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Goldwater warnings resonate

| Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

It seems long ago since we had a president with business experience. (It wasn't so long. George W. Bush, like his dad before him, was an oilman.)

But how's this for a vocational qualification to lead us all?

“I went to work part time in the store when I was in about the seventh grade, and to work permanently in 1929 (at age 20).”

The store wasn't your average mom 'n' pop shop. It was the major department store of Phoenix. Barry Goldwater put in 23 full-time years there (interrupted to fly planes in World War II) advancing from floor salesman to company president.

“I learned in my formative years,” the retailer who became a five-term United States senator and Republican presidential candidate wrote, “that the American economic system could only work well, and at its best, when unhampered by government and controlled only by the marketplace.”

The store grew to a chain of five, selling out to Associated Dry Goods Corp., onetime parent of Pittsburgh's old Joseph Horne Co. The boss got into local reform politics.

He had no illusions that the business world was peopled by saints. But liberals who'd put government in charge of industry “suffer from an absolute lack of knowledge of how this system works,” he said.

He never got to be president. Democrat Lyndon Johnson swamped him by 16 million votes in 1964.

But Goldwater, who died at 89 in 1998, comes across as uncannily prophetic in letters, speeches and diaries. (A tireless sort, he was a published photographer who exhibited in hundreds of shows; a travel lecturer; a lifelong ham radio operator; and an outdoorsman and whitewater rafter.)

Some of his best writings enliven “Pure Goldwater,” a 2008 book compiled by son Barry Jr. and Washington veteran John W. Dean.

“I don't think I ever felt so downcast walking home,” he said about talking to 25 young people at a war protest, “thinking of the ignorance of these kids. And I was even more worried about the lack of knowledge of their parents, and the reluctance of their schools to teach about the workings of the Constitution.” This was not 2013, mind you, after a 10-year war, in a weak economy, and with what he'd see as socialized medicine coming down the pike; it was 1971.

Goldwater saw the New Deal of the 1930s infecting both parties with unwarranted faith in big government as the solution to social inequities. He warned against the power of organized labor to swing elections, even before the full flowering of unions. Meanwhile, “businessmen have become nothing but weak-kneed, afraid to even voice their own opinions.”

He learned that “you can't run government like a business,” though good business practices could improve many a government program — “and we can balance the budget.” How he'd love trillion-dollar deficits.

In his view, politicians who “think only of what can be given to people that might gain them votes” are today's captains of industry — by default. And this in the 1970s: “American industry and business and American genius no longer speak out with the authority they did when they were making this country the greatest in the world.”

Can't say we weren't warned.

Jack Markowitz is a Thursday columnist for Trib Total Media. Email him at jmarkowitz@tribweb.com.

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