Goldwater's Nonpartisan Brand of Honesty
'Mr. Republican" is a misnomer. So is "Mr. Conservative." Barry Goldwater was really "Mr. Call It As It Is and Let the Chips Fall Where They May." But that's too long. Just make it "Mr. Integrity."
I traveled with Mr. Goldwater all along the campaign trail during his unsuccessful 1964 quest for the presidency. Most of the reporters were - as polls show they would be today - of a Democratic liberal bent. Perhaps the bulk of them voted for Lyndon Johnson that fall. But my impression was that the press on that plane liked and respected the Arizonan. Again and again I would hear from my colleagues: Here is a man who says what he believes.
Goldwater was the author and chief spokesman of a conservative philosophy that, through his efforts, became the core belief of the Republican Party. Ronald Reagan was a disciple of Goldwater conservatism and an old friend. Yet when Mr. Reagan said he hadn't been aware of the Iran-contra mess, Goldwater spoke up and said that if Reagan said this, he was either too detached from his job to be president or he was lying. That was typical Goldwater - letting his perception of the truth prevail over partisanship or friendship.
Perhaps Goldwater's most effective political act of his long career was when he uttered the words that turned the Watergate tide against his old friend, Richard Nixon.
It was April 1973. Nixon had been knocked back on his heels by press disclosure. But he was still holding firmly to the helm when Goldwater, in a Monitor interview, called on the president to "speak up now" and "give assurances" to the public on the Watergate affair.
It was these words that dimmed Nixon's prospects for survival: "The Watergate. The Watergate," Goldwater said. "It's beginning to be like Teapot Dome. I mean, there's a smell to it. Let's get rid of the smell."
Here was the titular head of the GOP speaking out, asserting that he was hearing from Republican leaders all over the US who were telling him how much Watergate was hurting them and their political prospects.
Goldwater had also added these words in the interview: "I see the issue out of this as 'can you trust Dick Nixon?' It gets right down to that". Mr. Integrity was blowing the whistle on Nixon. He never recovered.
Goldwater used a few "hells" in that interview with me. He called the next day to say that his wife had "given me," (a pause) "criticized me for using that word."
Goldwater met with the Monitor breakfast group shortly after that interview and told us that "the Democrats are going to be in this (Watergate) in a livid, vivid way before this is over." He indicated that the Democrats had invaded the GOP campaign with what he called "electronic espionage." He said that his own 1964 campaign had suffered a similar invasion.
Those Goldwater words never resulted in any follow-up by the press. All of the Washington media it seemed was completely preoccupied with Nixon's involvement in Watergate.
In June of that year Senator Goldwater granted us another interview in which he once again showed his independent spirit by going to the defense of the Democratic chairman of the Senate Committee that was about to investigate Watergate, Sam Ervin. "I haven't detected a partisan statement yet from him," Goldwater said.
Much has been written about Goldwater in the wake of his passing - how courageous and honest he was, how true he was to himself. I recall an example of his fairness that probably very few Monitor people would remember.
During the 1964 campaign a number of Monitor readers expressed their unhappiness over what they saw as our paper's bias in favor of Johnson. In fact, we were making a special effort to give equal treatment of both candidates.
And then, out of the blue, a letter came in from Goldwater. In that letter, which was published on our editorial page, the Senator cited the Monitor for its "fairness" in our coverage. The "anti" letters suddenly disappeared.