The Heirs of Goldwater

Ryan S. Walters | @ryanswalters73

I have been reading a very interesting book, Landslide: LBJ and Ronald Reagan at the Dawn of a New America by Jonathan Darman, which looks at the years between Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, and LBJ’s huge sweep a year later, and Reagan’s victory in the California governor’s race in 1966. And in the course of my reading I found something interesting in a chapter on Barry Goldwater.barry-goldwater

Goldwater won the California primary in 1964 against Nelson Rockefeller, even though he lost 54 of 58 counties, but the four counties he did carry were by huge margins. Polling those voters found that the top three issues that concerned them the most were federal spending, Cuba, and Soviet espionage.

All anyone had to do, writes Darman, was “to read the newspaper to understand that federal spending and Soviet espionage did not exactly top the list of most Americans’ concerns. Goldwater’s followers, however many of them there might be, would be working against the public mood, not with it.”

Does that not accurately describe those of us in the true conservative movement? Goldwater Conservatives were ahead of their time then, just as we are today. Conservatives are always head of the game, always thinking down the road, always taking a long-range view of issues.

“To believe in Goldwater’s vision,” writes Darman, “was to rebel against the great national project of proving that all was right in America again” after the assassination. “To believe in Barry Goldwater, you had to believe that things had been going wrong in America for quite some time and that things were about to get much worse. Johnson was the kindly uncle who had come in to take charge of an orphaned nation after the loss of a beloved father figure. Barry was a maniac, rushing in to say the house was burning down.”

But Barry was right. The house was burning down, albeit slowly, and by 1966 most of the nation could see it, while some could even see literal flames right outside their door. Once again, conservatives were proven right in the long run.

Those of us in Mississippi, the true conservatives mind you, certainly took a long-range view in choosing Chris McDaniel over Thad Cochran. Sadly, many of our citizens did not, whether or not they call themselves conservatives.

But we as conservatives should be ever mindful about Goldwater and what we can learn from him about true conservatism. His 1960 book, The Conscience of a Conservative, should be on the shelves of every true believer.

Here is an excerpt that should be the backbone of modern conservatism:

I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones that do violence to the Constitution, or that have failed their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden. I will not attempt to discover whether legislation is “needed” before I have first determined whether it is constitutionally permissible. And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents’ “interests,” I shall reply that I was informed that their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can.

Ronald Reagan once said we are all the children of Jefferson. Maybe so, but we, the true conservatives in America today, are the rightful heirs of Goldwater.



  1. Thank you for creating an awareness. I’m going to buy the book- know so little about this period in our history. Is it too late to put out the fire? Probably but we still have to try.

  2. William Smith says:

    “Ronald Reagan once said we are all the children of Jefferson. Maybe so, but we, the true conservatives in America today, are the rightful heirs of Goldwater.”

    Keith I know you job is to be an advocate and, as such, to try to make the facts serve the causes you advocate. But, do you not know or do you purposely neglect the full truth about Goldwarer of whom “we, the true conservatives…are the rightful heirs.”

    In the late ’70s Rep. John Buchanan of AL was was up for re-election. He moved toward more “progressive” views on race and social issues. But Goldwater went to AL, campaigned for him and said there was “a need for fine progressive Republcans like John Buchanan” who had ability and integrity.

    In 1976 he endorsed Ford over Reagan.

    When Falwell said Christians ought to be concerned about the nomination of Sandra Day O’Connor, Goldwater said. “I think Christians ought to kick Falwell in the ass.”

    In late life he moved away from mixed libertarianism to pure libertarianism favored abortion (which he had fomerly opposed and won a tough primary by saying so) and gay rights.

    He endorsed Bob Dole over the rest of the Republican field in ’96. He also said to Dole, who remained a traditional conservative, when Dole was getting grief from the right, “We’re the new liberals of the Republican Party,’Can you imagine that?”

    All this information is readily available. particulary in the Edwards biography of Goldwater.

    As I guess is obvious, McDaniel and your PAC are not really the heirs of Goldwater.


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