Remembering Barry Goldwater

Barry Goldwater will be remembered for a lot of things, not all of them kind, but I recall him most for his stories, his frankness, and his chili.

I met Goldwater at a cocktail party in Washington, D.C. I was in my 20s and working for a Florida congressman, and found myself on the same couch with Arizona’s senior senator. The talk was politics, of course. He had been regaling us with stories of his unsuccessful bid for the presidency when Jack Kennedy’s name came up.

Kennedy and Goldwater, although from opposite ends of the political spectrum, were mutual admirers, and Goldwater retold a conversation he had with JFK on the day after the famous televised debate between Kennedy and Richard Nixon.

This had been the first time two presidential contenders had squared off on TV. Goldwater heard the debate on radio and thought Nixon had won.

But overnight polls showed that most Americans felt Kennedy had cleaned Nixon’s clock. When Goldwater met Kennedy on the Senate floor the following day, he put it to him: How did you come across so differently on television?

“Right before I went on stage,” Goldwater recalled Kennedy as saying, “I sprinkled gold dust in my hair.” The last time I spoke with Goldwater was at a dinner in Mesa, Ariz., where he was receiving an award. We happened to be seated at the same table.

My wife, Sandy, had included a recipe from Goldwater in a celebrity cookbook she had authored to support a local charity. She asked Goldwater if he had ever received a copy of the book, and was disappointed that he had not. “Let me mail you a copy,” she offered.

Goldwater said sure, and wrote down the address. “Make sure you spell the street name right,” he told her, “because it’s wrong on the maps.”

Sandy decided not to trust the Post Office with that assignment, so the next day she and her friend, Treats Matthews, drove out to Goldwater’s mountaintop home in Paradise Valley and deposited it in his mailbox.

Two days later, she got a handwritten note from him in which he expressed his amazement at how fast the post office had delivered the book.

It was clear even then that age and a recent stroke were beginning to take their toll. Goldwater’s political enemies – mostly fellow Republicans – were suggesting that senility was at the root for some observations he made that didn’t set right with the Busybody Wing of the GOP.

Goldwater, for instance, stunned his party’s moralists with his defense of gays in the military. “You don’t need to be`straight to fight and die for your country,” he said. “You just need to shoot straight.” He had also bucked the Arizona party line in a congressional race, siding with a Flagstaff candidate who was pro-abortion-rights. The right-wingers saw this as heresy. But, in my opinion, it was vintage Goldwater. Since he was always a believer in minimal government, his landing on the side of choice in that debate was perfectly consistent.

Those same libertarian principles cast a shadow on his legacy, however, when he came out against the Civil Right Act, citing states’ rights. His vote against was on fairly narrow principles, and while  he claimed until his death to be adamantly opposed to discrimination, that decision remains a stain on his record.

Still, there are too few people – let alone politicians – with Goldwater’s frankness. A fellow Arizonan, Sen. John McCain, put it nicely on the day Goldwater died: “America – the only nation ever founded in the name of liberty – never had a more ardent champion of liberty than Barry Goldwater. Simply put, Barry Goldwater was in love with freedom.”

He could also stir up a tasty pot of chili. The Bruce family will be cooking up a batch today in his memory. I’ve included the recipe, if you care to join us.


  • 1 lb. coarse ground beef
  • 2 C. chopped onion
  • 1 can tomato puree (6 oz.)
  • 1 lb. dry pinto beans*
  • 3 tbsp. chili powder
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp. cumin
  • water

Saute beef and drain off excess fat. Add onions, puree and beans. Mix chili powder, salt and cumin; add to mixture. Bring to a boil, turn down heat and cook slowly until onions and beans are tender, adding water to desired consistency.

* Beans can be soaked overnight, or if added dry chili must cook long enough for them to become tender.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6 persons.

Recipe courtesy of Sandy Bruce’s “What’s Cookin’ in Arizona”