Now here’s a politician with convictions. Firmly pro-choice, he was the husband of a regional founder of Planned Parenthood. He supported gay rights and environmentalism. He was a good friend of John F. Kennedy, an enemy of Jerry Falwell, and a figure admired by a young Hillary Clinton. An unusual set of characteristics to showcase in a documentary called Mr. Conservative, perhaps, but Barry Goldwater was an unusual man.
“Growing up, I was always told that he was a warmonger,” said CC Goldwater, the former senator’s granddaughter and the film’s producer, on the phone from New York City. “Telling people who my grandfather was could be awkward, especially while living in New York. ‘Wow, Barry Goldwater,’ people would say. ‘He was wild, wasn’t he?'”
The idea of a project to both celebrate the 1964 Republican presidential candidate’s life had been on Ms. Goldwater’s mind for years. “In high school,” she remembered, “one of my teachers approached and asked me if my grandfather could give a commencement address. I thought, ‘Why?’ I knew he was a senator, but I didn’t know what he stood for, what he was about. Doing this documentary was an opportunity to re-meet an important man in my life. I wanted to clarify misconceptions about the man he was, personally, privately, and politically.”
Asked what her grandfather would make of American politics today, Goldwater said she didn’t think he would recognize the Republican Party. “He would say, ‘I told you so.’ He was vocal about the infiltration of the religious right and conservatism’s subsequent fragmentation. It’s a whole different world, politically, than it was he stood in the Cow Palace and accepted the nomination.”
As discontent percolates within modern conservatism, disaffected Republicans have revisited the Goldwater political philosophy and found ideas more appealing than anything on offer today. This reflection has helped dispel the simple image of Barry Goldwater as war-crazed maniac, a goal shared by his granddaughter. “I think he was stereotyped in the ’60s with sound bites,” she said, “but when you read his nomination acceptance speech today, it’s very profound. It has a lot of application to what’s going on today. Back then, he was considered impulsive – people thought he would push the button and start a war.”
The improvisational quality of Mr. Conservative‘s production allowed Goldwater and her team at HBO Films to bring together a wide variety of source materials and interviewees. “There was no agenda in doing this film,” said Goldwater. “There was no script. We just said, let’s start from the beginning and tell a story about the man. Let’s talk about his growing up in the territory of Arizona. Let’s talk about his memory of watching his mother sew another star of the flag when it gained statehood. Let’s show the sensitive side of a man that was more complex than politics revealed.” The film presents not just a politician but a man of many interests, including photography, aviation, and nature preservation.
Far from a one-sided crowd of worshipers, the interviewees give opinions positive and negative, but not predictably so. “It was a balance of Republicans, Democrats, independents, and libertarians,” Goldwater explained. “With people of all different influences, viewers can see the fact that Barry Goldwater could walk on water between the two parties. He was able to go down the hall and ask Ted Kennedy to grab lunch with him. The principle behind putting all these various voices in-James Carville, Al Franken, Andy Rooney – was to show the polarity of this man. People respected him even if they didn’t agree with what he said. They loved him, and the side of the fence didn’t matter.”
That isn’t to say that he was equivocal. The socially liberal stripe of conservatism by which he stood firm has undergone a resurgence visible, for example, in the surprisingly popular campaign of 2008 Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul. “My grandfather was one of the early craftsmen of the conservative movement,” said Goldwater. “His core value was the constitution; he wanted to hold people’s feet to the ground on it. We’ve since drifted farther away from that and moved away from upholding civil liberties. Even then, he saw that government was even then getting into our boardrooms, our bedrooms, and our bathrooms. He saw the religious right come in and take the movement in a direction he disliked. He saw the writing on the wall.”
Barry Goldwater once asserted his belief that, one day, conservatives of his mind would come to be called liberals. At the time of Mr. Conservative‘s release, that day appears to have arrived.
CC Goldwater will appear at the screening of Mr. Conservative at UCSB’s Cambell Hall on November 28, 7:30 p.m., to introduce the film and answer questions afterward. Call 893-3535 for tickets. For more info on the film, see mrconservative.net.