- “The Media Were Not Completely Fair to You”:1 Foreign Policy, the Press and the 1964 Goldwater Campaign
In early November 1963, Life magazine featured Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona on its cover. The man the article called “the country’s most famous conservative” was pictured in a denim shirt, dungarees, and his signature cowboy hat as he lovingly caressed the head of his palomino horse, Sunny. While the story focused on Goldwater’s presidential prospects for 1964, the same issue included a lengthy editorial voicing concerns about several of his views on America’s role in the world.
Characterizing Goldwater as “the front-runner for the Republican nomination,” Life noted that many Americans were disturbed by the senator’s extreme foreign policy positions. These included withdrawing from the United Nations, the belief that the distribution of humanitarian aid to poor countries around the world was a waste of American resources, and the conviction that the United States needed to heighten its commitment to defeating the Soviet Union in the Cold War. While the editors believed Goldwater to be “neither an isolationist nor a warmonger,” they also argued to be taken seriously as a candidate, Goldwater could not simply apply a series of “one sentence solutions” to a world as complex as the one that existed in late 1963. Life’s description of [End Page 161] Goldwater’s immoderate thinking on foreign affairs shows in microcosm much of the media criticism that would plague the Arizonan’s 1964 presidential campaign.2
The tone of this and other commentary in Life, a year before the 1964 election, was measured in comparison to much of the media coverage that followed Goldwater during his campaign for the presidency. During the primaries, Goldwater’s ideas were called fascist. A German banker was even quoted in a Time article saying: “If we give you [Goldwaterites] four or five years you’ll start putting on brown shirts.” The barb was just one of many reflecting the belief that Goldwater was an extremist, intent on pushing the United States into a nuclear confrontation with the USSR. But was that media portrayal accurate, and did the members of the mainstream fourth estate all view Goldwater’s foreign policy opinions the same way?3
The 1964 campaign was heavily discussed in publications from Left to Right, which made factually strong cases for and against the candidate. This essay provides an overview of what the press thought of Goldwater’s views on foreign affairs. It also considers the accuracy of editorial opinion regarding his positions on national security. While Goldwater’s occasional spontaneous comments did not help his candidacy, the question remains as to whether the media portrayed him as more of an outlier than he actually was.
Goldwater’s passionate belief in an assertive foreign policy and a strong national defense had long been a part of his personal history. Both positions had emerged as he and other members of his generation watched Nazi Germany’s growing military power and its encroachment on European neighbors in the 1930s. It seems that the appeasement displayed by Britain’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain toward Adolf Hitler in Munich in 1938 significantly affected the future senator’s worldview. In his memoirs, Goldwater argued that the Western European nation’s failure to sustain their military capabilities in the decades after the First World War was the main factor directly responsible for Hitler’s success in threatening [End Page 162] Europe. The senator’s belief during his political career in “maintaining weapons superior to any potential enemy,” Goldwater wrote, “was the natural outcome of my frustrations . . . in the period just prior to World War II.” The lesson that America should never allow itself to be militarily weak or unprepared was one Goldwater would never forget. It also did much to shape his views on the actual use of American power, including his perspective on confrontation with the Soviet Union.4
The desire for an assertive policy against global communism was clear in Goldwater’s first Senate campaign in 1952. Running against Democrat Ernest McFarland, the Senate majority leader, he was critical of the Truman administration’s conduct of the...