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Tucson Weekly Barry's Legend

Here lies the son-of-a-gun who whipped them bozos with his tongue.

By Jeff Smith

JUNE 15, 1998:  DON'T EXPECT THE boffo box-office the death of Arizona's favorite straight-tongued son-of-a-Jewish drygoods dealer did last week to spark some renaissance in political plain-speaking.

We loved Barry Goldwater, particularly the elder-statesman version of the man, for his intemperate remarks; and we eulogized him as the last of the honest politicians, but as is ironically customary at such occasions, we lied. I'm not saying that Barry didn't have a wonderful gift for uttering the precisely correct sum of political incorrectness, I merely seek to remind us all that when he got really, seriously and significantly honest, he got the traditional public treatment for such acts of impetuosity:

He got his ass kicked.

I always thought "extremism in defense of liberty is no vice...moderation in defense of liberty is no virtue," was a graceful turn of phrase and a valid philosophical assessment, but Lyndon Johnson's spin-doctors in 1964 turned it on its head and used it to put Barry on his butt. Arizona's majority voted for its native son in that presidential-electoral butt-whupping, but not by a hell of a lot, and nationwide the margin was an embarrassment for the Republican Party. So we should not crow too loudly about how much we loved and admired the Senator's candor: Truth be known, his fits of truthfulness frightened the nation and embarrassed the state more often than we like to admit at big, fancy funerals.

That's the bad news. The good news is that hope lies in the lies we like to tell about Barry Goldwater and his legendary tart tongue. They are a reflection more of what we wish we were than what we truly are. And to some extent the same may be said, probably should be said, of the object of our affection: the late Barry Goldwater.

He didn't always tell the truth. Hell, he got elected to the U.S. Senate half a dozen times: there's your proof. If a reporter would have pinned down Chairman Goldwater of the Senate Armed Services Committee on illegal CIA activities in support of South American military regimes suppressing Bolshevik revolution, Barry probably would have lied. He had his ideals, and candor was not the only one. But if somebody within his own Republican Party, or any other putative friend or foe, was running around making an ass of himself to the detriment of good sense and good people--say, Jerry Falwell, for instance--Barry Goldwater could be depended upon for the straight poop, fast and fresh.

This is what we loved about him.

And of course this is what made his party hierarchy wet their pants. Barry would say something hilarious and bulls-eye accurate, and then the next day some weenie "explanation" would issue from state or national GOP headquarters. Or a semi-official spokesman for the ex-Senator himself.

The last time J. Fife Symington III ran for governor, amid unignorable evidence of arrogance, dishonesty, and what must be summed up as rich-white-boy-spoiled-brattiness, somebody caught Barry in a wry moment and hit the newsstands the next day with a candid spanking from Barry to Fife, and an honest endorsement from one old boy who had spent his life serving the people of Arizona, to another, slightly-less-old boy who had done the same, Eddie Basha. The skin-back that appeared in the next day's dailies fooled few who knew the source of all the excitement, but still I thought it sort of disappointing that Arizona's Republican Party couldn't leave well enough alone. This was vintage Goldwater, and anyone with a lick of sense knew we wouldn't be seeing many more years of it.

But clearly the state GOP didn't relish all that much of Barry's unvarnished honesty, and neither did anyone else, if it was their ox that Barry was goring. As with truth-tellers down through the ages, Barry Goldwater and his brand of honesty were most appreciated by the kind of crowd that used to pack the Roman Coliseum...the ones who didn't have a dog in that afternoon's fight.

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