According to a review in Friday's Washington Times, HBO will be debuting a new documentary about the late Barry Goldwater, who served as U.S. Senator from Arizona and as the Republican presidential candidate in 1964. Goldwater's candidacy, perhaps more than any other single event, catalyzed disparate strains of conservatism into what became the modern conservative movement that resulted in the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.
To this day, people like myself proudly call themselves Goldwater conservatives or Goldwater/Reagan conservatives, distinguished from the faux conservatism of George W. Bush and the current Republican Congress.
In his review, Scott Galupo shows he understands the fundamental, philosophical core of Barry Goldwater. (He suggests that the documentary, even though it is produced and narrated by Senator Goldwater's granddaughter, fails to do that.) Galupo writes:
... "Goldwater" gives the game away when it conveniently rejects whichever planks of the limited-government platform it disagrees with. Take the senator's opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. There, according to the documentary, Mr. Goldwater was plainly wrong, both morally and on the facts. Yet, on abortion and homosexuals, it rhapsodizes about Mr. Goldwater's broad-mindedness.When Senator Goldwater passed away, I wrote a tribute that appeared in several publications ("Barry Goldwater: Conservative Icon, Libertarian Visionary"), which looks at the historical record and explains why he remains such a hero to libertarians and conservatives alike.
Sorry. This does not a maverick make. If you had one of those think tanky graphs that expand on the simplistic left-right spectrum, Mr. Goldwater's libertarian politics were remarkably consistent.
Not unlike his more successful legatee, President Ronald Reagan, he held fast to a few principles -- essentially, that the federal government should stay out of people's personal lives, but still be strong enough to kick the commies in the groin.
Later in his career, he took the same laissez-faire view on abortion and homosexual rights (issues, Mr. Will notes, that didn't figure on the national agenda in the 1960s) that he took on economic entrepreneurship.
Let's be clear: When Barry Goldwater stood on the rostrum of the Republican National Convention in San Francisco and said, "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice," he was being brave. He was bucking centrist complacency -- including eight years under the Republican accommodationist Dwight Eisenhower -- that took ever-bigger government and international communism for granted.
In the spirit of National Review magazine's founding credo of "Standing athwart history, yelling 'Stop,'" Barry Goldwater confronted the morality of statism when to do so was highly unfashionable -- not to mention politically suicidal: Sitting President Lyndon B. Johnson beat him by 16 million votes.
Conversely, to say, in 1993, that the military's ban on homosexuals was "dumb" earned you a round of applause from those mavericks who run the New York Times.
Miss Goldwater may gain personal comfort from the knowledge of her grandfather's social libertarianism -- and any truthful account of Mr. Goldwater's public life should acknowledge it.
I, for one, am looking forward to seeing the documentary, which promises to be both informative and entertaining, even if (as Galupo suggests) flawed. According to HBO,
Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater includes interviews with Senators Edward Kennedy, Hillary Rodham Clinton (a onetime "Goldwater Girl") and John McCain (who succeeded Goldwater in Arizona); former TV anchorman Walter Cronkite; humorist Al Franken; TV correspondent Robert MacNeil; former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee; author George Will; 60 Minutes' Andy Rooney; CBS News' Bob Schieffer; White House reporter Helen Thomas; political consultant James Carville; former White House Counsel John Dean; Goldwater's brother, Bob; sons Barry, Jr. (a onetime House Representative from California) and Michael; daughters Joanne and Peggy; and others.Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater will be broadcast on HBO for the first time on Monday, September 18, at 9:00 p.m. (EDT). There will surely be multiple replays. A one-minute video preview can be watched on HBO's web site.
Even though Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater's premiere conflicts with the new weekly episode of Weeds on Showtime (one of the best written comedies on TV, cable or otherwise, with a sly social and political commentary that catches viewers by surprise), I'll just delay watching Weeds until later in the evening. Barry Goldwater's legacy deserves at least that much.
I have to add that the timing of the premiere of this documentary, coincident with the publication of Ryan Sager's The Elephant in the Room, about the tension between libertarian and social conservative elements in the conservative movement (and the Republican party), is precious. The two launches are complementary.