I Was a Teen Conservative: How I Learned That Life Is Too Complex for Right-Wing Ideology
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As for Barry Goldwater, before his death he became an exile from the movement that once was his. Following his presidential run, he continued to strike positions in accordance with a Jeffersonian big-individual/-small-government code. He called for an end to the draft. He became an ardent environmentalist. He supported the Voting Rights Act. He promoted legalization of marijuana. He championed gay rights. He espoused abortion rights. He engineered President Richard Nixon’s resignation for having used the levers of power to harass innocent Americans. He advocated (well, mused openly about, as was his wont) the nomination of black Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Jordan for vice president in 1976. He lobbied for the Supreme Court’s first female justice. He blasted Reagan for the 1987 Iran-Contra scandal (“the goddamned stupidest foreign-policy blunder this country’s ever made”). He admonished George H.W. Bush for running a shallow campaign against Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis in 1988. He endorsed Democratic congressional candidates in the early ’90s. He defended President Bill Clinton from trumped-up Republican charges of corruption. His denunciations of the religious right grew more bitter (“Do not associate my name with anything you do—you’re extremists, and you’ve hurt the Republican Party much more than the Democrats have”), and his consternation grew at how the rest of the party became caught in the undertow: “A lot of so-called conservatives today don’t know what the word means,” he told the Chicago Tribune in 1994. When Republican nominee Robert Dole went to get Goldwater’s benediction during the 1996 campaign, hoping to shore up his conservative credentials while the news cameras rolled, Goldwater could be seen and heard by millions telling Dole, somewhat wryly, “We’re the new liberals of the party. Can you imagine that?”—not what Dole had in mind. By the time he died in 1998, Republicans had begun a whispering campaign that Goldwater suffered from dementia. Speaking for the Arizona delegation at the Democratic Convention this past summer, Goldwater’s granddaughter cast her state’s votes for Barack Obama.