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Passion. Betrayal. Truth. Lies. Love. War. The search for identity in a changing world.
Are we describing The Lion King? Pride and Prejudice? Desperate Housewives?
Nope, we're talking about the 1964 Republican National Convention.
The Republican presidential nomination that year went to Senator Barry Goldwater from Arizona, who eventually got epically slaughtered in the general election by incumbent President Lyndon B. Johnson.
But before all that happened, there was a primary season. And it was a nasty one.
Our major players on the right side of the aisle were Barry Goldwater, Nelson Rockefeller, Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., John Byrnes, and William Scranton (and if a few of those names are ringing a bell, they totally should). While most political contests are passionate and enthusiastic, 1964 was the year that passion and enthusiasm brought their A-game to the Republican crowd.
Why so crazy?
Because the Republican Party was going through a huge identity crisis, and it was pulling itself apart at the seams. Since it formed in 1850, the GOP had been identified and united by a common distrust of big government and a dedication to the cause of individual freedom. But ever since FDR and his New Deal, some members of the party had begun to find themselves on opposite sides of the fence.
Some Republicans had come to realize the benefits of government-sponsored programs, and their political stance became more moderate. The rest of the Republicans, horrified by FDR's programs getting all up in their personal space, dug in as "true conservatives," and this fissure in the party grew and grew...
…Until it exploded during the 1964 presidential primary.
Eventually, the minefield—we mean, field—narrowed to two main contenders: Nelson Rockefeller and Barry Goldwater. Nelson Rockefeller, or "Rocky" as his squad called him, was a moderate Republican.
Barry Goldwater was decidedly not.
As it so happened, most Republican voters weren't looking for a moderate in 1964. They didn't want more of the same, more of the "Me Too Republicanism" that folks like Rocky embraced. They wanted someone who slapped down the ever-expanding federal waistline with a wag of the finger and said, "Not today, federal government."
And so they chose Barry. He gave a barnburner of an acceptance speech that laid out his rock-solid conservative principles and presented a vision of the nation where the Constitution really ruled, freedom rang, budgets were balanced, the military was strong, and the government butted out of people's (and businesses') lives. If only we could get to that, Goldwater insisted, the rest would take care of itself.
And even though he got absolutely creamed in the general election, Goldwater's ideas are still, so many years later, the backbone for a pretty substantial portion of the Republican Party (and some libertarians, too).
We bet Desperate Housewives won't have that kind of staying power.
They say that history is written by the winners. Today we're here to spread the news that sometimes—maybe not all the time, but sometimes—history is actually written by the losers.
In this case, history was written by a straight-talking, bourbon-drinking, outdoors-loving store manager-slash-pilot-slash-radio-operator from Phoenix, Arizona. His name was Barry Goldwater, and his mission was to save his beloved Republican Party.
Actually, that's not true.
What he really wanted to do, when he wasn't fixing gadgets or flying airplanes, was make sure his beloved home state remained as awesome as it had always been. It was this desire that ended up dropping him into political races, first for Phoenix's City Council, then for the U.S. Senate, and eventually for U.S. President in 1964.
Sometimes, there isn't much to be learned from studying the person who didn't become President. That isn't the case here. Barry Goldwater not only defined modern conservatism, he also set the stage for a guy named Ronald Reagan to come up and leave his own mark on the country. Many loved him, many hated him, and the Republican Party was forever changed by his deep convictions… and his complete lack of verbal filter.
This speech is a fantastic synopsis of his whole philosophy: keep government small, keep defense strong, freedom rocks. If it's Barry's brand of American conservatism we want to wrap our brains around, the path starts with this speech.
George Will called Goldwater the "man who lost forty-four states but won the future" (source). Reagan's election, the Republican 1994 recapture of the House of Representatives for the first time in forty years, the Tea Party—all can be traced back to Goldwater's conservative brand. Goldwater always believed that most Americans, if they were honest about it, were conservatives at heart. It was up to him and his no-holds-barred approach, to get them to admit it.
Climb aboard and strap in; it's gonna be a turbulent flight.
Shmooping Our Way Through the 1960s
Barry Goldwater was a big deal, but he wasn't the only big deal happening at the time. There was so much stuff going on in the U.S. during the 1960s that it would take a group of real geniuses to boil it all down into one comprehensive guide. Luckily, we know a group of geniuses, and we know where to find that guide. Let's get our context on.
What does Goldwaterism look like in practice today? The Goldwater Institute in Phoenix, Arizona attempts to keep the late Senator's principles alive in Arizona and across the country. Info about their mission, history, and current projects is all available on their website.
Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater
Get the goods on everything Barry Goldwater in this HBO documentary produced by Barry's granddaughter CC.
