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John Dean on ‘Pure Goldwater’

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Posted on Jul 22, 2008

Truthdig Editor Robert Scheer interviews John Dean about “Pure Goldwater,” his new collaboration with the late senator’s son. The book is a reminder that American conservatism has drifted far from its original heading.

Videography and editing by George Edelman. Additional videography by Zuade Kaufman.

Partial Transcript:

Robert Scheer: Surprise. Here we are at Truthdig, pushing a book that celebrates Barry Goldwater of all people. “Pure Goldwater.” John Dean is the ... editor, along with Barry Goldwater’s son.

John Dean: But it’s really a nonpartisan book. It crosses partisan lines. Yes, it’s about a Republican icon, but a Republican icon who Democrats love today.

Scheer: The reason that you’re one of my heroes is that—because of what you did during Watergate and when you told Richard Nixon there’s a cancer on the presidency. Now, you testified to that when you were before the Judiciary Committee, you were about 31 years old then, cavalier youth and so forth, most people at that moment—.


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Dean: Had a full head of hair, like you, Robert. Do you see what happens when you have no worries?

Scheer: And most people would have thought, “Yeah, sure, you told the president that, but you’re just covering your own behind.” And fortunately for you and the historical record, the conversation was taped, because Richard Nixon was taping everything, and you came out as the hero—the only real hero out of the whole thing.

Dean: But, you know the interesting thing about the Goldwater book, Bob, is that when we found this journal—private journal kept by the senator, really from the time his oldest son is born, Barry Jr., who I collaborated with on this, and his death, he periodically sits down—first at a portable typewriter and later using electronic dictation equipment—he keeps a record of his thoughts, he’s trying to pass on advice to his children, sorting out his own thinking, and somehow his biographers missed this, those who worked with him on his autobiographies missed this, but I found it because I was going to do a book with the senator and he said, “John, you might want to look at my records, there’s a lot of information that’s been overlooked.” That’s a book that ended up being called “Conservatives Without Conscience,” which I originally was going to do with him, because he’d somewhat had it with the conservative movement and felt a lot of responsibility for it. Anyway, I went to look at those files, his health gave out after I discovered them and I remembered them, though, when I later went back and did the “Conservatives Without a Conscience” and looked again at them and I called Barry Jr. immediately and I said, “Listen, there’s a unique record here. It’s pure gold ... .” In fact, I said, “It’s pure Goldwater—there’s no staff, there’s no speechwriters, there’s no ghostwriters. It’s just your dad in his pure essence, literally from 1938 up until just a few years ago.” And I said, “We’ve got to capture that stuff, distill it, put it in a book and put it out and call it ‘Pure Goldwater,’ because that’s exactly what it is.” So that’s the core of this book.

Scheer: And when you say you were attracted to his politics—what, as a libertarian or as a small government?

Dean: It was the, it was the common sense of it. When I thought of conservatism in those days, it was Joe McCarthy, and that was very unattractive. It was the John Birch Society—very unattractive. It had no appeal. I’d grown up in a Republican family and really was apolitical, for all practical purposes. But when I read “The Conscience of a Conservative,” I said, “You know, this is really kind of interesting. It makes sense. I think communism is a threat on a worldwide basis. I think that the senator’s very basic,  fundamental tailoring of government to meet the needs that the individual can’t meet is very sensible—that the government, indeed shouldn’t do everything.” And by this time I’m starting to have political conversations with the senator, so I have a sort of inside track to understanding his very common sense-oriented political philosophy. He’s not a right wing nut, he’s not an extremist, notwithstanding he would be painted that in ‘64—he’s just a very practical politician, he’s a very charismatic person, and, you know, in ‘64, for example, he said to many of us that, you know, if he had to vote for the man that he’s been portrayed, he wouldn’t vote for him.

Scheer: Let me ask you a question. Obviously, this is a passion of yours. You were going to write a book with Sen. Goldwater, you’re now taking the record and making it available—the “Pure Goldwater.” What do we need to know about Goldwater?

Dean: Well, I think if there’s anything—I think not only is he clearly an icon in American politics, but I also think, Bob, he’s an exemplary public official. The level of integrity that he represents is hard to find today. I think he’s not perfect, but it’s a hell of a model for others. ... If there’s anything that his colleagues, if they agreed with him or disagreed, they never questioned the man’s integrity. Not many people get out of Washington with as many years as he spent—30 some years in public office, in high office, with that kind of record— so that’s one thing, I think—his insistence for himself and others that integrity was important, that honesty was important—his position on the fundamentals of government and trying to protect them— today certainly ring true to me. He’s very prescient on issues like campaign finance. He thinks it’s a travesty, the cost of electioneering and the influence that special interests are having on elected officials, because they need the money to run. He would be horrified at this two years that’s been going on now for the 2008 nominations, and we’re not even in the general election yet.


Click here to check out Robert Scheer’s book,
“The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street.”

