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Flying High: Remembering Barry Goldwater
Synopses & Reviews
If any two people can be called indispensable in launching the conservative movement in American politics, they are William F. Buckley Jr. and Barry Goldwater. Buckleys National Review was at the center of conservative political analysis from the mid-fifties onward. But the policy intellectuals knew that to actually change the way the country was run, they needed a presidential candidate, and the man they turned to was Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater. Goldwater was in many ways the perfect choice: self-reliant, unpretentious, unshakably honest and dashingly handsome, with a devoted following that grew throughout the fifties and early sixties. He possessed deep integrity and a sense of decency that made him a natural spokesman for conservative ideals. But his flaws were a product of his virtues. He wouldnt bend his opinions to make himself more popular, he insisted on using his own inexperienced advisors to run his presidential campaign, and in the end he electrified a large portion of the electorate but lost the great majority. Flying High is Buckleys partly fictional tribute to the man who was in many ways his alter ego in the conservative movement. It is the story of two men who looked as if they were on the losing side of political events, but were kept aloft by the conviction that in fact they were making history.
"This is the journeyman Bill Buckley. Part memoir, part political history and part reportage, Flying High sparkles with joie de vivre and syntactical expertise, giving lively accounts of Nikita Khrushchev's historic — and theatrical — visit to the United States, the 1960 Republican convention and fallout, and National Review's heady first years. Readers are made privy to Buckley's behind-closed-doors meetings with other right-wing mavens as they debate the John Birch Society, commission Buckley's brother-in-law, Brent Bozell, to ghostwrite The Conscience of a Conservative and attempt to propel its putative author Goldwater into political office — only to find themselves dramatically excluded from the 1964 campaign. Although the book's scattered time line is slightly jarring (Buckley jumps between the 1964 campaign and affectionate memories of Goldwater), that does not detract from this book's modest and utterly satisfying pleasures." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Only yesterday, or so it seems, American conservatives were on the verge of becoming a political majority. Now, burdened by internal divisions and a discredited president, the conservative movement is in retreat; in a recent Pew survey only a third of Americans called themselves conservative. Facing an uncertain future, conservatives have become increasingly celebratory about their leaders of the... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) past, especially the iconic Ronald Reagan and the recently departed William F. Buckley Jr., who lit the torch at National Review in the 1950s and kept it burning for half a century. Conservatives are also rediscovering Sen. Barry M. Goldwater of Arizona, honored in 'Flying High' and 'Pure Goldwater' as an American original and a seminal conservative hero. Goldwater was a comet in the summer skies of 1964, riding out of the West to rescue the Republican Party from its long-dominant Eastern establishment. Speaking his mind with a forcefulness that both inspired and alienated, Goldwater was the change candidate of his time, drawing huge crowds and bringing young people into politics. Nelson Rockefeller, the establishment champion, depicted Goldwater as an 'extremist' who was hostile to Social Security and civil rights and provocative toward the Soviet Union. After securing the Republican nomination by narrowly defeating Rockefeller in the California primary, Goldwater defiantly accepted the mantle that had been draped on him, declaring in his acceptance speech at the San Francisco Cow Palace that 'extremism in defense of liberty is no vice [and] moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.' The Goldwater comet descended rapidly after that. President Lyndon B. Johnson fine-tuned Rockefeller's extremist theme and waged a fear-mongering campaign that depicted his opponent as likely to lead the nation into all-out war — if not Armageddon. Its low point was a television commercial in which a little girl plucks the petals of a daisy while a voice-over does a countdown that ends in a nuclear blast. Frightened voters elected Johnson in a monumental landslide. He promptly sent half a million American troops to Vietnam, as he had secretly planned to do all along. In 1964 Republicans were so badly beaten across the board that pundits speculated they might go the way of the Whigs. Instead, the GOP was soon resurgent under Richard Nixon and was later reborn under Reagan, who made his national debut on Oct. 27, 1964, with a stirring televised speech on Goldwater's behalf. As John W. Dean, who was Nixon's White House counsel, and Barry M. Goldwater Jr., Goldwater's son, remind us in 'Pure Goldwater,' the results of the election were not surprising to the Arizona senator. Goldwater had expected to run against President John F. Kennedy, with whom he had discussed a trailblazing campaign in which the two of them toured the country together debating issues. After Kennedy was assassinated, Goldwater said he wouldn't run but relented at the urging of young conservatives. As Goldwater later reminisced, he knew he had no chance of victory 'because the country was not ready for three presidents in two and a half years.' Indeed, it seems doubtful from the evidence produced by these two books that the country would ever have been ready for a Goldwater presidency. Goldwater was too outspoken to reach a comfort level as a national candidate — his offhand remarks such as a wisecrack about wanting to lob a grenade into the men's room of the Kremlin