Whenever anyone brings up conservative Republican leaders, the name Ronald Reagan is inevitably mentioned, as well it should be. But I’d like to discuss another leader about whom we seldom hear anything.
A while back on Facebook, someone called me a “neo-con,” and I had no idea what they were talking about. I quickly worked out that “neo” meant “new,” and I assumed that “con” was short for conservative. So I shot back that I’d been a conservative all my life. I then mentioned that the first political campaign I’d worked was for Barry Goldwater when he ran for president during the summer before my high school senior year.
My interest in politics then weren’t entirely noble. Barry had a staff of young ladies working for him at every location. The media had dubbed them the “Goldwater Girls.” One young lady happened to be someone I wanted to get to know better (in the biblical sense). Ironically, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was another of the “Goldwater Girls,” a fact I’m sure she’d like us all to forget.
My lust became political passion when Goldwater delivered his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. I remember me and my family sitting in front of the black-and-white Philco television when Goldwater delivered one line that was so strong and pure in its simplicity, and so absolute and unequivocal in its conviction, that I thought I’d suddenly been handed the keys to ultimate wisdom. (The quote begs to be heard earlier than the end.)
”Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”
I was 17 years old and possessed an essential political truth. The more I thought about his words, the more hooked I became. I soon forgot “what’s-her-name” and campaigned for Barry with everything I had.
Goldwater, of course, lost that election to Lyndon Johnson, and many thought the Democrats had waged a dirty campaign. Barry didn’t complain; he simply went back to his job as a senator, representing the people of his beloved Arizona, and as a reservist major general in the U.S. Air Force.
That wasn’t the end of Barry in my life. Years later, when my younger brother was serving in Vietnam, we got a phone call from Sen. Goldwater. He’d patched together a short-wave radio network from Vietnam to his home, coupled with the phone lines from his home to the homes of family members of servicemen, giving them the chance to talk to their loved ones. He never made a big deal about it; it was just something he wanted to do for our men and women in uniform.
Thirteen years ago this month, Sen. Goldwater quietly (how to do you die with fanfare?) passed away. The words he spoke 47 years ago, however, ring on, and they are just as true today as they were then.
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