If Barack Obama is inaugurated as the first black US President in January 2009, it will be a fitting centenary of a little remembered birthday from 100 years previously. In January 1909, a man named Barry Goldwater was born in Phoenix, Arizona. Not many younger people remember him these days, but his political life and legacy are crucial to the development of modern America.
He was the Republican Senator who lost the presidential election to Lyndon Johnson in the Democratic landslide of 1964. Goldwater’s campaign rejected the progressive social policies of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Citing states rights, he opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, generally credited as the single piece of legislation that kick-started equality between black and white in the United States.
His defeat was a watershed for conservatives in the US as they saw their hero step away from public life. Instead of it being their last stand, the end of a long journey to modernity, it actually had the opposite effect. Over the next few decades the Conservatives gradually built themselves up to be the strongest political force in the country, Republican party aside – they were a political force in their own right. Reagan became the new de facto leader, and his two landslides in the 1980s, followed by three victories from the Bush family and vicious political persecution of the only successful Democrat of the era (Clinton), showed a force so strong that the Republican party seemed to be second fiddle to it, rather than the umbrella organisation.
An Obama victory will be a symbolic rejection of the Goldwater legacy. He is liberal and black. He is a strong believer in the power of the federal government to improve people’s lives. Ironically, after Goldwater left the senate in 1987, his seat was taken by one John McCain, and McCain is not considered a real conservative by the movement.
This presidential election will leave the conservatives with a dilemma. Do they vote for a man that they don’t really trust (McCain) as a better alternative to the one of the most liberal members of the senate (Obama)? Or do they try to bring back Barry Goldwater by sitting on their hands or voting for a more conservative third party candidate? I suspect that enough of them will do just this to hand Obama victory.
Happy Birthday Barry!
By Nick Cooper