For some he represented the epitome of traditional conservatism, while others saw him as a strong-armed militarist focused on engaging communism in a nuclear war.
Yet, regardless of varying views on his politics, no one can deny that the late Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) had a profound impact on American politics.
And while he may be most recognized for his libertarian principles or the infamous 1964 presidential race, he also was a stoic Western cowboy who tinkered with electronics and flew airplanes.
It is both of these sides that are shown in the Emmy-nominated documentary “Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater,” released on DVD today and produced by the late Senator’s granddaughter, CC Goldwater.
“I just had this feeling somebody, somewhere was going to do something on him,” she said about her motivations for starting the project.
So she decided, early in this decade, to be that person.
Originally, she said she considered compiling his life in everything from a book to a feature film before settling on the documentary — which, in itself, proved a difficult sell.
“It took a lot of convincing,” she said about pitching the film to HBO, noting the cable network rejected it multiple times before eventually agreeing to show it.
But, even then problems arose. In a striking similarity to the game of politics itself, CC Goldwater chronicled her efforts to raise $400,000 (50 percent of the production budget) to complete the film.
She noted that she originally sought out funding from other people, but the money would come with restrictions and conditions about what would appear in the film. So eventually she said she just decided to mortgage her house to come up with the money.
Once the project received the go-ahead, it took a “very, very fast year” to produce.
The result is a 90-minute feature about Barry Goldwater — from his personal life to his political life — told by everyone from relatives to Republican and Democratic politicians and pundits (New York Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton makes an appearance as a former Goldwater Girl, and James Carville comments that he wouldn’t appear in such a production for just any Republican).
“He had incredible luck in life but paid a price for everything he did,” CC Goldwater said, noting, as many family members do in the documentary, that Goldwater’s political involvement often took him away from his family.
Yet politics, on the federal level at least, wasn’t even something he set out to do.
“He was on the city council with his buddies,” CC Goldwater recounted about his start in politics. “It was really more of a social thing.”
She said the launch of his campaign for Senate started more or less on a whim. And much like the ’64 presidential campaign after John F. Kennedy’s assassination, it wasn’t exactly something he strived for.
“He never had political aspirations, he had aspirations to go to West Point,” she said. “He never had a calculated agenda for anything he did … he wasn’t like the professional politicians that we have today.”
But, as history shows, once he entered politics, he wasn’t complacent either.
The Arizona Republican was famous for speaking his mind and taking positions that riled not just the opposition but his own party as well.
“It wasn’t so much about the party, it was about the Constitution,” she said of his political positions, adding later, “He had stood up for these things that now people don’t stand up for.”
It’s the controversy that arose from these positions that “Mr. Conservative” often focuses on while talking about his politics, highlighting things such as Lyndon Johnson’s infamous campaign ads against his pronouncements on the use of nuclear force to controversy over some of his later positions in support of women’s choice and gay rights.
The movie touches on, but does not delve into, Goldwater’s later concerns over the increasing power of the Christian right within the Republican Party.
These political stories are interwoven with reflections of his life and history, all of which harken back to a couple of common themes: his love of tinkering and flying.
CC Goldwater recalled her grandfather’s propensity for exploring how things worked, noting that if he were alive today, he probably would be fascinated with modern staples such as the BlackBerry and the Internet.
“He was the perfect kind of guy any woman could want around,” she said. “He was really handy.”
The movie includes many scenes in which Goldwater is talking on his ham radio, connecting soldiers fighting in the Vietnam War with their spouses in America and chatting with friends from his hotel at the ’64 Republican National Convention. CC Goldwater noted he even set up a radio room in the Russell Senate Office Building.
In addition to radios and electronics, he loved flying and photography — often taking photos of military pilots in the air in exchange for the opportunity to fly their aircraft. CC Goldwater recalled that after his death she received a box containing upward of 200 model airplanes he had made later in his life.
It’s this complete picture of Barry Goldwater’s life that “Mr. Conservative” shows viewers. And CC Goldwater said she hoped that it, along with the recent rerelease of his book “The Conscience of a Conservative,” will help keep his memory and cause alive — and target a young demographic that may be unaware of his impact.
“He was the West. Personified,” she said.