Goldwater Uncut

You've seen the G-rated HBO documentary on the Arizona legend, but there was so much more to Goldy than that

"The senator, coming into the pool house one day, smelled the fragrance of hashish smoke, and smiling, said, 'I recognize that,'" wrote Hess. "It was then that he explained the popularity of marijuana and its derivatives among old-time Arizona cowboys."

Among Seitts' many stories is how in the early '70s he drove Goldwater to find Hess, who was then in the rough Adams Morgan district of D.C. Dressed in silk suits, Seitts and Goldwater entered a rickety building in the neighborhood guarded by Black Panthers, rifles in their arms, their chests crisscrossed with bandoleers.

"I'm thinking, 'We're not going to get out of here alive,'" says Seitts. "So we go up this dark hallway, to this room, and there's Karl. The senator says, 'What the hell you doin' here?' Typical Goldwater. Then he sits down with Karl, and they're chitchattin'. And Karl says, 'Let me take you upstairs.'"

courtesy of Arizona Historical Foundation
courtesy of Arizona Historical Foundation

On the roof of the ghetto dwelling were huge fiberglass tanks filled with rainbow trout that Hess, with the help of the Panthers, was growing as some sort of idealistic, develop-your-own technologies project meant to revitalize the inner city. Hess, it should be noted, was the fellow responsible for adding the famous Cicero quote to Goldwater's 1964 Cow Palace speech, where he said, "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice." Goldwater remained fond of Hess, long after Hess had done a 180 and gone over to the New Left. In the Goldwater files at the Foundation, there's a clipping of Hess looking like Che Guevara, apparently passed on to Goldwater from Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, with the note, "Barry, what has happened to Hess? Strom." Seems whether you were a radical liberal or a mobster, if Goldwater liked you, you were a friend for life.

Seitts can regale listeners with accounts of driving Goldwater's sports cars, whether it was the '63 Corvette Stingray in Phoenix, or his AMX car in D.C., both with dashboards tricked out with a ham radio, car-phone equipment and aeronautical dials and gewgaws. It's well-known that Goldwater was a pilot who insisted on flying the government's most advanced aircraft even as an old man. And Seitts has stories of coming in on a Saturday to help Goldy install a ham radio antenna atop the Senate office building in defiance of security personnel.

Tantalizing is the tale of how Goldwater was ready to support Colin Powell in the 1996 GOP presidential primary over Bob Dole, until the point Powell declined to run. Seitts explains that Goldwater was the titular head of Dole's Arizona forces. Dole had no idea he was looking for another horse to bet on.

Goldwater was full of surprises, and more mercurial than the C.C. documentary describes. She makes the point that Goldwater's later stands on abortion and gay rights were in keeping with his libertarian philosophy of limited government. There's something to that, but Goldwater did not quite agitate for African-Americans in the same manner that he did for gays in his later years. Yes, Goldwater was influential in desegregating the Phoenix municipal airport, and the Arizona Air National Guard, but he wasn't as outspoken on the issue of racial equality as he was about gays in the military after he left the Senate.

Times changed, and to his credit, so did he. As biographer Robert Alan Goldberg points out, when Goldwater was president of the Phoenix Country Club during 1959-60, he forced the club to accept his crony Harry Rosenzweig, over objections that Rosenzweig was Jewish and Jews weren't allowed as members. But thereafter, he never pushed the Board of Directors to change its policy toward Jews, though Goldwater himself was half-Jewish. No more Jews were admitted for another 10 years, and, as Goldberg pointed out, "Blacks and Hispanics would have to wait even longer."

But when it came time to protecting the rights of a different minority — homosexuals — he didn't hold back.

C.C. Goldwater (who was born Ross, not Goldwater, changing her name sometime in her 20s) candy-coats her grandfather's legacy with a treacly touch, and attempts to make him seem almost faultless. The only flaw she seems to find in his character is that he wasn't demonstrative enough toward his family. Of course, that didn't stop certain family members from nagging him for cash, a state of affairs that plays out through letters Goldwater wrote to his children as they grew older.

Writing in the '88 memoir, Goldwater states about his eldest children, Barry Jr. and Joanne, "The greatest difference between us is our attitude toward money and material things. I have always viewed money as a necessity. . . . The two of them see owning money as an accomplishment in itself, an end."

He finished the thought with a terse, "I'm fed up with money talk."

A sore spot was always Goldwater's mother's financial trust, of which he was the trustee. There's no indication of how much was in the trust, but its assets must have been sizable. Goldwater family members, especially Joanne, pestered him about it until his death. As late as 1995, Joanne was still at it.

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