A Goldwater Family Crisis

updated 06/20/1983 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/20/1983 01:00AM

One drab and rainy day recently Barry Goldwater Jr. sat in his Alexandria, Va. living room doing what male Goldwaters have never done well—waiting. Men of action, not introspection, they start businesses, run for public office, build the family dynasty. Like his father and namesake—the granite-jawed hero of the Republican right wing—Barry Jr. had followed the family tradition, succeeding first in business, then in politics. But last year his fast-track career suddenly ran out of places to turn. He lost his bid for the U.S. Senate from California. Worse, he now finds his future in the hands of the Justice Department, which is investigating allegations that he was among a handful of Congressmen who used cocaine or marijuana. Although authorities have indicated that he will not be prosecuted, he has received no official word. And so Barry Goldwater Jr., 44, sits and waits.

"All I know is what I read in the press," he says. "We've tried to talk to the Justice Department and they won't talk to us. It kills me that for 14 years I worked hard as a Congressman and now this happens. You would think that after that much experience, I would be able to cash in and get a good job, right? But I can't go looking for a job until this thing is cleared up. This has ruined my life."

It certainly hasn't ruined his relationship with his 74-year-old father. Senator Goldwater is candid about Barry Jr.'s misdeeds even as he stands by him. "He came and told me that he had taken some puffs of marijuana cigarettes and also sniffed a little coke," the Senator says. "But the investigation has been running on for months. Sniffing a little coke is not a serious crime, it is a misdemeanor. Selling it is a crime, and he didn't do that."

The bleakness Barry Jr. feels about his future today seems light-years removed from the enthusiasm he showed just 18 months ago when he appeared to be a shoo-in for the Republican senatorial nomination. In those heady days he even expressed his boyish élan by skateboarding through Congress' Rayburn House Office Building. "The marble halls are fantastic for gliding around," he observed. But what he relished most about Congress was being a part of its great power and influence. "I love power, I think power is fantastic," he told a reporter early last year. "I always enjoyed being on top of the totem pole. If you're not No. 1, you might as well be last."

The primacy that Barry Goldwater Jr. most coveted was to become the second half of the first father-and-son team in the U.S. Senate in a century. That achievement would prove that Barry Jr. had continued the Goldwater legacy—a powerful three-generation tradition of astounding success. It might also have sated the desire that has driven Barry all his life—a longing to stand on an equal footing with his famous father. "The name of Goldwater has evolved over the years from my great-grandfather in Arizona to my father, who became famous nationwide," he says. "That's a burden that weighs heavily on me."

It is a burden as old as primogeniture. "Greatness of name in the father oft-times overwhelms the son," writer Ben Jonson observed over 300 years ago. "They stand too near one another. The shadow kills the growth." Success in his Senate race might have enabled Barry Jr. to emerge from that burdensome shadow. Instead, failure has given him the leisure to reflect on it. "All children who live with a giant of a father try to cope with it," he said on that gray afternoon in Alexandria. "It is a horrendous problem to overcome psychologically. Parents can help in the difficult periods. Most do it badly. Most fathers do it badly because they have difficulty reaching out, putting an arm around their son or daughter and saying, 'I love you, everything is fine, you are doing good...' "

The Goldwater legacy that has weighed so heavily on Barry Jr. began with his great-grandfather in 1837. Michael Goldwasser, then 14 and one of 22 children of a poor Jewish family, set out from Konin, Poland to seek his fortune. He migrated to Paris, then to London and then—lured by tales of the great gold rush—to California. In the rough, violent boomtown of Sonora in the 1850s, he started a saloon on the ground floor of a brothel. The saloon failed when the gold petered out, but "Big Mike" Goldwater, as he now called himself, persevered. With a horse-drawn wagon, the six-foot-three immigrant headed for the Arizona Territory to peddle dry goods and strong spirits to the U.S. cavalrymen who were chasing Cochise's Apache braves and to the miners who were hacking gold and silver out of the desert. In 1876 Big Mike opened a general store in Prescott. The next year he left the prospering business in the custody of Morris, the oldest of his eight children, and retired with his wife to San Francisco. Morris, an ebullient man with a walrus mustache, ran not only the store but the city—serving as Mayor on and off for nearly half a century.

