Blast from the past: Barry Goldwater’s disappointment with the Goldwater Institute


by David Safier

I was strolling around the internet and happened on a 1999 article in the Phoenix New Times, Think Tank Warfare. It's about Barry Goldwater's hopes for what the Goldwater Institute would be and how his hopes were dashed as the institute became a propaganda and lobbying arm of business interests and the doctrinaire, libertarian far right. He was especially dismayed at G.I.'s embrace of charter schools and vouchers.

Goldwater had hoped G.I. would be a genuine policy research institute, similar to the Morrison Institute at ASU. His wife Susan, speaking after he died, said,

"He liked the idea of academics doing this thinking. What he didn't like was seeing it turn into a special-interest, big-business lobbying group."

As for G.I.'s push for charter schools and vouchers:

"Barry Goldwater was an absolute believer in public education," his widow says. "I think he was nervous about charter schools. Was he against them? I don't know. He was nervous about what they would do to the public schools. He didn't favor religious education."

Susan complains that Jeffry Flake's push for vouchers, a system that would allow parents to spend tax dollars on private school tuition, is advancing an agenda that would promote religious schools at the expense of public education.

"They're wanting to promote their religious agenda, and Barry would have gone down with the ship fighting that one," she says.

Jeffry Flake, G.I.'s executive director at the time, is, of course, our own Senator Flake. The article characterizes the 1999 Flake as someone who "has constantly hammered at the public school system, which he characterizes as hopelessly inefficient and ruled by trenchant teachers' unions." While head of G.I., Flake put together a "research" study which concluded class size doesn't affect students' education. In fact, he found that you got better results in districts where per pupil spending was lower. The study was taken apart when a genuine researcher found Flake had gathered his information from secretaries while administrators were off for summer vacation, data that turned out to be flawed.

Barry Goldwater objected to G.I. philosophically along with his concern about its propagandizing, lobbying ways.

Susan Goldwater complains that the institute's narrow, one-note philosophy about unfettered privatization conflicts with Barry Goldwater's pragmatism.

Goldwater was a "nuts and bolts" problem-solver who had no patience for "parlor conservatism," Susan says, adding that the senator was repelled by the free-market utopianism of the institute.