October 21, 2014

1964. The World Reacts to Barry Goldwater

A Diplomatic Riptide Around the Globe
"Barry Goldwater attends the Youth for Goldwater rally at the 1964 GOP convention, which took place at the Cow Palace in Daly City" (source)
Bill Downs
ABC Washington
July 21, 1964
Not since Chicken Little erroneously announced that the sky was falling down—or possibly since Chicago's Mayor Big Bill Thompson threatened to punch the King of England in the nose—has a single pronouncement whirled through the world's diplomatic barnyards with such speed as that uttered by Senator Barry Goldwater in San Francisco last Friday.

When the Republican presidential candidate declared that "extremism, in the defense of liberty, is no vice," the teletypes in Allied capitals from London and Paris to Canberra and New Delhi apparently trembled with the news. When Mr. Goldwater added that "moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue," Communist translators in the Kremlins of Moscow, Warsaw, and Peiping sweat over their work.

The ironic thing about these statements is that then, and even now, no one knows what the GOP candidate actually meant by these assertions. Members of the Goldwater entourage and leaders of the Republican Party are now fleshing out the Senator's meaning. But overseas in the disturbed capitals of Europe, Asia, and South America, these explanations will be a long time in catching up.

It is illustrative of our shrinking world that a verbal pebble dropped beside the Golden Gate can, within a matter of hours, produce a diplomatic rip-tide around the globe.

But since Senator Goldwater is only a presidential candidate and not a member of the executive branch of the U.S. government, the vociferous foreign fears are more semantic than real. The fact is that both our allies and our enemies have always had a morbid fascination with the American electoral process, and they consider the raucous conventions and noisy campaigns as undignified and somehow unworthy of the democratic process.

In foreign eyes, Senator Goldwater appears to be the reckless product of a more reckless political procedure. Overseas observers are perpetually surprised that, after the shouting is over in November, Americans seem to forget their bloody party feuding and go back to living normal lives.

Then there is the question of words and their different meanings in the United States and abroad. When Barry Goldwater calls himself a right-wing conservative, in the European mind there is stirred the image of monarchic or economic despotism. For was it not the ultra-conservatives in prewar Italy and Germany who brought Mussolini and Hitler to power?

Try to explain to a visiting Englishman or Frenchman that this does not apply to Candidate Goldwater or any other U.S. right-wing conservative and they will shake their heads: "You Americans are naive," they say. "We've been through it and we know."

Thus when the man from Arizona won the GOP nomination on a conservative platform last week and followed up with his gratuitous and amorphous definition of extremism versus moderation—the reaction among both ally and enemy was immediate.

The British press editorially feared that Goldwater might threaten the long-standing Anglo-American alliance, and Britain's expectant Labour Party leaders feared the Republican candidate might somehow upset their own anticipated victory over the Conservative government in the United Kingdom's elections in October.

In Paris, the French reaction to the Cow Palace nomination was even more complicated. Although it might be expected that General De Gaulle would welcome another strongman on the Western politician scene, his political editors saw it another way. The GOP's nomination of Barry Goldwater, they say, proved what the Gaullists suspected all along: the U.S. could not be depended upon. Therefore the General was right in promoting his own nuclear arsenal and drawing away from NATO.

Unfortunately, certain publications of the radical right in West Germany, Spain, and South Africa have added to Europe's diplomatic suspicions about the Republican candidate. The Bavarian newspaper National Zeitung reported Goldwater's nomination as if he were running for Chancellor in Bonn. And the Johannesburg Die Vaterland said the Arizona Senator had "unmasked the liberal mass communications media in the U.S." The Madrid newspaper, ABC, which is the organ of the Spanish monarchists, commented that the Goldwater victory was a "reaction against the idea that the world must continue moving to the left."

The reaction of the Communist press to the Senator's nomination was as expected. Moscow's Izvestia sneered that Goldwater represents only "a minority of a minority" and represents "chauvinism, imperialism, reaction, and aggression." The Communist press of Warsaw said the nomination meant the "linking of demagogy, racialism, and millions of dollars from Texas."

It should be pointed out that the Communist propagandists seemed to be going easy on Senator Goldwater. When they really get tuned up, they begin calling their target something like an "unspeakable Fascist beast."

Actually, we supposed Americans should be flattered at all this overseas attention paid to our complex political struggles. Foreign concern over what happens in our domestic elections is proof of American leadership and influence throughout the world.

But Winston Churchill once observed privately that "when the Americans enter into the dog days of their election madness, it is wise for the foreigner to withdraw and watch the proceedings in dismay until the malady has run its course."

The old statesman might have also added that, somehow, we always seem to recover.

This is Bill Downs substituting for Edward P. Morgan. Good evening.