Senator Barry Goldwater (R-Arizona) “absolutely was a libertarian,” explained his son in an interview this year, adding that as a libertarian he believed “in less government and [that] government should not be intruding into our personal lives.” These views were “consistent” with conservative values, he added.
Former Congressman Barry Goldwater, Jr., participated in a panel discussion about the his father’s presidential campaign in November at the Virginia Film Festival. The discussion followed a screening of Bombs Away: LBJ, Goldwater, and the 1964 Campaign that Changed It All, a new documentary from the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
Moderated by political scientist Larry Sabato, the panel also featured former Minnesota attorney general Skip Humphrey, son of Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 running mate, Hubert H. Humphrey.
After the presentation, which marked the 50th anniversary of the Goldwater-Johnson contest, the younger Barry Goldwater spoke with the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner about his father’s presidential campaign and how it launched both the modern conservative and libertarian movements that came of age in the 1970s and ’80s.
“He was in there with his paddle in the water,” Goldwater said, “working hard to change the Republican Party from the East Coast liberal establishment to more of a conservative-libertarian philosophy that Americans were looking for.”
Gay rights and abortion
Goldwater, who represented California in Congress from 1969 to 1983, explained that his father remained an icon of the Republican Party despite differing from social conservatives on contentious issues.
In the senior Goldwater’s view (and his son’s, too), “whether you’re gay or a lesbian is a personal thing. It’s no business of the government. And abortion, a woman who is carrying this baby – that’s her decision, not the government’s,” said Barry, Jr. “He was pretty consistent with his libertarian and conservative views when it came to such things as social issues.”
Like his father before him, Goldwater, Jr., attended high school at the Staunton Military Academy, just about 30 miles from Charlottesville. He has pleasant memories of his time there in the late 1950s, though his Arizona upbringing did not prepare him for Virginia winters.
“I remember how cold it got here, and the leaves turning in the fall,” he said. “I remember the warmth of the people of Staunton. I remember the Episcopal Church that I went to every Sunday for four years. It’s a beautiful part of the country.”
He also recalled the late Karl Hess (1923-94), an aide to Senator Goldwater who later in life was an activist in the Libertarian Party of Virginia. (Hess sometimes gets credit for the famous line, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice … moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”)
“I remember Karl Hess as one of my father’s key speechwriters,” Goldwater said. “He became a good friend of the family. He was somewhat eccentric, colorful, entertaining to be around.”
‘Tea Party behaved’
Goldwater also offered some thoughts about the current state of the Republican Party, which just days before this interview had won control of the U.S. Senate and expanded its majority in the House of Representatives.
“The Republican Party is alive and well. I think we came together quite well in 2014,” he said.
“Even the Tea Party folks behaved themselves and, I think, their success was due to the fact that they pretty much stuck to their core values of less government, less taxes, less regulation, more personal freedom and responsibility, and a strong defense.”
Those, he added, “have always been the Republican Party’s core values – my father’s and Ronald Reagan’s.”
Asked whether the new Republican-controlled Congress can deliver on its promises, Goldwater displayed a wry grin and said, “Probably not but we’ll sure give them a chance.”
The complete Virginia Film Festival panel discussion featuring Goldwater, Humphrey, and Sabato can be seen on YouTube. It was recorded November 8, 2014, on the grounds of the University of Virginia.