Barry Goldwater’s War Against The Religious Right

Author: May 13, 2012 8:27 am

Known as ‘Mr. Conservative,’ Barry Goldwater embodied conservative values throughout his service as a Senator from Arizona, but he would oppose much of what conservatives have been doing today. Present day conservatives take many of their marching orders from the Christian right, also known as social conservatives, but Barry Goldwater resoundingly rejected them as extremists who disgrace the word ‘conservatism.’ Like present day conservatives, Goldwater supported the free market, but as much as he supported business, he rejected those who pollute the environment. Many conservatives today claim Barry Goldwater as one of their own, so it may surprise them to know that he rejected many of their present day core values.

Barry Goldwater rose to prominence as a man of deep conservative convictions. Liberals called him an extremist (which he was in his time) and his often colorful and controversial rhetoric cost him the Presidency in 1964. But Goldwater, as controversial as he was back then, also had the guts to call out his own party. For example, ‘Mr. Conservative’ rejected the Christian right-wing element of the party. As a firm believer in personal liberty, he saw their views as a violation of personal privacy and individual liberties. In fact, he believed in this creed so much that he voted to uphold legalized abortion and supported gay rights. He also rejected the use of God in political discourse and refused to vote in Congress the way the religious right wanted him to. Here is a portion of what Goldwater had to say about the religious right.

“On religious issues there can be little or no compromise. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both.

I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in “A,” “B,” “C” and “D.” Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me?

And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of “conservatism.”
~Barry Goldwater

Goldwater refused to march lockstep with the Christian right as conservatives do today. The Republican Party of today has surrendered to the Christian right and ignored the real issues facing the country as a result. Goldwater knew how dangerous this would be.

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”
~Barry Goldwater

Goldwater was a strong supporter of separation of church and state and was a passionate advocate for religious freedom. He would not support the Christian right’s crusade against non-Christian religions.

“Religious factions will go on imposing their will on others unless the decent people connected to them recognize that religion has no place in public policy. They must learn to make their views known without trying to make their views the only alternatives.”
~Barry Goldwater

It might surprise you to know that Goldwater was a supporter of gay rights and rejected ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ As a man devoted to personal liberty, Goldwater believed that consenting adults are free to marry whomever they please. And as a strong ally of those in the military, Goldwater would be smiling about the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’

“Everyone knows that gays have served honorably in the military since at least the time of Julius Caesar.”
~Barry Goldwater


“It’s time America realized that there is no gay exemption in the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence.”
~Barry Goldwater

“You don’t need to be straight to fight and die for your country. You just need to shoot straight.”
~Barry Goldwater

Goldwater would be horrified by the current war against gay Americans being waged by the Republican Party and would have flatly denounced the conservative audience who booed the gay soldier and would have damned the Republican candidates who failed to jump to his defense during one of the GOP Debates. It should also be noted that Goldwater supported desegregation. As a Colonel he founded the Arizona Air National Guard, and he desegregated it two years before the rest of the US military. Goldwater was instrumental in pushing the Pentagon to support desegregation of the armed services. This would clearly make Goldwater enemy number one in the conservative south.

Conservatives today are expected to oppose abortion at any cost. In fact, Republicans have been passing anti-abortion laws for the last three years in an effort to curb women’s rights, personal privacy, and individual liberty., including over 90 anti-abortion bills that have been passed in 2012 alone. Barry Goldwater would be absolutely disgusted with this effort and would call conservatives a disgrace to the Constitution.

“Today’s so-called ‘conservatives’ don’t even know what the word means. They think I’ve turned liberal because I believe a woman has a right to an abortion. That’s a decision that’s up to the pregnant woman, not up to the pope or some do-gooders or the Religious Right. It’s not a conservative issue at all.”
~Barry Goldwater

It’s clear that Goldwater supported Roe v. Wade. He consistently voted to uphold abortion rights. He made this decision because of his personal conviction that every woman has the right to privacy as protected by the Constitution. As an American, Goldwater put the Constitution before the Bible. That’s something that conservatives fail to do today.

There’s something else that conservatives support today that Barry Goldwater would flatly reject. Conservatives have an unshakable belief in the free market system, as did Goldwater. But conservatives believe that corporations should be allowed to pollute the environment as they wish, which is something Goldwater wouldn’t support at all. To put it bluntly, Goldwater would support the Koch brothers and their right to do business, but he would take them to the woodshed for willfully destroying the environment.

“While I am a great believer in the free enterprise system and all that it entails, I am an even stronger believer in the right of our people to live in a clean and pollution-free environment.”
~Barry Goldwater

Barry Goldwater was a huge environmental advocate. He sincerely believed that we needed to protect our world. Republicans in Congress have proposed a plan that would eliminate over 100 years of environmental regulations including allowing mining operations in the Grand Canyon. Barry Goldwater would be furious with this plan.

