In their hearts, they know he’s still right — and could likely teach the nation a thing or two in these dire days.
When Barry Goldwater accepted the 1964 Republican nomination for president, he gave a speech that galvanized his audience and went on to serve as a catalyst for the American conservative movement for decades to come. Now, a wide array of conservative luminaries — historians, politicians, journalists, former Goldwater associates — have joined forces to organize the Barry Goldwater 1964 Campaign 50th Anniversary Dinner and Forum, set for Tuesday in Washington. They are poised to celebrate the five-term senator from Arizona who once advised Republicans, “We must, and we shall, return to proven ways — not because they are old, but because they are true. 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.”
It was 50 years ago this month that Goldwater, who died in 1998 at the age of 89, lost to Lyndon B. Johnson in the presidential election, but the conservative movement gained a momentum from his campaign that it never lost. Staunch conservatives and young enthusiasts rallied and the post-1964 Republican Party rebuilt its intellectual and political base, setting the stage for Ronald Reagan’s victory in 1980 and the emergence of the tea party decades later,
“It is hard to believe a half-century has gone by since my family sat in San Francisco’s Cow Palace watching my dad accept the Republican nomination for president of the United States,” said Barry M. Goldwater Jr., who will speak at the dinner, along with his siblings Michael Goldwater and Peggy Goldwater.
“I don’t think any of us saw the incredible long-term impact of his nomination,” said Mr. Goldwater, who served as congressman from California from 1969 to 1983.
“In his acceptance speech, he urged Americans to embrace the traditional values of individual freedom and a free-market system. He stood tall in the saddle that night, noting the need for a strong national defense to defeat international communism.”
At the dinner, Mr. Goldwater said, “many of those who helped lead and participate in his 1964 campaign will come together to commemorate that campaign but more importantly to pay homage to the immutable values my dad and that campaign stood for.”
The host committee includes such conservative luminaries as Rep. Tom McClintock of California, John William Middendorf II, Edwin Feulner, Lee Edwards, Alfred Regnery, Richard Viguerie, Neal B. Freeman, Phyllis Schlafly, Ron Robinson and Morton Blackwell. The dinner will follow a forum at the Heritage Foundation parsing the trajectory of the conservative movement following Goldwater’s 1964 campaign, which ran under the slogan, “In your heart you know he’s right.”
“This 50-year anniversary is momentous as it launched the American conservative movement with the nomination of Barry Goldwater and the rise of Ronald Reagan. All modern history runs through this prism. Before 1964, conservatism was dismissed by liberals as a ‘rash of irritable mental gestures’ — and all sophisticated people believed that government could solve everything,” said Craig Shirley, a Reagan historian and author.
“The results of the midterms plus the elections of Reagan, the Gingrich congresses and the tea party revolution, the rise of Fox News, Newsmax, Breitbart and hundreds of other examples show that argument is over. Or at least it should be. However, there are still elements in the GOP — neocons, High Tories and big-government Republicans — who embrace Bushism over Reaganism. They are Republicans, yes, but they are not American conservatives. They are more akin to philosopher Edmund Burke, who believed in top-down governance,” Mr. Shirley observed.
“True American conservatives — like Goldwater, Reagan, William F. Buckley and others — always championed the individual over the state and over corporatism. They believe in bottom-up governance. As did the framers. This difference between Jeffersonian conservatives and Burkean rightists is as different as night and day. This fight is raging today, and that is why this anniversary celebrating Goldwater is so important,” he said.
Mr. Edwards, who analyzes conservative political thought at the Heritage Foundation, dubbed Goldwater the “most consequential loser in American politics.”
Jack Cox, chief of staff for Barry Goldwater Jr. when he served in the House, said the dinner celebrating the father’s legacy and influence would not be another run-of-the-mill Washington event.
“There are many, many political dinners in Washington every week and really every night,” Mr. Cox said. “All of these are put on by some organization.”
The Goldwater dinner, he said, “is different in that no organization is behind it. This dinner was organized and supported by individuals from across the nation who personally invested their time and money to pause to recognize an extraordinary leader in Barry Goldwater and a presidential campaign that changed our world. There would have never been a Ronald Reagan without Barry Goldwater. The impact of his campaign and leadership has been incredible.”
Net proceeds from the dinner will pay for the installation of an 8-foot bronze statue of Goldwater in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol. Last month, 11 lawmakers from Arizona sent a letter to House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, to approve installing the finished work in the hall on Arizona Statehood Day — Feb. 14, calling Goldwater “a man of great personal integrity and unblemished honor who put his country and our founding ideals before himself.”
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