It has gone largely unnoticed that President Reagan is giving the American people the kind of government that Barry Goldwater was espousing in his losing effort to win the presidency in 1964.
Less government spending. A more economical government. A stronger military. That is what Goldwater stood for. And, of course, it's all here today -- in the Reagan blueprint being put into effect.
But Reagan does not cite his Goldwater roots much. Instead, he continues to hail Coolidge who, ironically, seems to be in a different mold than Reagan.
Some observers called Coolidge a do-nothing president. Certainly he wasn't an activist. And whatever Reagan is or isn't it must be said that he is a President who is making every effort to move the nation forward. He may have to take a little extra rest these days in the wake of the assassination attempt. But he remains very active. And he has put in place a presidency that is well underway toward making monumental governmental changes.
Nothing about Goldwater would indicate he would have been a president who would have been content to sit back and let the nation drift. Reagan must have had that view of Goldwater, too. It was obvious that he was caught up in his conviction that Goldwater would be a great president, one who would bring about dramatic changes, when he delivered that memorable TV speech in the Arizonan's behalf late in the 1964 campaign. He said as much.
But since the 1960s the Reagan-Goldwater relationship has not been a close, personal one.
Associates of both men say publicly that the two men get along very well these days. But one presidential aide says the White House must treat Goldwater with "kid gloves," that he is "prickly and unpredictable." And in the Goldwater camp the relationship is described as "correct" -- as opposed to warm and intimate.
Goldwater didn't help his standing with Reagan when he put CIA chief William Casey on the Senate hot seat. But in the end it was Goldwater who blinked in the eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with the President. Later Goldwater's hurt feelings were assuaged when the President selected Goldwater's Supreme Court appointee recommendation: Sandra O'Connor.
Actually, there was a deep estrangement between Reagan and Goldwater in 1976 when the Arizona Senate endorsed President Ford, not Reagan, in the presidential primary. One of Reagan's close friends called the act "a stab in the back."
Goldwater felt that Reagan should have been more understanding, that he should have expected him to back an incumbent president who also was a good friend.
So Goldwater stands just outside the President's inner circle of advisers. He is consulted from time to time, but it is Paul Laxalt, not Goldwater, who over the years has become Reagan's confidant in the Senate.
In a meeting with reporters at breakfast the other day Goldwater showed a side of himself that separates him from others who call themselves conservatives , like Helms, East, and Denton. He simply will have nothing to do with the far right. This includes the moral Majority.
Goldwater sees such groups as "divisive." He believes all the attention they give to busing, abortion, and other so-called social issues works a disservice to the nation since it diverts public, congressional, and presidential attention away from what is all important to America's future: dealing with the economic problems and shoring up defense.
Goldwater is, indeed, a conservative. But there has always been an unpredictability about him, an insistence on going his own way, that has only added to his image of integrity.
It was Goldwater's reputation for independent thinking and for telling the truth that caused his criticism of Nixon to have such an impact during Watergate. "The Watergate. The Watergate," he said. "It's beginning to be like Teapot Dome. I mean, there's a smell to it. Let's get rid of the smell."
Those words were like a thunderclap. Nixon loyalists began to leave him in droves, their distrust kindled by a man they had long admired and respected above all others.
Actually, Goldwater is much less consistently conservative than Reagan. That is, the President seems to welcome the support of the far right even if he may not always agree with its programs. Perhaps the difference which separates the two men -- which keeps them from a truly close relationship -- is an ideological one.