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.
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—.
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.