Barry Goldwater: Biography, Quotes & Books

Instructor: Matthew Helmer

Matt is an upcoming Ph.D. graduate and archaeologist. He has taught Anthropology, Geography, and Art History at the university level.

Barry Goldwater was an influential politician during the 1960s, and he is seen by many as the father of the modern Republican party. In this lesson, learn about his life, works, and historical legacy, then test yourself with a quiz.

Barry Goldwater: 'Grand Old Man of the Republican Party'

Believe it or not, the political parties we recognize today are actually very different than they were 50 years ago. For instance, liberals and conservatives were located in each political party. It wasn't until the Cold War that anti-communist politics helped shape the parties we now recognize. Barry Goldwater is considered by many to be the father of the modern-day conservative Republican party, earning him the interesting nickname, 'Grand Old Man of the Republican Party.'

Goldwater's Early Life and Rise to the United States Senate

Barry Goldwater
Barry Goldwater

Barry Goldwater was born on Jan. 2, 1909, in Phoenix, before Arizona was even a state. Goldwater's family owned a store, where he worked during his youth before serving in World War 2 in Asia and on the homefront. After the war, Goldwater returned to Phoenix and turned to a career as a politician. After ascending the ranks of municipal government in Phoenix, Goldwater successfully ran for the United States Senate in 1952. He took the seat of Democrat Ernest McFarland, who was the Senate majority leader at the time. Goldwater served in the Senate for 30 years, where he made his most significant accomplishments. Goldwater's successor was John McCain, who still serves in the same seat today.

Goldwater's Political Career: Redefining Conservatism and a Failed Presidential Run

Barry Goldwater was well known for being outspoken, and he had no issue about expressing his views. He made a name for himself by speaking out against labor unions, government regulation, and communism. Goldwater didn't trust collectivist organizations, which is how he categorized unions and big government. Goldwater wasn't alone with these types of ideas. He rose to prominence at the height of the Cold War, when the world was torn between Soviet-led-communist and United States-led-capitalist ideologies. Goldwater's ability to appeal to anti-communist sentiments led to his rise to the top in the United States Senate.

In 1960, Goldwater published his landmark book, The Conscience of a Conservative, which helped propel him to an eventual presidential run in 1964. In his book, Goldwater lashes out against the welfare state, which is the concept of federally funded social aid programs such as universal healthcare and Social Security. He also continued to liken these programs to being similar in theory to communism. The biggest impact of the book was that it united the various types of Republicans at the time under a single ideology.

Today, Goldwater's policies might be considered libertarian, because he was more of an advocate of economic conservatism than social conservatism. As we will learn below, Goldwater was also a revolutionary in socially liberal policies. Goldwater's book was one of the most widely printed political books of the 20th century, and its messages are still relevant today.

Goldwater soared in popularity after the publication of his book, leading him to run for president against incumbent Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. Goldwater ran on a far right-wing campaign against Johnson, who was famous for his accomplishments in social welfare. Goldwater ran with the campaign slogan, 'In your heart, you know he's right.' In the end, however, Goldwater's inability to take more moderate stances on social welfare were his undoing, and he lost the presidency by a landslide. Goldwater carried only six states, compared to Johnson's 44 states. Goldwater also painted himself as an extremist for suggesting the use of nuclear weapons in the Vietnam War.

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