Top Reasons Why Decent People Should Detest Barry GoldwaterI like Rick Perlstein; upon reflection (I was at first equivocal), I grow to dislike his celebrated biography of Barry Goldwater, which seems to me to a) trust conservatives -- by which I mean, at their word, at their memory, at their good faith -- far too much, and b)while reasonably condemning of such nutjobs as the YAF and the Birchers, totally leave out morality where Goldwater, who was their avatar, was personally concerned.
Rick, sadly, is not alone among liberals who admire Goldwater. The perverse tolerance of -- or even affection for -- Goldwater is traditional and somewhat inevitable: for a certain kind of liberal, the only one in the room who is to be shunned is the lone extremist, while the relative extremists in the room, who are often numerous, are in contrast accepted, implicitly or explicitly. Too exclude too much or too many is intolerance, you see: the ultimate sin for wishy-washy peeps. Goldwater was less reactionary than Robert Welch, General Walker, Curtis LeMay, and on racial matters, George Wallace. Therefore, for certain liberals, Barry's okay. Besides, Goldwater seemed to have principles where Nixon, say, was opportunist to his core. (Actually, both were venal in their own way; Nixon was simply better at the art of the powergrab than was Goldwater; and more to the point, what few principles Nixon did have were more humane than Goldwater's.) One need not wonder how the Overton Window moved so far right.
In later years the admiration grew. Goldwater was a UFOlogist -- one of his few charming traits -- and so won the admiration of the crackpots. More seriously, Goldwater said a few sensible things about the Religious Right in general and Jerry Falwell in particular. This completely suckered the social liberals who by far constitute the bulk of the chattering class. Never mind that Goldwater represented Wall Street and social darwinism in economic policy (social libs are comfortably upper middle class) and a diehard hawk in foreign policy (social libs are perpetually interventionalist); for such people, cheap rhetoric coincidentally agreeing with the gay rights and pro-choice movements completely redeemed a lifetime of reactionary politics.
In reality, Goldwater personally was just as awful as Goldwaterism -- the ideology which ultimately triumphed with Ronald Reagan in 1980. Consider:
1)Barry Goldwater would have irradiated the planet. In order to eliminate his enemies, a fanatic by definition will kill a great many innocents. This was the inevitable conclusion of brinksmanship, and Goldwater was the ultimate brinksman.
2)Goldwater, despite his convenient and belated denunciations (in one of his books -- but not the one ghostwritten by Brent fucking Bozell) of Richard Nixon's corruption and ruthlessness, was corrupt and ruthless himself, and the beneficiary, besides himself, was one Richard Nixon. Goldwater sabotaged Congressional investigations into the Greek angle of Watergate, obviously fearing that his connection to the slimy Tom Pappas would be revealed.
3)Goldwater was racist. Not in some banal, personal-private way in the OMG-he-said-those-people gotcha that is usually irrelevant, but in the truest, most important sense.