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Footnote on a Political Classic: The Conscience of a Conservative by Barry Goldwater


Friday, Dec. 28, 2007

I am working on a book for publication next year (in April 2008, if all goes well) about the late Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, who served for thirty years in the United States Senate and was the 1964 Republican Party presidential nominee. His son Barry Goldwater Jr., who is my longtime friend, and I discovered a lot of unpublished first-person material in the Senator's papers at the Arizona Historical Foundation as the archivists were completing the processing of his collection. Because we found this material remarkably revealing about the man and his thinking, we hope others might find it fascinating as well.

Contemporary conservatives have moved so far toward the radical right, of course, that they barely recognize Barry Goldwater as one of their own, not to mention that many are unfamiliar with his rather courtly conservatism based on civility and common sense. Liberals, meanwhile, can see how far to the center they have moved because their views on many issues are indistinguishable from those of the man once known as "Mr. Conservative."

Our project has also provided an opportunity to tidy up some confused history about Senator Goldwater. For example, there have long been conflicting reports about his role in his political classic, The Conscience of a Conservative, which was published in 1960 - and reissued by Princeton University Press this year. The editor of the Princeton series of political works, Sean Wilentz, describes Goldwater's book as "one of the most consequential political writings in American history." Goldwater's detractors claim, incorrectly, that the Senator had nothing to do with the writing of the book. The evidence proves they are entirely wrong.

I cannot think of a better way to end this year than by tidying up the historical record about this book. Since this subject -- who did what, and when, and how in the writing of this political classic -- is only indirectly related to our work-in-progress, this is a good place to correct the record, with this year-end footnote.

The History of Goldwater's The Conscience of a Conservative

By 1959, Senator Goldwater, then in his second six-year term in the U.S. Senate, was viewed as presidential timber by a number of prominent conservative Republicans, who wanted him to pursue the GOP presidential nomination in 1960. The Senator, however, wanted no part of this effort.

The principal mover of the "Draft Goldwater" undertaking was the former Dean of Notre Dame School of Law, Clarence Manion. As part of the draft effort, Manion wanted the Senator to write an autobiographical book setting forth his conservative philosophy. Not only did Manion want to spread the word, but he also felt that sales of the book could fund a national "Draft Goldwater" movement. While the Senator made it clear that he did not want to be president or vice president, he liked the idea of doing a book.

The history of this book is found in Senator Goldwater's correspondence at the Arizona Historical Foundation. The project was first mentioned in a letter dated July 21, 1959, in which Dean Manion explained that "the first and most important thing on the agenda is the proposed book by Barry Goldwater This (I should say something approximately the size of the Key to Peace - l00 pages in large, legible printing) should be prepared as soon as possible and be published by a company which will pay you cus­tomary royalties as per contract."

It has long been said that no publisher would take this proposed book, which later became a huge bestseller. That is not correct. Rather than shop for a publisher, Manion wrote to Goldwater, "I have a company here which is ready to publish your book on these conditions and will pay you a substantial advance on anticipated royalties so that you may conveniently defray any expenses incurred in the preparation of the manuscript."

There has also been confusion about the source of the book's title. A letter from Manion to Goldwater dated July 27, 1959 contains the first mention of the title, and it appears that Manion was reacting to Goldwater's suggested title. Manion wrote: "We are thrilled at the prospect of your book. 'The Conscience of a Conservative' appeals to me as a title. It will be a rallying point for millions of old-fashioned Americans who are ready to march and are clamoring for a banner."

The fact that the Senator himself was the source of the title is confirmed in Manion's later confusion about the title. A few months after agreeing that "The Conscience of a Conservative" was a good title, Manion told a group of Goldwater supporters (on January 23, 1960) that "Senator Goldwater would write a book called, 'The Conscience of a Constitutional Conservative." Manion, who had seen portions of the work-in-progress, told the meeting of supporters, "Senator Goldwater has written the major portion of this book and all of the manuscript will be ready for the printer by February 14, [1960]."

