Barry Goldwater was born in Arizona on New Year’s Day 1909, three years before Arizona became a state. He loved exploring its rugged landscape, often piloting his own plane and always carrying a camera. He considered a military career, but his father’s poor health forced him into the family business, Goldwater’s Department Store. By the late 1940s he turned his attention to politics, winning a seat on the Phoenix City Council in 1949.
Soon, Goldwater was tackling bigger political challenges. In 1952 he defeated the popular incumbent senator Ernest McFarland, who happened to be the Senate’s Democratic majority leader. As senator, Goldwater proposed a new—some said radical—political agenda. "He preached the cause of modern conservatism," wrote one biographer, which emphasized “individualism, the sanctity of private property… anticommunism, and the dangers of centralized power.” Before long, the freshman senator moved into the ranks of leadership, becoming chair of the Republican Campaign Committee in 1955.
In 1960, with publication of The Conscience of a Conservative, Barry Goldwater became the leader of a national movement. Written with speechwriter Brent Bozell, the book was a statement of Goldwater's political creed. In chapters that focused on issues such as civil rights, labor relations, and the welfare state, Goldwater called for the “utmost vigilance and care...to keep political power within its proper bounds.” The national media largely dismissed the book, but Goldwater’s vision quickly gained an audience and the book became a best-seller. Today, it is considered a landmark in the development of modern conservatism.
In January 1964 Goldwater announced his candidacy for president, facing strong competition within his own party. He lost five of the first six primaries to Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., but then emerged as the front-runner in May and cinched the nomination in June. That victory was bittersweet, however, since Goldwater’s nomination split the Republican ranks between moderates and conservatives. "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice," Goldwater famously proclaimed in his acceptance speech, hoping to quell dissent. "Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."
Such comments bolstered his followers but also aided the Democrats who backed Lyndon Johnson. They portrayed Goldwater as a dangerous extremist in a barrage of campaign speeches and television ads that evoked images of nuclear war. "The whole campaign was run on fear of me," Goldwater later recalled. "In fact, if I hadn’t known Goldwater," he added, "I’d have voted against the s.o.b. myself."
Goldwater lost the election, but media coverage of Johnson’s victory largely missed important underlying trends that would fuel conservative victories in the years ahead, particularly 1980. Returning to the Senate in 1969, Goldwater was on hand to witness those victories—as Arizona’s elder statesman.