In 1882 Big Mike's youngest son, Baron, followed his brother into merchandising. A dandy who had come of age amid the big-city comforts of San Francisco, Baron helped transform the crude country store into a purveyor of fine clothing and furniture to the carriage trade. When he opened a branch in Phoenix in 1896, Goldwater's quickly became the future state capital's most prestigious shop, and the dapper Baron became the city's unofficial arbiter of taste. In 1907 he married an Episcopalian named Josephine Williams. Jo was a tough pioneer woman who hunted with a shotgun, played winning poker, and drank her whiskey neat. On New Year's Day, 1909 she gave birth to Barry Morris Goldwater.

Barry learned politics from his Uncle Morris, outdoorsmanship from his mother and retailing from his father. Baron died in 1929, and Barry, at 20, was thrust into management of the family's business. He worked tirelessly to surpass his father's achievements as a merchant, designing a line of desert-styled clothing, including under-shorts decorated with printed red ants, which he called "antsy-pants," and gaining a national cachet by advertising in the New Yorker. After working long hours in the store, Barry relaxed by photographing the desert, flying his private plane, or tinkering with inventions.

In 1934 Barry married a girl from Indiana named Margaret Johnson. The children came quickly—Joanne in 1936, Barry Jr. in 1938, Michael in 1940 and Peggy in 1944. When his youngest was born, Barry was in India. He had pulled strings to overcome the handicaps of age and astigmatism and win a commission in the Army Air Forces. He spent the war flying supplies to bases in the India-Burma theater, and returned home a lieutenant colonel and a local hero. In 1949 he made his first move into the political arena with a successful bid for a seat on the Phoenix City Council. Three years later he ran for the U.S. Senate and won—a victory that he attributes, with characteristic candor, to Dwight Eisenhower's powerful coattails.

But Sen. Barry Goldwater proved far more reactionary than Ike. He supported Sen. Joe McCarthy, praised the John Birch Society and voted against minimum-wage laws and civil rights legislation. He scorned the Eisenhower Administration as a "dime-store New Deal" and suggested that America might be improved "if we could just saw off the Eastern Seaboard and let it float out to sea." While such statements alienated the Eastern Republican establishment, they endeared Barry to the party's growing right wing. In 1964 those hard-shell conservatives captured the party and, in an orgy of overenthusiasm, nominated Goldwater for President. Three and a half months later President Lyndon Johnson buried Barry in the biggest landslide yet recorded in American politics.

But the grandson of Big Mike had already carved the name of Goldwater indelibly into American history. In the process, he also insured that his sons would find it almost impossible to continue the family tradition of surpassing their father's achievements.

Gosh you will love it here," Barry Goldwater wrote to his eldest daughter, Joanne, shortly after he arrived in Washington as a Senate freshman in 1953. "I can't wait till all of you are here and we can be together as a family..." Goldwater's dream of togetherness never materialized. His wife never took to life in the capital, his children were scattered in different schools, and the Senator himself was frequently flying around the country on speaking tours. As his fame spread, he had less time for his children. That realization pained him, as he wrote in another letter to Joanne, three years after the first: "It makes me wonder how stupid a man can get who will willingly tear himself away from his family to come to this land of Oz..."

The Senator's children found that growing up a Goldwater was a decidedly mixed blessing. They enjoyed the enviable perks of the Goldwater legacy—the limousines, the private planes and the instant entree that their surname provided—but they found that fame denied them an independent identity. "I didn't want to be any different from anybody else and yet I really was, and I knew I was, because I was a Goldwater," Joanne recalls. "I'm happy now, but I didn't become free till I was 40."

The heaviest burden of the Goldwater legacy fell on Barry Jr. He was the first-born son, and he carried The Name. From the beginning Goldwater imposed higher standards on Barry Jr. than he did on his younger son, Michael. "My brother kind of served as a buffer for me," Michael recalls. "If Dad told us to go out and cut wood and we didn't, my brother would catch heck and I wouldn't. After Dad would leave, I would just laugh at Barry."

Of course, there were good times, too. Both sons fondly recall camping trips with their father in the desert. But their nostalgia is tempered with the knowledge that even those vacations were not without tension. "He tried to instill competitiveness," Michael says. "On those trips, we would always play baseball or football. The Old Man always tried to outdo us. And if he couldn't outdo us, he'd cheat to win."

Michael, now a California building contractor, managed to shrug off that competition, but Barry Jr. was gripped by it. When the Senator sent his sons to his alma mater, Staunton Military Academy in Virginia, Barry served as a captain of the swimming team, headed the same military unit as his father, and scored higher grades than his dad had posted 35 years earlier. The elder Goldwater had managed only one year of college, but Barry Jr. earned a degree from Arizona State University in 1962. He majored in marketing, planning to take over the family department store.