Ever wondered how ginormous cities like Phoenix and Los Angeles thrive in locations with little to no fresh water sources? Barry makes a cameo in this 1997 docuseries on that very subject. Snippets of this bad chicken can be viewed online, but it can only be bought in its entirety from a few sellers, and it's only available on VHS. Yes, you read that right: VHS.
Goldwater's Crystal Ball: Fifty Years Ago, Senator Penned Predictions on Arizona at 100
In 1952, Barry wrote an article on what he thought his beloved home state might look like in the year 2012. Was the Senator a seer of the future, or did his predictions wash out like a flash flood in the desert? You decide.
1998: Arizona Legend Goldwater Dies at 89
The Arizona Republic, the Grand Canyon State's largest newspaper, printed this article after the Senator passed away in 1998. It's a great overview of Barry's life, loves, careers, hobbies, and PG-13 language.
Alternate Reality 2016: What If Barry Goldwater Had Won the 1964 Election?
This fun little article is written by obvious Barry G fan Josh Guckert, and describes a world in which Goldwater beats LBJ in the 1964 presidential election. Spoiler alert: No one gets nuked.
Goldwater drove some of his previous disciples nuts with his views on social issues and opposition to the religious right. But really, they were consistent with his ideas about individual liberty.
Politico thinks the election of 1964 predicted later electoral results despite Goldwater's landslide defeat.
Watch the speech in all its black-and-white glory
Settle in for 50 minutes of patriotic music and exuberant cheering as Barry Goldwater gets bombarded by balloons and redefines what Republicanism is all about.
Watch Barry get his roast on at the expense of Rat Pack legends Jimmy Stewart and Dean Martin (and watch him crack a few jokes at his own expense).
Smooth-voiced William Buckley, Jr. interviews Barry G in this 1966 episode of "Firing Line," an old-school political TV show in which the point seems to be to actually have a discussion rather than a contest of who can shout the loudest. They just don't make 'em like this anymore.
This Ad is the Bomb
Check out LBJ's infamous 1964 presidential campaign ad, in which a cute little girl assumedly gets obliterated by an atom bomb. The insinuation was that if Goldwater was elected POTUS, kids everywhere faced a similar threat. We may have been spared from the atom bomb, but this ad is often seen as the beginning of something almost as toxic: negative campaign ads. Thanks for that, Daisy Girl.
The Barry Goldwater Song
Seriously, this exists. This little ditty by the Worsh Ahts is not only catchy, it also gives listeners a nice rhyming bio of the Arizona Senator, complete with audio snippets from his 1964 nomination acceptance speech. Hey, ho, let's go—Barry AuH2O!
Instantly fill any dance floor!
We can't help but picture top hats, tap shoes, and a chorus line when we hear this rousing radio ad from Goldwater's presidential campaign. Who's ready to get their Fred and Ginger on?
Haters Gonna Hate
Not a big Barry fan? Neither were the Chad Mitchell Trio, who produced this toe-tapper back in '64. We get the feeling they might've voted for the other guy… and they made some pretty catchy music while they were doing it.
Not to be Outdone…
Some Nashville folks put together a conservative bunch of college students to record songs in response to the Chad Mitchell Trio anti-BG recording. Lead singer Ken Crook disagreed with one critics assessment that the album was "nearly unlistenable." "It was completely unlistenable," he admitted.
Goldwater supporters at the 1964 convention.
Barry often said that his first love was flying. (Not sure how Peggy felt about that…) One of his favorite things to do was cruise around Arizona and the Southwest in cool planes; he and his friends did it all the time. Just look at this happy face.
Planes. Lots and Lots of Planes.
What's the greatest compliment a city can pay to its favorite son who also happens to be an avid pilot? Why, naming an airport terminal after him, of course. Travelers in and out of Sky Harbor International Airport's busiest terminal will surely be pleased to know that that building was named for Arizona's own Senator Goldwater.
Built in 1878 and Still Rockin' Today
Right on the steps of the Yavapai County Courthouse in Prescott, Arizona, is where Barry Goldwater launched his senatorial and presidential campaigns. Today, one can sit on those very same steps and eat ice cream while cute elderly couples squaredance below. Of course, one could also do courthouse-y stuff like pay tickets and sue people, but that seems less fun than ice cream and squaredancing.
Hamming It Up
Barry loved him some ham… radio. He had antennas at his pads in both Phoenix and D.C., and said that if he won the Presidency, he'd have had one at the White House too. Here's a pic of him partaking in one of his fave hobbies. His call sign, BTW, was Bravo Alpha Romeo Romeo Yankee. Ha! Get it? It spells 'Barry' So clever…
The Crowds, the Excitement, the Awkward Handhold…
Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater and running mate Bill Miller clasp hands and turn on the smiles after securing the nomination at the 1964 RNC convention.
Wanna see what a landslide looks like in electoral map format? We got you.
The Goldwater memorial in Paradise Valley, Arizona