Barry Goldwater says in his autobiography that he never passed up a chance to speak in Arizona schools. The first time I ran into him was almost 30 years ago when he came to visit my high school, an honest-to-goodness U.S. senator ready to answer any kid's question. His new book captures that part of the man, the direct, no-nonsense quality of an unpompous guy who in the end is always "our Barry."
The book - part autobiography, part last will and political testament - has the same manner he presents in person, the sense of somebody talking straight from the shoulder without caution or notes, and at times without thought. It's also larded with interviews with others (more like testimonials), and then the voice shifts awkwardly from the first to the third person. It's not a great book, but it is Goldwater.Basically, there are three books operating here: the autobiography; the material that reads like outtakes from the thousands of conservative speeches he has given; and a third text rich with offhanded clues about the deeper, still unexplored currents in his life. He was a troublesome boy (the kind who shot holes in the ceiling of the family home) who was shipped off to military school in Virginia. He thrived but had to turn down an appointment to West Point when his father's illness made him return to the family's department store, a fact that has gnawed at him all his life.
He is given to practical jokes and gags.
("I rigged a device behind the toilet bowl in the guest bathroom of our house. When an unsuspecting newcomer sat on the seat, a metal device tripped off a recording of my voice. It climbed up from the bowl in a not-too-innocent voice: `Hi, honey, How ya doin'? Can I be of any help?' ")
This tendency salts the book and is never commented on.
There are a few revelations about politics, mainly his blunt opinions. (Richard Nixon is "the most dishonest individual I have ever met in my life.") Goldwater has a habit of telling the readers rather than showing them, and with few exceptions, his 30 years in Washington come off as a series of statements - just as if he were sitting there with you over a bourbon - rather than as vignettes or examples. With the exception of a few moments, such as a crazed presidential dinner at the heart of the Watergate crisis ("I asked myself whether I was witnessing a slow-motion collapse of Nixon's mental balance"), the book fails to put the reader in the room where the action is going down.
Goldwater's political supporters will like this book. His opponents will talk back to some of the pages and yet be charmed by the man behind them.