I dashed out of the National Press Building on my way to Capitol Hill to cover a House hearing. I heard a voice behind me. “Hey, Tim. Going to the Hill? Let’s share a cab.”
It was Mike Kraft, Capitol Hill correspondent for the Reuters News Agency. Just then someone charged past us and grabbed the front door handle of our cab. It was Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona. He jumped into the front seat and slammed the door.
Not intimidated, Mike said, “Excuse me, Senator, do you mind if we ride with you?”
Goldwater snarled, “I don’t give a s……”
So we piled in. All the way to the Hill, Goldwater poured out a stream of obscenities unprintable in a family newspaper. “Those stupid sons-of a bitches,” he snarled, his face purple with rage. “The Soviets are full-speed ahead on their SST! It’s a race and we’re going to come in dead last.”
The “stupid sons-of -bitches” were his esteemed colleagues in the Senate, famous for its gentility and courtesy. Yet Goldwater could not contain his fury, even against his Republican brethren, 18 of whom, a day earlier on March 25, 1971, voted 51-46 to kill the Boeing Supersonic Transport. Sen. Henry M. Jackson, “the gentleman from Boeing,” represented the Democrats in seeking to win passage of legislation to fund the SST. After the vote Jackson glumly announced, “The program is dead.”
When we reached the Senate office building, Goldwater pulled out a hundred dollar bill. The cabdriver threw up his arms. “Senator, I can’t make change for that.” Goldwater crossed his arms and sat glowering in silence.
Mike glanced at me with a faint smile. He shrugged and reached for his wallet. “I’ll cover it.” Goldwater got out and slammed the door without even thanking Mike. The cabdriver then drove us over to the House side of the Capitol. “That’s how he got to be a millionaire,” Mike said, “Making other people pay his way.”
As we pulled up to the House office building, I reached for my wallet. “No no, put it away,” Mike said. “I paid Mr. Capitalism’s way. I might as well pay Mr. Communist’s way too.”
I waited until Goldwater died to write up that encounter with the Republican Party’s 1964 presidential standard bearer. “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice,” he famously snarled in his acceptance speech.
He lost to Democrat Lyndon Johnson in a landslide. Yet Goldwater in many ways gave birth to the modern Republican Party dominated by tea party extremism and all manner of bigotry and hate. Goldwater was filled with a venomous hatred toward organized labor and the movements for African American, Latino, and women’s equality. And, as it turned out, he was filled also with a venomous hatred of moderates in his own party. Goldwater personified the attitude of tea party Republicans: “My way or the highway.”
Those moderate Democrats and Republicans proved they were on the right side in voting down funding for the Supersonic Transport. They spared us from wasting tens of billions of tax dollars on an airborne Edsel. The Soviets junked their TU-144 SST. And the French-British consortium mothballed their fleet of SSTs after squandering billions in trying to keep the Concorde alive.
I will always remember what I learned from that cab ride to Capitol Hill: Millionaires get rich by arranging for other people to pay their way.
Photo: A protester holds a sign (‘Barry Loves Bombs’) at one of the late senator’s campaign rallies. PBS.org