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By marcparella, July 26, 2008 at 12:31 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)


Let me help with your revisionist theory on Goldwater. Fact: Goldwater voted for the 1957 and 1960 Civil Rights Acts.  Fact: Goldwater started the first all integrated military reserve unit in the Nation (The Arizona Air National Guard in 1947)  Fact: The Goldwater Department Store hired, promoted and served African Americans in Phoenix going back to territorial days.  Fact: As member of the Phoenix City Council Goldwater championed integration of the Phoenix public schools years before the Supreme Court made it the law of the land.

Goldwater voted against the 64 Civil Rights Act because he believed you could not legislate morality.  No law could force people to like each other.  He thought is was unconstitutional. 

Johnson ran ads in 64 with quotes by KKK members who said they would vote for Goldwater.  LBJ bugged Goldwater’s apartment building in DC and his plane.  It was LBJ who called Martin Luther King “a nigger preacher”.  Goldwater on the other hand has a terminal building at the Phoenix airport named after him.  Right next to another terminal building named after Lincoln Ragsdale, a well-remembered African American pilot who was a member of the Tuskegee airmen.  Goldwater and Ragsdale were friends.

Barry Goldwater was a member of the Phoenix Chapter of the NAACP.  The chapter was started by Lincoln Ragsdale.  It is well known that Goldwater had an almost reverent admiration for Native Americans.  He spent most of his youth living and traveling among the Navajo and Hopi Indians of Northern Arizona.  His photographs of Native Americans and Arizona are found in museums and galleries all of the world.

The Nation’s most-prestigious collegiate scholarship in the Sciences is named: The Barry Morris Goldwater Scholarship.  Here’s more information on it:

This man was no racist.  He brought a much-needed enlightened conscience to the idea of government.

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By troublesum, July 23, 2008 at 2:30 pm Link to this comment

Only in the United States of Amnesia is it possible to write such revisions of history so soon after the passing of the people and events described therein.  Goldwater joined the southern segregationists in voting against civil rights act of 1964.  He continued to oppose the most effective elements of Johnson’s war on poverty such as the head start program and the job corps, denying that there was any widespread poverty in the US.  He was opposed to detente with the Soviet Union and subscribed to the so-called “domino theory” of communist expansion in Southeast Asia which led to such disasterous consequences.  Maybe he does look good compared to Bush/Cheney but that’s not saying much.  He started the conservative revolution which paved the way for Reagan and them.

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By samosamo, July 22, 2008 at 5:31 pm Link to this comment

Don’t ever suppose that this will be a shoo in for democrats. The diebold and es&s;factor has to be a focus of attention because these neocons are NOT going to just give up the presidency and house and senate without some effort to ensure a substantial conservative presence and that can come through the fraudlent use of the electonic voting machines, each state’s elecion commission, sec.of state i think, muddling things as Ohio’s blackwell did in 2004 to give w the illegitimate ohio electoral vote as promised by the head of diebold a year or so before the elections. Either two ways could, voting machine manipulation or precient muddling for both president and congress as in 2004 and probably 2000 & 2002, give shocking results.
And another point of trickery will be the congressional races where someone running as a democrat is actually a republican and this is evidenced by the ‘blue dogs’ that claim to be moderate but when these clowns have obstructed to real and true process of law in congress they can only be considered consevatives in democrat clothes.
But this book does make me curious about goldwater and his position especially when he, according to dean, near the end was coming away from the current consevative agendas of the time.
I still hope that there is a transfer of power on January 20, 2009. Get w and dick out, start investigating them and hold them accountable where it is warranted.

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By artietexas, July 22, 2008 at 12:59 pm Link to this comment

I remember when the conservatives were the guys who wanted us out of unnecessary wars. The good old days. I still remember Goldwater saying about the Middle East: “I wouldn’t give beans or biscuits for that goddforsaken land…if those folks want to kill each other, I say we get boys out of there and let them do it.” Now that’s true conservatism!!!

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By jobart, July 22, 2008 at 10:30 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I was,somewhat, fortunate that the only time,to this point in time that Goldwater was in the spotlight, to be unemployed. I watched “daily” the Iran-Contra hearings,in their entirety,every day throughout the testimony/hearings.I,also, due to trying to find my first job, was able to hear/watch,“daily”, the Watergate hearings. These two periods(which were the only times that I was unemployed) of “unemployment” enabled me to watch (very closely) how D.C./our Gov’t. works. At the time, I was “necessarily”, pissed-off at John Dean. He “enabled” many abuses of the Constitution. But now,with the publication of this new book of his…finds me thinking of him as “more” American than I had previously believed.
I, at the time to make a judgment, considered Barry Goldwater to be the enemy of America and friend to the “Rich”. But as time went on, I “changed” that a determination that he was just a “part” of the true enemy. Now, with Mr. Dean’s book, I see him as a “fair” opposition to the Democratic ideals I was brought up to admire.
The recent “Repugs” differ however, in that they are neither Republican nor Democrat.  They, simply put, ARE BIG BUSINESS !!  Big business has been,and continues to be,devoid of party/polical relationship(s)and consience.They are always, and only, ABOUT MONEY !!!  Nothing else, including party affiliation, matters to them.  They “pray” to the GOD of money. So, to you religious zealots,and those less/more fortunate to know the difference between them, WE NEED to ....
#1- Put aside our differences
#2- Band together in our common goals
#3- Admit our previous mistakes and how we’ve been mislead
#4- To try our best to fix the past to create a better future for all of us.
This includes people of different political affiliations, different creeds, different races, and different ages.
We are all facing extremely trying, and dangerous, times and any successful resolution and for any semblence of “better times” in front of us, requires a unity of cause and action.

