Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater

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Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater
Barry Goldwater and one of his favorite hobbies, photography.
Airdate September 18, 2006
Director Julie Anderson
Network HBO
Style 90-minute biographical documentary special
Company HBO Documentary Films
Sweet Pea Films
Origin USA

Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater (2006) is an HBO documentary special, produced by CC Goldwater and profiling her grandfather, Senator Barry Goldwater, the controversial and plain-spoken Republican nominee for President of the United States in 1964.

Narrator: CC Goldwater

Interviewees: Jack August (Arizona Historical Foundation), Morton Blackwell (Republican National Committee), Julian Bond (Chairman, NAACP), Ben Bradlee (The Washington Post), James Carville (Political Consultant), Peggy Goldwater Clay (Daughter), Hillary Rodham Clinton (U.S. Senator), Walter Cronkite (Former CBS News Anchor), Alfonse D'Amato (Former U.S. Senator), John Dean (Former White House Counsel), Judy Eisenhower (Longtime Assistant), Al Franken (Political Humorist), Barry Goldwater Jr. (Son), Bob Goldwater (Brother), Joanne Goldwater (Daughter), Michael Goldwater (Son), Ty Goldwater (Grandson), Senator Edward Kennedy (Brother of President Kennedy), Robert MacNeil (Political Correspondent), John McCain (U.S. Senator), Sandra Day O'Connor (Associate Justice, U.S. Supreme Court), Sally Quinn (Journalist), Andy Rooney (CBS News), Bob Schieffer (CBS News), Helen Thomas (White House Press Corps), Ellen Thrasher (Secretary), Jack Valenti (Johnson Campaign Advisor), Richard Viguerie (Conservative Digest Magazine), Senator John Warner (Former Aide to Senator Goldwater), George Will (Author and Columnist)



The film is a portrait by CC Goldwater of her famous grandfather, Republican Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, and his life and political career. Senator Goldwater was elected to the United States Senate in 1952 but rose to prominence in the early 1960s after the publication of his book, The Conscience of a Conservative, still considered one of the most significant political tracts of the 20th century. His popularity amongst what was then the far right in American politics led to his bid for the office of President of the United States—an office Goldwater seemed not to have wanted and for which he had even more distaste after the death of his political rival and good friend, President John F. Kennedy. Nonetheless, Goldwater ran and was nominated. In his acceptance speech, he famously said, "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice."

Of course, most of the film concerns itself with the 1964 presidential election. Goldwater had little chance of winning the election, as President Lyndon B. Johnson was running for re-election on a platform of continuing the Kennedy legacy. Despite his wide lead, however, Johnson fought hard to maintain the presidency. He painted Goldwater as a racist, a cowboy (ironically an archetype as which Johnson portrayed himself to his advantage) and a warmonger. In one of the most famous political advertisements of all time, an ad for the Johnson campaign, a little girl picks daisies, counting the petals, but her counting is then super-imposed with a man's voice in a countdown. The commercial cuts to footage of a nuclear mushroom cloud as an announcer says, "These are the stakes. ... Vote for President Johnson on November third. The stakes are too high for you to stay home."

In fact, the film is quite candid in its portrayal of Goldwater's assertion that nuclear escalation was necessary. Goldwater declared nuclear weapons would someday be known as conventional weapons. He also favored using low-yield tactical nuclear weapons in the then mostly ignored conflict in Vietnam. (In fairness to Goldwater, the film also points out he favored escalation in Vietnam, which Johnson himself actually did in his second term, much to his detriment.) It also bluntly portrays Goldwater as opposing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, albeit not on racist grounds. Goldwater, a staunch states rights supporter, believed Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and other Southern states should be left to solve their segregation problems on their own without federal intervention. However, as commentators in the film points out, the situation was too grave for the federal government not to intervene. Although Johnson was already favored to win, his 486-52 electoral landslide (and 20th-century-record-setting 61-38 popular vote margin) was partly credited to the so-called "Daisy Ad" and Goldwater's bluntness in campaigning.

