Memories: Goldwater and Kennedy: 20 and 55 Years On

Memories: Goldwater and Kennedy: 20 and 55 Years On

A Goldwater Inscription

22 Novem­ber 2018— A pho­tog­ra­ph­er friend sends along praise of Bar­ry Gold­wa­ter (1909-1998). The Sen­a­tor was not­ed por­tray­er of his beloved South­west: “I am read­ing an issue of Ari­zona High­ways devot­ed to his work. The only thing he was more pas­sion­ate about than pol­i­tics was his pho­tog­ra­phy. And he was a great cam­era­man.” Praise of one pho­tog­ra­ph­er for anoth­er is high recommendation.

His note remind­ed me of Peo­ple and PlacesGoldwater’s fine book of pho­tographs, from canyons to Hopi. The depth of feel­ing for Arizona’s native peo­ples and nat­ur­al vis­tas in those pho­tos belies the pic­ture his ene­mies tried to paint of Gold­wa­ter when he ran for Pres­i­dent in 1964.

The book’s fron­tispiece is an impromp­tu snap of Pres­i­dent Kennedy, gone fifty-five years Novem­ber 22nd. The anniver­sary went almost unre­marked. And after all, for half those now alive, the day so many of us will nev­er for­get must seem as ancient as the blue dis­tance of the Mid­dle Ages.

The pho­to is inscribed: “For Bar­ry Gold­wa­ter – Whom I urge to fol­low the career for which he has shown such talent—photography! From his friend – John Kennedy.”  In his pref­ace, Gold­wa­ter writes that while they had cer­tain polit­i­cal dis­agree­ments, he thought that pho­to cap­tured the effer­ves­cent spir­it that he knew.

I have one of these framed. To me it rep­re­sents the polit­i­cal respect and cor­dial­i­ty of a time long gone. It is unlike­ly to return in the fore­see­able future.

Friends and Colleagues, Regardless…

It was an aston­ish­ing rela­tion­ship. Gold­wa­ter was chair­man of the Repub­li­can Sen­ate Cam­paign Com­mit­tee when then-Sen­a­tor Kennedy began show­ing inter­est in run­ning for Pres­i­dent. In his trav­els on behalf of Repub­li­cans, Gold­wa­ter recalled, he would inevitably learn what vot­ers thought of Kennedy. This he would impart to his friend Jack! “You’re not doing so well in rur­al Iowa, but things are look­ing up in Des Moines.”

After Kennedy became Pres­i­dent in 1960, they both real­ized that the next elec­tion might pit them against each oth­er. They  actu­al­ly con­sid­ered cam­paign­ing together—against each other—in 1964. It would have been a kind of whis­tle-stop Lin­coln-Dou­glas debate series.

Then came Dal­las, Novem­ber 1963. We lost the Pres­i­dent, Gold­wa­ter his friend.  He ran any­way, and was smeared. A mad bomber and a philis­tine, he’d return us to the Stone Age. It was the begin­ning of the end for the style of pol­i­tics Gold­wa­ter and Kennedy espoused and exemplified.

I cast my first pres­i­den­tial vote for Bar­ry Gold­wa­ter, but he was an awful cam­paign­er and by Novem­ber I could bare­ly bring myself to pull the lever. Maybe I’m naïve, but in ret­ro­spect I’ve often thought that nei­ther he nor Jack Kennedy would have stood for 58,000 dead in Viet­nam. They would have end­ed it long before that hap­pened. One way or the oth­er. This is no reflec­tion on those who, accord­ing to their lights, wound up with the task of mak­ing the decisions.

With­out too much argu­ment, we may date 22 Novem­ber 1963 as the begin­ning of the end of post­war inno­cence and absolute faith in our des­tiny: the grim pre­lude to Viet­nam and Water­gate, to the pol­i­tics of per­son­al destruc­tion.  An old friend said to me at a high school reunion: “That’s when the rot began.”


This arti­cle was pub­lished in The Amer­i­can Spectator.

2 thoughts on “Memories: Goldwater and Kennedy: 20 and 55 Years On

  1. Read­ing this arti­cle post Elec­tion Day 2020. My God, how far we as a nation have fall­en. What would Bar­ry Gold­wa­ter and JFK have to say in response to the inci­vil­i­ty and incom­pe­tence of the most recent­ly defeat­ed Com­man­der in Chief?
    Well said, though I sus­pect, as the arti­cle sug­gests, inci­vil­i­ty and incom­pe­tence are exam­ples of the old chick­en and egg conun­drum. RML

  2. A great arti­cle about JFK and Gold­wa­ter. I remem­ber where I was when I heard about Dal­las. On a Fri­day evening I was about to enter a dance hall in the Nether­lands. The next morn­ing hope dis­ap­peared. I remem­ber think­ing, I wished they had shot me instead. That illus­trates the feel­ing. I had just fin­ished my army duty and would come to the U,S.A. three months lat­er for the first time. It was an emo­tion­al time.

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