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Arizona's Goldwaters: following the family fortunes and fame

The Goldwaters of Arizona, by Dean Smith. Foreword by Barry Goldwater. Flagstaff, Ariz.: Northland Press. 273 pp. $21.95. Exactly 100 years before Barry Goldwater was first elected to the Senate in 1952, his grandfather, Michel Goldwater, and Michel's brother stepped off a ship in San Francisco. The brothers, Jews who had left Russian-dominated Poland to escape persecution and Czarist conscription, were not penniless, but their resources were meager. Over the century that followed, the Goldwaters established themselves as one of Arizona's prominent families.

This book chronicles the family's rise. It is a timely account, as Senator Goldwater has announced his retirement from public life at the end of his term this year.

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``Big Mike'' Goldwater turned to selling dry goods in the mining towns of California and, after a few years, the Arizona Territory. His fortunes rose and fell during the early years, and he achieved secure success only in the 1870s, when his son Morris took over leadership of the family business. Under Morris, another son, Baron (Barry's father), and Baron's sons, the Goldwater stores in Prescott and Phoenix ultimately flourished into great emporiums.

The early Goldwaters, most notably Morris, had flings in politics on top of their business dealings. But, of course, the Goldwater saga is of national importance because of Barry's career, including five terms in the United States Senate and his nomination to be the Republican standard bearer against Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

Although he was buried under LBJ's landslide, Barry's candidacy was a major catalyst for the conservative revival that culminated in Ronald Reagan's accession to the presidency. Many young backers of Reagan tell of having cut their ideological teeth on Goldwater's ``Conscience of a Conservative,'' published 25 years ago and still in print.

There is plenty of material in the Goldwater story for a major biography, political history, or social and economic study of an overlooked region. Unfortunately, this book is none of these.

The author has all but ignored issues that could have given the book substance, such as, to name just a few, the problems of financing business and public enterprises in the capital-starved West; Judaism on the American frontier; or the ways in which the Western experience and, equally important, myths about the Western experience shaped Barry Goldwater's laissez-faire, antigovernment sagebrush populism. It is virtually silent on some of Goldwater's most important achievements, especially his long struggle to keep the US armed forces at once strong and efficient.

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