played into the hands of his opponents. And even if he had been less colorful, Goldwater was always well to the right of the American political mainstream. The earliest political commentary cited in 'Pure Goldwater' — an annotated collection of Goldwater's letters, diary entries and other writings — is a 1937 editorial bemoaning the New Deal and accusing President Franklin D. Roosevelt of turning 'the future of the working man' over to 'the racketeering practices of ill-organized unions.' In 1958, as related in Buckley's memoir 'Flying High,' Goldwater charged that Walter Reuther and his United Auto Workers 'are a more dangerous menace than the Sputniks, or anything Russia might do.' Goldwater hurled around the words 'socialist' and 'socialistic,' using them to describe domestic policies of FDR and Harry Truman, the attitudes of various reporters and columnists, and the relatively timid proposals of the Eisenhower administration to spend federal money on health care and education. Goldwater refused, in Buckley's words, to 'bend with the spirit of the age.' Indeed, Goldwater was not much of a bender in any respect, and he viewed U.S. presidents with a gimlet eye. Despite his fondness for Kennedy, Goldwater believed that the president had shown a 'rather gutless character' in refusing to provide air cover for the anti-Castro Cuban forces at the Bay of Pigs. He had no use for Johnson, whom he considered 'not honest enough to be a good president.' Goldwater backed Richard Nixon but suspected he was insufficiently dedicated to conservative principles. Disgusted by the Watergate scandal, Goldwater was one of three GOP congressional leaders who on Aug. 7, 1974, told President Nixon that he would be removed by impeachment if he did not step down. In a 1975 letter to Washington Post columnist David S. Broder, Goldwater concluded that everything Nixon had done over the years had been 'for his own advancement, only I was too damn dumb to realize it.' Goldwater certainly wasn't dumb, but he was no match for Nixon in the dubious craft of political intrigue, and he lacked the populist reach of Reagan — a former FDR supporter and union president — with working-class Democrats. Still, Goldwater paved the way for the success of Nixon and Reagan by routing the Rockefeller wing of the Republican Party and transforming the GOP into a conservative institution. In so doing, Goldwater assured his own defeat but left the party hungry for unity. The ideological framework for Goldwater's achievement was 'The Conscience of a Conservative,' a surprise best-seller. This 1960 book had Goldwater's name on it, but the writing (even the typos, according to 'Flying High') was the work of Buckley's brother-in-law and Yale debate partner, Brent Bozell. In clear, polemical prose, Bozell made the case against collectivism and detente and argued that U.S. leaders needed to make a vigorous effort to win the Cold War. 'Conscience' became a widely quoted text for conservatives, notably Reagan. 'Pure Goldwater' waffles on the authorship of 'Conscience,' suggesting that the book was a collaboration between Goldwater and Bozell. In fact, Goldwater had no talent for the overarching formulations on which Bozell thrived; the Arizona senator was a man of action, not a theorist. He was an accomplished aviator and photographer as well as a passable carpenter and an avid outdoorsman. Radio was a special love. When he was 14, Goldwater wrote Thomas Edison to inform the renowned inventor that he was operating a 10-watt radio station at his public school. In time this boyhood fixation evolved into an elaborate ham radio operation; during the Vietnam War Goldwater patched 200,000 calls from servicemen to their families in the United States. These personal glimpses redeem 'Pure Goldwater,' which is at once a sprawling treasure trove and a hodgepodge with so many gaps in Goldwater's dictated journal entries that it relies on other books and public documents for several key episodes. 'Flying High,' in contrast, is a slender but elegiac volume in which Buckley's wit and lyricism soar from beyond the grave. Few readers will mind that several of the chapters are devoted less to Goldwater than to the early days of National Review. As always, Buckley writes well about politics, but the singular achievement of this book is its nostalgic remembrance of an enduring friendship between the author and his subject. Goldwater is worth rediscovering. He was a conservative of the old school who believed, in the mantra of his day, that government should stay out of the boardroom and the bedroom. Almost casually supportive of abortion rights (and later gay rights) and proud that his wife was active in Planned Parenthood, Goldwater worried about the concentration of federal power and believed that the constitutional role of Congress had been usurped by the executive overreach of the Johnson administration. These were valid concerns in 1964, and they are valid again today. Conservatives — and liberals, too — take note. Lou Cannon is a former White House correspondent for The Washington Post and the co-author, with his son, Carl, of 'Reagan's Disciple: George W. Bush's Troubled Quest for a Presidential Legacy.'" Reviewed by Lou Cannon, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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Buckley's first political book in nearly two decades is a revealing memoir ofthe first champion of the conservative movement--Barry Goldwater.
William F. Buckley Jr.s first political book in nearly two decades is a revealing memoir of the first champion of the conservative movement
About the Author
William F. Buckley Jr. is the author of fifty previous works of fiction and nonfiction. The founder and former editor-in-chief of National Review and former host of Firing Line,” he has been one of the intellectual leaders of the right since the 1950s. He lives in Stamford, Connecticut, and New York City.
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