The Writing of a Political Classic

When Dean Manion first described the project to Senator Goldwater, he said they needed the work to be completed within a few months. Goldwater informed Manion that he did not have time, given his Senate duties, to write the book, so Manion suggested a collaborator, Brent Bozell Jr., who had been William F. Buckley Jr.'s debate partner at Yale (and later his brother-in-law) and had previously written speeches for Goldwater. In his July 27, 1959 letter, Manion told Goldwater, "I hope that you and Brent can get it on the 'drawing board' as soon as possible."

After a flight to California on July 29, 1959 Senator Goldwater dictated over the telephone some very general notes for Bozell about the book project. They would meet on August 12, 1959, and following the meeting, during which they discussed the content of the book, Senator Goldwater prepared a brief letter to memorialize the discussion.

Senator Goldwater advised Manion that he wanted to run the book project by Stephen Shadegg, his campaign manager in 1952 and 1958, who knew his views. Shadegg had collaborated on speeches for the Senator for years. In a letter of September 2, 1959, the Senator told Shadegg of the project, and asked for his thoughts.

Had Senator Goldwater not been asked by the Los Angeles Times in the fall of 1959 to write a syndicated column for them, no doubt Shadegg would have collaborated on The Conscience of a Conservative. But Shadegg took Senator Goldwater's suggestions for columns, and prepared the draft which he sent to Washington. (In a number of columns, Senator Goldwater acknowledged this working relationship for readers.)

Shadegg later reported that, when he and Goldwater first spoke about the book, the Senator explained, "We are not writing a platform for the Republican Party, but what I hope we can do is awaken the American people to a realization of how far we have moved from the old constitutional concepts toward the welfare state." Goldwater sent Shadegg a copy of the manuscript "as rapidly as the chapters were completed" and Shadegg says he suggested only a few minor changes.

Shadegg added that commentators have claimed that he is the book's author - and then both praised and criticized him. However, Shadegg himself, with full knowledge of exactly who was doing what, said on page 28 of his 1965 book What Happened to Goldwater? The Inside Story of the 1964 Republican Campaign that "Goldwater was kind enough to say that some of the speeches I had written formed a basis for the book. The truth is, Goldwater and Bozell deserve full credit for the writing."

In fact, it is not difficult to recognize material from Senator Goldwater's speeches - and he was a much-in-demand speaker in the late 1950s - in The Conscience of a Conservative. I refer to both formal speeches and his thinking as it emerged in question- and-answer sessions.

Those Who Claim Goldwater Was Not Involved Are Wrong

Both Goldwater's friends and his detractors are very confused about how The Conscience of a Conservative was written. For example, John Judis, a Senior Editor at the New Republic, when reviewing Goldwater biographies by Lee Edwards and Alan Goldberg, wrote for the Washington Post: "Edwards relates how former National Review editor Brent Bozell wrote the bestselling Conscience of a Conservative for Goldwater at the behest of several conservatives who wanted to promote the Arizonan as a presidential candidate in 1960. When Bozell brought the manuscript to Goldwater, Edwards recounts, 'The senator read quickly the less than 200 pages, pausing here and there, and then handed it back to Bozell, saying 'Looks fine to me. Let's go with it.'"

Judis added that "Clifton White, who later headed the Draft Goldwater Committee, wrote in his memoir that Goldwater never even saw The Conscience of a Conservative before it was published." Judis proceeds to dismiss Goldwater's statements "that Bozell constructed the book from his speeches," because Judis claims "Bozell wrote those speeches." Judis's conclusion is as follows: "The truth is that Goldwater had almost nothing to do with the book that made him famous and launched his national political career."

As the evidence I have already mentioned shows, this conclusion is simply wrong; a fact which can be established by the correspondence relating to the project, not to mention the memory of those familiar with the project.

John W. Dean, a FindLaw columnist, is a former counsel to the president.

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