“Well, once you’ve been in the Canyon and once you’ve sort of fallen in love with it, it never ends…it’s always been a fascinating place to me, in fact I’ve often said that if I ever had a mistress it would be the Grand Canyon.”
~Barry Goldwater

Even Barry Goldwater’s religion was tied to the environment.

“My mother took us to services at the Episcopal church. Yet she always said that God was not just inside the four walls of a house of worship, but everywhere — in the rising sun over Camelback Mountain in Phoenix, a splash of water along the nearby Salt or Verde rivers, or clouds driving over the Estrella Mountains, south of downtown. I’ve always thought of God in those terms.”
~Barry Goldwater

Goldwater certainly had a passion for protecting the environment. He would support the Environmental Protection Agency and clean energy initiatives. He, more than any conservative today, understood that we only have one planet and that it is our duty to clean it up and protect it. And as much as Goldwater wanted to lower the tax rates, he never intended for the wealthiest among us to pay less than ordinary Americans. You have to remember that when Goldwater was fighting for lower taxes, the top tax rate in America was 91%. In the 1980s, Goldwater criticized Reagan’s “parade of millionaires.” He also supported American jobs and competition. He would be horrified to see how corporations have choked out competition in America and that those same corporations outsource millions of jobs overseas. Goldwater always stood by middle class Americans. Goldwater also opposed corporate money in politics which means he would certainly have rejected the Citizens United decision.

Clearly, Goldwater isn’t the pillar of conservatism the Republicans make him out to be. In fact, Goldwater was so distressed about the Christian right takeover of the Republican Party, that he began referring to himself as a liberal. In 1996, he told Bob Dole, whose own presidential campaign received lukewarm support from conservative Republicans: “We’re the new liberals of the Republican party. Can you imagine that?”

Speaking of liberals, Goldwater believed they were a valuable part of the political system. Rather than vilify liberals like conservatives do on a daily basis today, Goldwater once wrote an article for the National Review “affirming that he [was] not against liberals, that liberals are needed as a counterweight to conservatism.” In other words, Goldwater would be completely against the present day conservative calls to destroy liberalism and the people who embody it. He would also be against conservative claims that liberals are socialists because he never would have stooped that low. Goldwater never supported the John Birch Society anti-communist obsession and he never once accused a fellow American of being a communist or socialist and would denounce Republicans for calling President Obama one. I strongly believe that Goldwater would have voted for President Obama had he been alive in 2008 like two of his granddaughters did.

We all know Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson as Christian right-wing fanatics who have a stranglehold over the Republican Party. But Barry Goldwater never ever subscribed to their thirst to combine God and government. He considered such a movement an abomination and despised both Falwell and Robertson to the core. In a 1994 interview with the Washington Post the retired senator said,

“When you say “radical right” today, I think of these moneymaking ventures by fellows like Pat Robertson and others who are trying to take the Republican Party and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye.” In response to Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell’s opposition to the nomination of Sandra Day O’Connor to the Supreme Court, of which Falwell had said, “Every good Christian should be concerned”, Goldwater retorted: “Every good Christian ought to kick Falwell right in the ass.”

These two examples clearly show how much Goldwater disapproved of the growing influence of the Christian Right. Goldwater went even further than that, however. A few years before his death he went so far as to address the unprincipled establishment Republicans, “Do not associate my name with anything you do. You are extremists, and you’ve hurt the Republican party much more than the Democrats have.”

Barry Goldwater was a truer and more honorable conservative than the current crop of Republicans, who have allowed social conservative views, which he strongly opposed, to become the dominant and defining philosophy of the conservative movement. Conservatives never heeded Goldwater’s warning. They allowed the Christian right to take over the party and now they have become so powerful that even traditional conservatives do the bidding of the religious right on command. Barry Goldwater had the courage to stand up to these extremists and made his decisions in the Senate according to what he thought best for America as a whole. He defended religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution and saw the Christian right as a major threat to that freedom.

It is time for conservatives to wake up and realize what the Christian right has done to the Republican Party and America. They must honor true conservatism and banish the religious right from their movement before their doctrine of hatred and division destroys the nation Goldwater loved. Goldwater’s views regarding the economy and Social Security are rather extreme but that’s why he believed in compromising. His willingness to stand against the extremists in his own party and his willingness to compromise makes him a better person and politician than any conservative today. His views were far tamer than those of present day conservatives. Goldwater had a mind of his own and he never allowed people to brainwash him or control him. It is a testament to the great character this man possessed. Barry Goldwater should be admired for his strength to reject extremists, his love of the American people, and his patriotism. But Republicans have moved so far to the right that even Barry Goldwater would be considered a hard-core liberal. Conservatives like Goldwater would be wise to follow his example and take back their party in his name before the extremists tear the fabric of America asunder.

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  • Therein lies the problem. The Republican’ts catered to the likes of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and the Billy Graham clan and now they cannot control the beast they have unleashed. The only way out is for centrist and the left is to win all elections that have these religious extremist as candidates.

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