A new documentary on Barry Goldwater opens with what was perhaps the most effective political ad ever made.
A little girl plucks the petals off a daisy, counting “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 6, 6, 8, 9.” A real countdown begins as the lens zooms in on her face, then on one eye, culminating in a nuclear explosion.
The voice-over is Lyndon B. Johnson: “These are the stakes: to make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other or we must die.”
The commercial didn’t name Goldwater, Johnson’s 1964 opponent in the presidential race. But the message was clear: You don’t want a dangerous crackpot with his finger on the button in charge.
Nobody would vote for that guy … and they didn’t. Goldwater lost in a landslide.
CC Goldwater, 46, granddaughter of the late Republican senator, looks back at that commercial today and thinks the girl bears an uncanny resemblance to the 5-year-old she was at the time. But the funny, loving and fascinating grandfather she knew over a lifetime was certainly not the “monster” of that ad.
“Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater,” set to begin airing Sept. 18 on HBO, is CC Goldwater’s attempt to set the record straight and show the man recognized as the father of the modern conservative movement in all his complexity.
It’s a melding of the personal and the political, said Goldwater, who initiated, produced and narrated the project.
Barry Goldwater, born in Phoenix while Arizona was a territory, served five terms as a senator from Arizona.
Growing up, Goldwater knew little of her grandfather’s politics. She didn’t know what he stood for. She didn’t quite understand where people were coming from when they told her either how fantastic or what a warmonger he was.
It wasn’t until she got into researching the film that she understood their reaction to a man unrestrained by spin doctors and political niceties.
He was “brutally frank.”
“Right or wrong, he always said what he felt. In some situations, it was not completely right. In other situations, it was right. But it was always honest,” she said.
The 90-minute film traces Goldwater’s life and lasting influence on American politics through dozens of interviews with such prominent politicians as Hillary Clinton and Sen. John McCain, and with family members and noted journalists.
Clinton recalls her days as a Goldwater Girl serving cookies and lemonade at political functions. Sen. Ted Kennedy remembers a senator who could differ with his opponents without being spiteful.
Goldwater’s friendship with President Kennedy was so tight that they talked about flying around the country together as rival candidates in the 1964 presidential campaign.
Though not explored in the film, Goldwater also had a close friendship with longtime Rep. Morris K. Udall, an icon of liberalism.
Goldwater sent Arizona’s Udall a check for $500 for Udall’s 1990 campaign, along with a letter saying he was free to make the contribution public.
“I’ve always supported you and I think it’s time this old Republican quit hiding behind the bush…. You’ve done this state more damn good than anyone I know,” Goldwater wrote.
The film touches on Goldwater’s love of aviation, history and photography.
He was a fantastic amateur photographer, who contributed regularly to Arizona Highways and had several books of his images of American Indians and Western landscapes published.
Goldwater shared his hobbies with his grandchildren, taking them into the cockpit of his plane and bringing along a camera on family outings, CC Goldwater said.
Later in his career, Goldwater took positions contrary to those of the Republican Party. But it was the conservative movement that shifted away from Barry, not the other way around.
With a firm belief that government shouldn’t meddle in people’s lives and morality, the World War II veteran shocked some people when he came out in the early 1990s for allowing gays in the military.
“You don’t need to be straight to fight and die for your country. You just need to shoot straight,” he famously said.
In 1992, the head of Arizona Right to Life blasted Goldwater as “dishonest” for his abortion rights positions. But the positions were consistent with his philosophy and with his experience.
One of the most personal stories in the film – one that helps explain a lifetime of supporting women’s right to control their bodies – is an interview with Joanne Goldwater, CC’s mother and Barry’s oldest daughter.
At age 19, pregnant and unmarried, Joanne had an illegal abortion. Goldwater gave his daughter his full emotional support, CC Goldwater said.
For reporters, Goldwater could be counted on to be anything but boring. He was funny, his language colorful and peppered with minor obscenities.
In a 1993 appearance on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno, Goldwater joked he wanted a tattoo of “a pair of ruby red lips” right on his keister – though he didn’t use the word keister.
In the documentary, George F. Will notes one journalist’s reaction in the press gallery at the 1964 Republican Convention to Goldwater’s bold declaration that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”
“Good God!” the reporter exclaimed. “Goldwater’s going to run as Goldwater.”
It would sum up Goldwater’s whole approach to life.
Anne T. Denogean can be reached at 573-4582 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Address letters to P.O. Box 26767, Tucson, AZ 85726-6767. Her column runs Tuesdays and Fridays.