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Many might say that the 1960’s were a decade of extremism, whether it was the Vietnam war or the Civil Rights movement, there was always something going on, which resulted in vastly different opinions from the American public. In 1964, smack dab in the middle of America’s most radical decade, Barry Goldwater, emerged as leader of the Republican party, a man who has now been forgotten by time, but laid the groundwork for many radical right wingers ahead of him. Goldwater believed in low taxes, limited government control and the power of the free-market. In a decade divided by extremes of opinion, Goldwater was a man who was only interested in gaining support of one segment of the population, those who believed in the principals of the radical right, he preached none of his views in moderation, knowing exactly who he wanted to impress. It might come as no surprise that Mr. Goldwater had his critics, plenty of them. One such critic was Fred J. Cook, a predominant New York journalist who wrote “Barry Goldwater: Extremist to the right” in 1964, the same year Barry Goldwater was up for the presidency of the United States of America. Fred J. Cook’s book hasn’t dated terribly well, but it remains an effective reminder of the dangers of right wing extremism, and the questionable connections many of leaders use for there own benefit.
As his book begins, Fred J. Cook tells the story of Goldwater’s youth growing up in one of Phoenix’s most wealthy families. Goldwater was a good looking and athletic young man who had a knack for making friends and a love of America’s wilderness. In 1937, Goldwater inherited his father’s Department store and quickly made it one of the most successful in the country, thanks to the innovative mail order catalogs he helped to create, which featured extraordinarily unique merchandise, such as a pair of underwear which had plastic ants attached to it, which was given the title “Ants in your pants”. After the Second World War Goldwater joined Phoenix’s chamber of commerce, and from their worked his way up to City Councilor, Governor of Arizona and Republican Junior Senator from Arizona. According to Cook, Goldwater’s greatest attribute, and also his greatest weakness, was his belief that self-initiative was the cure all for all problems. It was this belief that led to Goldwater’s connections with Senator Joseph McCarthy and amendments which would make it harder for labour unions to attain power in his home state of Arizona. Barry Goldwater and his views, just happened to be in the right place at the right time, he was a staunch anti-communist during the height of the red scare, which led to his quick climb up the political ladder. By the early 1960’s, Barry Goldwater’s pro-American, anti-communist views were seen by many as the only weapon that could be used against emerging communist super powers such as Russia, Cuba, China and Vietnam, as he was elected leader of the Republican party.
In his book Fred J. Cook, discusses many of the factors that led to Barry Goldwater’s relatively quick rise to the top and the connections Goldwater made along the way. Although Goldwater was not a racist, many hate groups supported him, because his views of limited government interference would allow the continuation of the south’s system of segregation. In addition to white supremacists, Goldwater had connections to Walter Bioff, a known mobster who would benefit if the “teamsters” union was disbanded. According to Cook, it wasn’t Barry Goldwater who was the real threat, it was those who supported him, because his free market views allowed certain individuals to gain power through his leadership.
The Republican party had long been known as an organization which catered to big business, but with Goldwater in power, this would be more the case than ever before. Using Cook’s own words “Goldwater was against it all, at times it seemed as if he was against everything. But there were two, or perhaps three notable exceptions. He could be counted on to favour more money for the military- and especially the airforce. He was also for any legislation that would help big business” (Page 108, first paragraph). Fred J. Cook’s book makes it clear that one reason Goldwater gained power so quickly was because he catered to those who had money, and where there is money, there is most definently power. If Goldwater was to become president, he promised to reduce government interference with big business, which would help those with money make even more money. Goldwater was vastly opposed to the a higher minimum wage and labor unions, both things which were bad for big business but good for the little guy. Cook’s book also highlights Goldwater’s hypocritical nature, as was the case with his support of Tennessee Hydro’s privatization, as he pumped more money than ever into Arizona’s public hydro system, because it helped to insure support of voters in his own state. All this was done under the guise, of limited government interference, which at the time was sometimes not necessarily the case.
At the time of it’s writing “Barry Goldwater: Extremist to the Right’s” sole purpose was to discourage American’s from voting for the potentially dangerous Senator Goldwater, and perhaps it did some good, because Goldwater lost by a landslide. The greatest weakness in Fred J. Cook’s book is one caused by age. In order to fully appreciate much of the content, the reader must have a thorough knowledge of 1960’s politics, which is quite difficult to do, being a teenager almost 40 years after the fact. There is almost an entire chapter of the book dedicated to Barry Goldwater’s relationship with Senator Taft, someone who is probably not very familiar to those growing up in the 21st century. For the most part, all arguments presented in Fred J. Cook’s book are backed up with appropriate references, and at some points the author even congratulates Barry Goldwater on certain aspects of his personality, such as his genuine love of the American wilderness. This helps to give the book an air of rationality, which adds to more effect of Cook’s arguments. The book also benefits from a very coherent writing style, similar to the writing found in most newspapers, this helps to not alienate any section of the public who might want to read it.
Although Barry Goldwater is a failed and almost forgotten presidential leadership candidate from the mid 1960’s, it’s important to remember what and whom he stood for, because similar views are still presented by politicians today. Barry Goldwater was the first in a string of right wing extremists who came after him, people such as George Wallace, Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan, non of these leaders have yet to come into power, and people like Fred J. Cook remind us why this is probably a good thing. Whenever a leader stresses free markets over the protection of it’s people, a society is created where the true leaders are big business and whoever else has a enough money and power to make it to the top, while the common man is lost in the shuffle. Barry Goldwater’s leadership has many similarities to that of Mike Harris and other neo-conservative governments across Canada. These leaders are also controlled by big business, and do what ever they can to ensure they have enough funding for there next campaign. A perfect example of this is the Privatization of Ontario Hydro, it seems strikingly similar to the privatization of Tennesee’s Hydro System, which Goldwater so publicly supported, and in both cases the only people who benefit are big business.
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