That great guy Barry Goldwater

Posted by HC in Books / Travel / UK politics / US politics on 4 July 2008

Barry Goldwater, handsome, manly, outspoken. Just the character we could do with in politics today. Yet forty years ago, he was a bogeyman for my generation. So it did me a lot of good to read Pure Goldwater, an anthology of the great man’s own, mostly informal, writing.

My generation – the 60s baby boomers – heard very little good about the right in America. It was all part of the lazy superiority we felt about the non-liberal world. We vaguely felt there were those nice Kennedy’s and then the awful rest. Those other Americans who weren’t signed up to the creed were inclined to wear pointy hats and white sheets. Those Yanks! George Wallace was a particularly despised politician. But Barry Goldwater was up there too as a public enemy. 

This new book is edited by Goldwater’s son Barry, and John Dean (the Nixon associate and commentator). What comes zooming out of these pages is a portrait of the kind of politician we are in severe need of. Goldwater and his handsome wife zipped around the world fueled by James Bond quotients of Martini. The senator had been a lively pilot in an age when people expected to have larks. (These were the real, liberated late 1940s and 1950s – not the stuffy age as portrayed by 1960s radicals.) In one hilarious episode, Goldwater explains how he fetched up in a Mexican jail, having quite literally lost his shirt to a fellow convict, and bounced a cheque on his gaoler when he bribed his way out of chokey.

So we find someone who is relaxed in his own skin. He is also in love with the wilderness world of Arizona, his home state. In this, Goldwater’s enthusiasm strongly echoes the writing and sentiment of Ed Abbey or Doug Peacock, people of a later – hippy – generation, my own. What’s more, he shared these enthusiams with his wife. And that reminds us of the passion of John McCain’s western wife for horse-trekking in western wilderness. Goldwater’s wife and McCain’s wife may look like perfect, uptight blue-rinses. But that’s only because we don’t bother to inquire of them properly.

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