The film also portrays a complex and layered political career. After his 1964 defeat, Goldwater returned to the Senate in 1969 to serve three more terms. In that time, he publicly supported President Richard Nixon, but in private, he had an utter distaste for the man he perceived as a liar and even encouraged John Dean to testify against him. Although many saw President Ronald Reagan's 1980 victory as the final triumph of Goldwater conservativism, Goldwater himself distrusted the Religious Right who helped elect Reagan and publicly and vehemently clashed with them when they opposed the nomination of his Arizona friend and colleague Sandra Day O'Connor to the Supreme Court of the United States. He also supported gay rights at a time when the issue came to the mainstage. Modern commentators are shown remarking on how liberal "Mr. Conservative" would be under 2006 standards.

The documentary is also a portrait of the private Goldwater his family and friends knew, and he was just as complex there as he was in his private life. Although he was a caring father who supported his daughter Joanne when she had an abortion, his son Barry, Jr. is brought to tears when he recalls how difficult it was for the senator to show affection. Meanwhile, grandson Ty says Goldwater was never less than supportive when Ty came out of the closet as a homosexual. That notwithstanding, several family members comment on how Goldwater came to a point where he seemed to put service of his country and its public good ahead of attention to his family. Yet in that service, even those who opposed his political philosophy, such as CBS' Andy Rooney, say, "I loved him," and Democrats such as Edward Kennedy and Hillary Rodham Clinton speak nothing but praise for him. His love for photography, airplanes and his native Arizona is also thoroughly documented.



Behind the Scenes

Allusions and References


  • CC Goldwater: So, basically, um, we've done a number of interviews, and everybody just loves Barry Goldwater. So we want you to be the person that just tells us the real, honest-to-God truth about Barry Goldwater, and....
    Andy Rooney: I loved him.
  • Barry Goldwater: (In archive footage.) In my home state, we have very few public places that remain segregated. By pointing out to business people that it is morally wrong to practice, ah, discrimination, and it's also economically bad, this type of approach, while I know it's time-consuming, it is having its effect, will have its effect, and I think it will achieve what we want.
    Al Franken: Oh, like, what year? In 1967? In 1979? In 1983? Is it OK during the intervening times that a Black kid in a high school baseball team can't stay in a motel?
  • Barry Goldwater, Jr.: So many of us, you know, we-we want to please our fathers. And you know somethin'? In our mind, we never do it.
    CC Goldwater: What does that feel like?
    Barry Goldwater, Jr.: It hurts. It's, ah, it's very painful. Ah, and sometimes, ah, pushes you in destructive kinds of behavior that are not healthy for you or maybe others.
    CC Goldwater: Do you want to talk about that at all?
    Barry Goldwater, Jr.: No, I don't.
  • Jack Valenti: Politics ain't bean bags. This is a very tough sport you play, and we played it to the hilt.
  • Al Franken: There were people said that if you vote for Goldwater, the Vietnam War will escalate, and we'll have, you know, 450,000 American troops there. And a friend of mind voted for Goldwater, and that's exactly what happened.
  • John McCain: Barry said, "If I'd've been elected president, you'd've never spent all those years in a Vietnamese prison camp." And I said, "You're right, Barry. It would've been a Chinese prison camp."
  • John Dean: He says to me, "John," he said, "That S.O.B. was always a liar, so go nail 'im."
  • George Will: People say Goldwater lost in 1964. Some of us think Goldwater won, it just took 16 years to count the votes. In 1980, we finally got the results in, and conservativism had won.
  • Helen Thomas: Compared to today, he looks liberal to me.
    Barry Goldwater: (Archive footage from 1963.) Actually, I think when history is written, that you'll probably find the conservatives of my ilk being called liberal.
  • James Carville: But he started a whole movement. I mean, these guys don't come along very often. Heh, heh, heh, heh. I mean, to be fair to, to the current crop and to be respectful of what he accomplished, it's not very often that someone is the father of a movement that turns out to be ultimately, you know, pretty successful, although it's gone pretty far way from Goldwaterism. And, you know, so it kind of makes him unique, and that's why I, I agreed to do this.
    CC Goldwater: Yeah.
    James Carville: I wouldn't just do this for any kind of Republican senator.

DVD Release

Title Release Date #
Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater July 31, 2007 1