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By Khufu, July 22, 2008 at 9:27 am Link to this comment

An interesting interview between an articulate, insightful political actor and an excellent journalist who shows a surprising (because uncharacteristic) lack of insight regarding McCain. Scheer seems to like “heroes”—at the beginning of the interview he spends a lot of time praising Dean as one—and like most media people, he’s totally bought into McCain’s Hero narrative as told by the Hero John McCain (there are files in Hanoi and DC about what really happened, but they are classified, thanks to the efforts of War Hero McCain). Even worse, Scheer begins at one point to recite the usual list of reasons McCain would make an okay President. McCain will “move to the center.” (Right! Just like Bush has.) McCain “would presumably be checked by a Democratic Congress.” (Yeah, just like the present Democratic Congress has presumably checked expanding executive branch power!) He’s taken good positions on immigration and torture. (Never mind that he’s subsequently abandoned those and other “good positions.”) Whoa! This is coming from Bob Scheer!

Dean interrupts Scheer and makes two very important points in response.

1)  John McCain is a Classic Opportunitst. His “principled positions” on, say, campaign finance or weapons spending were taken as opportunities to further his ambitions, and not out of principle.

2) McCain’s appointees to the Supreme Court and the Justice Dept. would have a disastrous impact on our republic. “Knowing how they operate, four more years terrifies me.”

What’s amazing, and somewhat frightening, is that someone with the credentials and intellect of Bob Scheer needed to be told that. Maybe it has something to do with the journalist’s instinct to be friendly with all potential sources—Scheer might hope to interview Pres. McCain. Maybe it’s easier for somebody like Dean, who personally has been closer to power and powerful people, to see how people like McCain or Goldwater really work, what they’re about. His respective characterizations of Romney and Fooliani as “Nixon on Prozac” and “Nixon on crystal meth” are classics.

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By bill Blackolive, July 22, 2008 at 8:36 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

All this is a generation late.  I like John Dean.  He may prove helpful.  Currently, see, read Cynthia Mckinney, head of Green Party, here is the following generation, and the next.  Pull all military bases in other countries.  Clear up the 911 mystery/failed policy.

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By nrobi, July 22, 2008 at 7:15 am Link to this comment

I am amazed at the transformation that has occurred in the life of John Dean. 
To say, that he is fast becoming a hero of mine, for calling out the Far Right Religious Wing of the GOP, is also testament of how much I have been transformed within the last 7 years.
John Dean, in his last two books, calls on the GOP to return to the core values of conservatism and actually goes beyond that to say that he is extremely disgruntled with the GOP as regards to the last 8 years.
This being said, this piece on Sen. Barry Goldwater is most informative and eye-opening. To say, that Sen. Goldwater has regrets regarding the inclusion of the Far Religious Right, is most astounding, because the Sen. Goldwater that I grew up having knowledge of, was one of not making apologies for his actions as regards the party and the tactics used to win elections.
In truth, I must now change my viewpoint in regards to Sen. Barry Goldwater and read this most informative book, to learn what he was thinking when the events of the past took place and he played a truly central role in the events.
Thank you Mr. Scheer, for one of the best interviews yet, and I look forward to more of the same. Your insightful questions have made it delightful to watch these interviews and hopefully there will be more of the same in the days and weeks to come.

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By tp, July 22, 2008 at 6:49 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

What a surprise. John Dean, a silver spoon fed youth who grew up to be a conservative with a pedigree promoting Goldwater in some kind of pure republican philosophy.
We should be taking a long look at splitting up the wealth equally amongst the citizens of this country and starting all over again at a starting line with truly no special interest given to people like Dean with an unfair advantage in our society. We need to step back into the New Deal for all Americans who want to run the race of life, which is really a short race for the longest runners. There are a lot of homeless talented people now as a result of their deregulating practices. These aristocrats and their idol dictators like Bush & Cheney who don’t even answer to the laws of the land give contracts to friends not competitors. Why should we the people educate ourselves on the basic values of these people who think leadership of this country is a royalty passed along as the sos heir to the thrown republicans like “Pure Goldwater”. Is it going to pay our mortgages? Will it put food in the mouths of the hungry? Will the Ozone layer just fix it self while the deregulated cooperation’s trade for the privilege to pollute? Can we trust this book not to paint a picture of a Capitalist saint who will fix all societies problems even though it will eat into their profits? I think not. We need a new deal. We need to figure a way to do the right things in order to save the planet not Bill Gates billion dollar bank account via foundation philanthropy, which is corrupt.  Don’t promote the SOS.

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