized the country, and outlasted Johnson, who died in January 1973.
And he looked so trustworthy.
Barry Goldwater returned to the Senate in 1969 and served until 1987. In 1974 he gained back some respect with his conscientious handling of Richard Nixon’s Watergate affair; he was selected by fellow senators to deliver the news to Nixon that, after impeachment, the Senate would certainly vote overwhelmingly to convict Nixon. Hearing the news from a trusted, solid Republican, Nixon resigned shortly after.
Goldwater chose not to run for re-election in 1986; by then he was considered within the party to be a bit of a liberal.
But he never became shy about speaking his mind.
Awesome Quotes From Barry Goldwater
“When you say ‘radical right’ today, I think of these moneymaking ventures by fellows like Pat Robertson and others who are trying to take the Republican party and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye.” (1994)
“Every good Christian ought to kick (Jerry) Falwell right in the ass.” (1981)
“It’s the god-damned stupidest foreign policy blunder this country’s ever made.” (1987, remarking on the Reagan administration’s sale of arms to Iran)
“Everyone knows that gays have served honorably in the military since at least the time of Julius Caesar.”
“You don’t have to be straight to be in the military, you just have to be able to shoot straight.”
Thank you, “Mr. Conservative.”
Barry M. Goldwater died in 1998, may he rest in peace. The family requests that you not place daisies on his grave.
They Also Ran Good: George McGovern
They Also Ran Good: Michael Dukakis