"In your heart, you know he's right," went the political slogan for Barry Goldwater's 1964 campaign for the presidency. His Democratic opponents quickly countered, "In your guts, you know he's nuts."
And so the dividing lines that have shaped much of politics in the mid- to late 20th century were drawn. Always controversial, never equivocating, Goldwater's death Friday leaves a void in American politics that won't easily be filled in this day of political correctness and opinion polling.Observers have noted that Goldwater, despite the thrashing he took from voters in 1964, actually won in the long run. He is, in many ways, the father of modern limited-government conservatism - a movement that took hold when Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980 and continued when Republicans gained control of Congress in 1994.
But political philosophies tend to ebb and flow within a fairly narrow spectrum in this country. Goldwater's true legacy is his frankness, which transcended partisan politics during his long tenure as a senator from Arizona.
He wasn't afraid to call fellow Republican Richard Nixon, "The world's biggest liar" because of the Watergate scandal. In August of 1974, he led a delegation to the White House to tell Nixon candidly that he could either resign or be impeached.
And his bluntness didn't wane in later years. In 1996, conservative leaders tried to draw parallels between Goldwater and Pat Buchanan, but Goldwater quickly set them straight. Buchanan, he said, was "fearful and divisive," whereas Goldwater's conservatism was "hopeful and inclusive."
But while he often rankled fellow Republicans, Goldwater was a staunch defender of his limited-government philosophy, and he was a true patriot who fought valiantly for his country. Poor eyesight didn't stop him. He talked his way into the Army Air Corps during World War II despite physical limitations and ended up flying unpressurized C-47s over the Himalayan "hump" to deliver much-needed supplies to Russian allies in Iran. He retired from the military with the rank of reserve general.
Goldwater was an American original who embodied the character of the Old West and the practical vision of the New West. Unfortunately, few modern politicians have the courage to follow his footsteps.