Saturday, June 3, 2017

GoldwaterGoldwater by Barry M. Goldwater
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"Society has become more selfish and, as a result, less dedicated to the common good. Millions hail a culture that is now more concerned with money and appearances than genuine accomplishment."

Strange as it may seem Senator Barry M. Goldwater played a role in shaping my youth in Poland, behind the Iron Curtain. In early fall of 1964 I was beginning my high-school education in Warsaw and I clearly remember the hysteria the Polish media (all six of them: the only TV channel, the two radio stations, and the three newspapers, all strictly controlled by the so-called Communist party) created about Sen. Goldwater candidacy for the President of the United States. According to the media this was the man who would inevitably start the global thermonuclear war to have all the peace-loving children in the world annihilated. I could not sleep and had nightmares of nuclear catastrophe. I was 13, the age when one tends to believe what one sees/listens to/reads in the media. Over fifty years later my connection with the late Sen. Goldwater is still strong. I chair a committee at my university that helps students apply for and succeed in getting the famous Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship - the most prestigious math, science, and engineering scholarship in the country - which the U.S. Congress had established in honor of the senator's 30-year career in Congress.

Goldwater (1988) is an autobiography of the senator, co-written with Jack Casserly. Already from the beginning pages I learned about my further connections with the senator. His grandfather was actually born in Konin, Poland, not that far from my place of birth. And Prescott, Arizona - one of my favorite towns in the States - was the senator's usual place to launch his numerous political campaigns.

The autobiography is an interesting read marred by meandering, chatty, and sometimes long-winded style; the authors are not always able to ignore immaterial details and focus on the crucial issues. Some readers may be put off by Mr. Goldwater's tendency to seek vengeance on his many political enemies. Just to mention a few: about R.M. Nixon the Senator writes: "the most dishonest individual I ever met in my life." Goldwater's utter contempt for L.B. Johnson is clear: "master of manipulation," "epitome of unprincipled politician," and "a hypocrite." The critique of R. McNamara and his policies in the times of the Vietnam War almost reaches the level of a charge of treason, for his incompetency and lies. J.F. Kennedy is characterized as "not a profile in courage." Senator Church's alleged political misconduct is dwelled on.

Senator Goldwater is an epitome of a conservative politician. The main motif of this autobiography is his unabashed support for the conservative movement and his deep pride of the progress the conservative ideology made in the 1970s and 1980s. Since Goodreads is not a place to proselytize about politics, let me just point out one aspect. While it would be ridiculous to characterize my views as in any way conservative, there are several areas that I agree with the senator: on uncontrolled growth of government, on honesty in politics, on the catastrophic influence of money and media on the political discourse, and the disastrous attempts of the religious Right's to legislate morality. The late senator would be horrified to see what Internet has done to destroy the truth in politics and human relations in general. And while I still disagree with him on most things, in particular on the role of government in all dimensions of progress and on Roosevelt's New Deal, having read the biography I gained strong respect for the senator for his honesty and straightforwardness. And I actually do believe that he never veered from his hierarchy of values: politicians should put the interests of the country first, then the interests of their state, and only then those of their own and their family. Hard to find politicians of this caliber today.

Three stars.

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