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To the Editor: 

I was 17 years old in 1964, four years away from being able to vote about the people who could send me to Vietnam a year later. (Since then, the 26th Amendment, which gave 18-year-olds the vote, has helped us in some small way to make some progress.)

That year I supported Barry Goldwater for president, not because I agreed with him on most issues — I didn’t — but because I was unalterably opposed to the monstrously insecure bullying crook then occupying the White House. Sound familiar? Destructive self-absorption knows no party lines.…

Even though I disagreed with him, I always admired Barry’s modesty, self-deprecation, and honesty. His most endearing moment: In early 1967, he was a guest on "The Tonight Show." In an obviously rehearsed exchange, Johnny Carson stumbled, stammered, tripped over his own words, then looked at Goldwater and asked, “Has that ever happened to you? You knew what you wanted to say but it just wouldn’t come out right?” And Goldwater said, “Yeah. For three months 2-1/2 years ago.”

The studio exploded in laughter. Whatever anyone may have felt about his political or philosophical positions, Barry Goldwater was immensely likeable. He was real. He had character. He had integrity.

History says his finest hour came in August 1974, when he led five Republican senators to the White House and told Richard Nixon to vacate the premises. “You don’t have five votes in the Senate,” he told Nixon. “You don’t even have mine.”

But I disagree. I think Goldwater’s best moment came well before, during the 1964 campaign. He knew he was going down to crushing defeat, and needed every vote he could get to avoid utter humiliation. But when the John Birch Society, hotbed of “There’s a Red under every bed” extremism, endorsed Goldwater, he said, “I don’t want their support. I repudiate it. Those people are not what America is about.”

The 26th Amendment aside, we don’t seem to have come very far since that election season. Why will congressional rank and file Republicans not repudiate Donald Trump and his white supremacist base of hatred and violence? If you’re conservative, fine. But do you really want to turn your back on the man who defined “The Conscience of a Conservative” and embrace to the end the cult of an authoritarian would-be dictator who has no allegiance to anyone, let alone his country and his oath of office?

After the Trump catastrophe, this country may need progressive policies right now to balance the scales. But it also needs a healthy two-party system; it needs a genuine, principled Republican Party. So here’s my question: Where are the likes of Barry Goldwater now that we need him?

Gerry Bell,



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