Thanksgiving with Uncle Barry

Thanksgiving is almost here.  It’s a time when families assemble to remember their blessings and experience each others’…finer qualities.  A common staple of the season is the crotchety uncle (a role I’m studying to play), whose semi-sober, uninhibited, and occasionally insightful ramblings add unwelcome candor to every family gathering.

In the spirit of the holidays conservatives everywhere should take a few moments to remember the great curmudgeonly uncle we all share, Barry Goldwater.

Goldwater was already an old man in spirit at the age of 55 when he was the sacrificial Republican Presidential nominee in the ’64 election.  Like your uncle, he had an unsettling tendency to speak his mind.  Though his manner was blunt, his comments were more often than not right on the mark.  He was always opinionated, persistently gentlemanly (in his own way), and occasionally a bit odd.  But his insights guided the conservative movement for a generation and his warnings still offer wisdom in our time.

I present Barry Goldwater in his own words, best enjoyed with a good Scotch.

– On our modern Republican Party, in 1989:

“The Republican Party has been taken over by a bunch of kooks.”

– His Libertarian interpretation of Conservatism:

“I am a conservative Republican but I believe in democracy and the separation of church and state. The conservative movement is founded on the simple tenet that people have the right to live life as they please as long as they don’t hurt anyone else in the process.””

– Putting principles above Party discipline:

Goldwater turned on Arizona’s Republican Governor Evan Mecham whom he had endorsed.  The erratic Mecham, a prototype of the right-wing nut of our time, called black children “pickeninnies,” kept the radio on in his office to “keep the lasers out,” and rescinded the MLK holiday.  Goldwater euphemistically called him “hardheaded” and supported his impeachment.

– The Democratic patronage machine:

“It is a fact that Lyndon Johnson and his curious crew seem to believe that progress in this country is best served simply and directly through the ever-expanding gift power of the everlastingly growing Federal Government. One thing we all know, and I assure you I do: that’s a much easier way to get votes than my way. It always has been. It’s political Daddyism, and it’s as old as demagogues and despotism.”

– His comments on the internal Republican civil war in the early ’60’s against the far-right led by William F. Buckley:

“We cannot allow the emblem of irresponsibility to attach to the Republican banner.”

– No love for The Moral Majority:

” I think every good Christian ought to kick Falwell right in the ass.”

– Advice for Bill Clinton:

“The best thing Clinton could do — I think I wrote him a letter about this, but I’m not sure — is to shut up…. He has no discipline.”

– Advice for Johnson on Vietnam:

“I told Johnson and old colleagues on Capitol Hill that we had two clear choices. Either win the war in a relatively short time, say within a year, or pull out all our troops and come home… Vietnam is about halfway around the world from Washington. It’s as large as the major European nations, with nearly 130,000 square miles… Its ancient recorded history goes back to 111 B.C… We entered with considerable ignorance.”  From Goldwater, 1988

– Dealing with Fundamentalists:

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them. …..

The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom…. I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D.’ Just who do they think they are?… I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of “conservatism.””

– The Conservative vision of Equality:

“Equality, rightly understood as our founding fathers understood it, leads to liberty and to the emancipation of creative differences; wrongly understood, as it has been so tragically in our time, it leads first to conformity and then to despotism.”

– His complex and contrarian view of Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964:

“This was the only Civil Rights Bill in twelve years that I couldn’t vote for” and in another forum, “My basic objection to this measure is, therefore, constitutional…[the bill’s public accommodations and fair employment provisions would] require the creation of a federal police force of mammoth proportions. It also bids fair to result in the development of an ‘informer’ psychology in great areas of our national life — neighbors spying on neighbors, workers spying on workers, businessmen spying on businessmen, where those who would harass their fellow citizens for selfish and narrow purposes will have ample inducement to do so. These, the federal police force and an ‘informer’ psychology, are the hallmarks of a police state.”

– On UFO’s.  That’s right, UFO’s:

“I think at Wright-Patterson, if you could get into certain places, you’d find out what the Air Force and the government does know about UFOs. Reportedly, a spaceship landed.  It was all hushed up. I called Curtis LeMay [The Air Force Chief of Staff], and I said, ‘General, I know we have a room at Wright-Patterson where you put all this secret stuff. Could I go in there?’  I’ve never heard General LeMay get mad, but he got madder than hell at me, cussed me out, and said, ‘Don’t ever ask me that question again!'”

– Making the GOP the Party of God:

“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 away from the Republican Party, and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye.”

– Homosexuals in the military:

“You don’t need to be straight to fight and die for your country. You just need to shoot straight.”

– On legislation to protect gays from job discrimination:

“It’s time America realized that there is no gay exemption in the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence.”


And, with a tear in my eye and a Happy Thanksgiving to all, Uncle Barry’s stirring optimism, from his 1979 book, With No Apologies:

“My faith in the future rests squarely on the belief that man, if he doesn’t first destroy himself, will find new answers in the universe, new technologies, new disciplines, which will contribute to a vastly different and better world in the twenty-first century. Recalling what has happened in my short lifetime in the fields of communication and transportation and the life sciences, I marvel at the pessimists who tell us that we have reached the end of our productive capacity, who project a future of primarily dividing up what we now have and making do with less. To my mind the single essential element on which all discoveries will be dependent is human freedom.”

God bless you Uncle Barry, and God bless us all.  Happy Thanksgiving.

One Response

  1. Ah, how refreshing to read those quotes from Barry G., Chris. I’d either never heard or forgotten most of them. I can only disagree with one statement, and it was yours: a good Scotch isn’t required to savor this wisdom; as we mellow with age, our tastes change, and now I prefer just an average white wine. Goes down just fine!

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