Home / Centennial Profiles / The Gold Standard: Barry Goldwater’s 30-year U.S. Senate career made him an icon in Arizona politics

The Gold Standard: Barry Goldwater’s 30-year U.S. Senate career made him an icon in Arizona politics

Barry Goldwater circa 1964 (Image courtesy of the Goldwater Institute.)

Barry Goldwater was born three years before Arizona became a state. Who could have imagined that this toddler would become the man most associated with the Grand Canyon State? A five-term U.S. senator and the Republican presidential candidate in 1964, he epitomized the ruggedness of the Wild West and loved the state, with its magnificent vistas, as much as anyone possibly could.

On Statehood Day in 1912, 3-year-old Barry served as ring bearer in the wedding of Joe Melczer and Hazel Goldberg. It was the first wedding in the newest, 48th state. There would be many more firsts in Goldwater’s life.

Goldwater launched his political career in 1949 when he was recruited by business leaders to run for the Phoenix City Council as part of a movement to rid the city of widespread prostitution and gambling. He won, and found that campaigning came easy to him.

His first run for the U.S. Senate in 1952 was considerably more challenging. He took on Senate Majority Leader Ernest McFarland, upsetting the veteran Democrat by a scant 7,000 votes. Goldwater was easily re-elected in 1958, again defeating McFarland who tried vainly to win back his old seat.

In 1964, Goldwater captured the GOP nomination for president, a first for an Arizonan. At the party’s convention in San Francisco, Goldwater uttered perhaps his most memorable quote: “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” Painted as a war monger by Democrats, Goldwater was soundly defeated by President Lyndon Johnson, carrying only six states, including Arizona.

Afterward, Goldwater said he knew deep down that his quest for the presidency was doomed. The nation, he said, was not ready to put a third president in the White House in barely a year following the November 1963 assassination of President John Kennedy. Though Goldwater and Kennedy were poles apart philosophically, they were good personal friends. Goldwater had looked forward to campaigning along with and against Kennedy in 1964.

In subsequent years after the 1964 debacle, Goldwater also showed his sense of humor, noting that if all the people who told him they had voted for him actually did, he would have won handily.

In a post-election press conference, Goldwater said, “I want to express my gratitude to the more than 25 million people in this country who not necessarily voted for me but voted for a philosophy that I represent, a Republican philosophy that I believe the Republican Party must cling to and strengthen in the years ahead.”

Goldwater easily regained a seat in the Senate in 1968, succeeding the retiring Arizona icon, Carl Hayden, and coasted to a fourth term in 1974, but his run for re-election in 1980 proved to be a serious challenge. Goldwater was aging and aching from various surgeries, including two hip replacements, and real estate developer Bill Schulz campaigned on a theme: “Energy for the 80s.” The message was that Goldwater, who had missed numerous votes in the Senate while recuperating, was too old for the job.

Nevertheless, Goldwater campaigned hard. On a swing through Indian country, Goldwater squeezed his aches and pains into a tiny rear compartment of a small helicopter, just so he could thank the Native Americans who strongly supported his candidacy. And after an appearance in Sedona, Goldwater waited inside the local airport terminal eying the menacing late fall weather. Goldwater had learned to fly in 1930, flew supplies to troops during World War II, and was a retired major general in the Air Force. His longtime chief of staff, Judy Eisenhower, told a reporter covering the campaign event not to worry about the bad weather. “The senator has a sign in his office that says, ‘There are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots.’ We’re not going anywhere until the storm passes,” Eisenhower said.

When the 1980 results were in, Schulz actually attracted more votes than Goldwater on Election Day, but the absentee ballots gave the senator a 9,600-vote victory.

Throughout his 30-year Senate career, Goldwater gained the respect of colleagues on both sides of the aisle. On Aug. 7, 1974, Goldwater led a four-man GOP congressional delegation to the White House to inform President Richard Nixon that his impeachment in connection with the Watergate scandal was inevitable. Nixon resigned the next day.

During his fifth term, Goldwater served as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee. In his final year in office, he was responsible for pushing through the Defense Department Reorganization Act of 1986, which streamlined command channels at the Pentagon. Exhibiting his no-nonsense, shoot-from-the-hip approach, Goldwater was quoted as saying the reorganization measure was “the only goddamn thing I’ve done in the Senate that’s worth a damn.”

In later years, Goldwater spent most of his time in his hilltop Paradise Valley home. As the elder statesman, he would meet with various groups seeking his counsel and support. Occasionally, he would look out of the picture windows toward downtown Phoenix and grumble about what the accumulating smog was doing to his beautiful Arizona.

Goldwater died on May 29, 1998, at the age of 89.


On running for president: “I will offer a choice, not an echo.”

On allowing gays to serve in the military: “You don’t have to be straight to be in the military – you just have to be able to shoot straight.”

On former President Richard Nixon after Nixon resigned in disgrace: “Nixon was the most dishonest individual I have ever met in my life. He lied to his wife, his family, his friends, his colleagues in the Congress, lifetime members of his own political party, the American people and the world.”

On how the news media treated him during his 1964 presidential campaign: “I have never in my life seen such inflammatory language as has been used by some men who know better, who should write better, who should know that no man in this country, for example, is ever going to start a war, that no man in this country is ever going to deny anybody what they have coming to them.”

On illegal immigration: “With the incentive of a better life, people will brave laws and obstacles to come here. Thus, this is a complex problem with no easy solution. We need a clearer U.S. immigration policy that is actually enforced. We need increased cooperation with the countries that are sending illegal aliens.”

Barry and Peggy Goldwater Library and Archives

Fundraising efforts are underway to establish a Barry and Peggy Goldwater Library and Archives in honor of the late senator and his first wife, according to Goldwater’s long-time chief of staff, Judy Eisenhower. The city of Phoenix is providing a tract of land at Fillmore Street and Fifth Avenue for the building, Eisenhower says. An estimated $30 million to $40 million is needed to complete the project.

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