That dream was crushed even before Barry Jr. graduated, when the family sold the store to a conglomerate. The Senator maintains that his son showed no interest in the business. Barry Jr. tells a different story. "I used to go down as a kid and polish the brass and wash the windows and work in the basement, folding boxes," he says. "I worked in every department in that store through the years and even learned all about fabrics at school. I think the fault my father made was in not asking me."

At the time, Barry Jr. was hurt. "I said, 'Screw it, I'm going to California to do something,' " he recalls. That "something" turned out to be the stock brokerage business. Seeking to escape the weight of the Goldwater name, he called himself "Barry Morris" and landed a job in the brokerage firm of Noble Cooke. Within seven years he had worked his way from clerk to partner. "I started out marking chalkboards," he says. "When I left in 1969, I was making over $200,000 a year. I did it on my own. My dad had nothing to do with it."

Barry Jr. quit that lucrative position to run for Congress in a special off-year election in his suburban Los Angeles district. He called his father at 3 o'clock one morning to inform him of the decision. "I told him to stay home and send money," Barry Jr. remembers. "He did." Not only did the young Goldwater win the election, but he ran far ahead of his father's 1964 showing in that same conservative district. He was only 30 years old, and even though he lacked his father's easy charm, it seemed that he might somehow surpass or at least catch up to the Old Man after all.

Sometimes, on days when his arthritis flares up, Sen. Barry Goldwater needs more than his cane to support him, and so he leans on the wall as he shuffles down the corridors of Congress. On those days, it is easy to see the toll that 74 active years have taken on him. "I counted the other day, and I've had 14 operations—a new shoulder, a broken neck, knee, ankle, gall bladder, appendix, both hips, a triple coronary bypass," he says. But age, arthritis and an ailing heart have not banked Goldwater's fires. He still speaks his mind, and his words can still sting. When President Reagan appointed Goldwater protégée Sandra Day O'Connor to the Supreme Court, TV evangelist Jerry Falwell suggested that all "good Christians" should be concerned about the appointment. Goldwater fired back: "Every good Christian ought to kick Falwell right in the ass."

Despite his many ailments, Barry Goldwater ran for a fifth term in 1980 at least partially in the hope that his son would soon join him in the Senate. And for a while it seemed that Barry Jr. would make it. After declining an invitation to run in 1976 because of the imminent breakup of his marriage to Susan Gregory, Barry Jr. was the odds-on favorite in the California Republican primary last June. Ironically, for a man so obsessed with escaping his father's shadow, Barry Jr. based his Senate campaign on the Old Man's legend. His slogan was "Barry Goldwater for the U.S. Senate, a tradition," and one of his TV commercials showed him sitting on the Capitol steps with his father. But while he flaunted his father's name, he exhibited none of the Old Man's feistiness, refusing to debate his opponents, San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson and Congressman Pete McCloskey. After leading by 30 points in early polls, he finished third, with only 18 percent of the vote. Conceding defeat to Wilson, he seemed devastated, his blue eyes watering, his hands jittery. "I was with him when the returns came in," remembers a California politician, "and he seemed more upset about telling his father than about the loss itself."

After the defeat Barry Jr. went into seclusion near Lake Tahoe for two weeks. "I think he just hibernated," says his sister Joanne. "He took it rather hard." Having given up his House seat to run for the Senate, he was trying to put the pieces of his own future together when the most frightening prospect of all—a possible indictment on drug charges—suddenly made planning impossible.

Last September Newsweek reported that "investigators have amassed considerable evidence that Rep. Barry Goldwater Jr. of California has used marijuana in his office and gave it to his friends." In November columnist Jack Anderson reported that a Justice Department informant who was "wired for sound" had taped a drug-related conversation in Goldwater's Virginia home. In January the New York Times reported that a federal grand jury was actively investigating Goldwater and other Congressmen.

Although he has admitted to his family that he used cocaine and marijuana, Barry Jr. refuses to discuss drugs publicly. He did, however, discuss the frustration of waiting to see what will happen. "They're doing nothing to un-cloud my life," he said. "The only thing I can figure out is that they're waiting until the whole investigation is over."

Meanwhile Barry lifts weights, takes long walks, and thinks about the link between his current woes and the difficulties of the father-son relationship. "I think God created that obstacle for a reason," he says. "You either survive or you fall—and a lot of children fall. I don't know why." As the rain continues to fall outside his house, he looks across the living room at a huge color photograph of his father, taken when the Old Man was still in his prime. "I respect him and I love him and I want him to look proudly upon my accomplishments." he says. "I would like nothing better than to succeed in his eyes."

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