How Barry Goldwater's Granddaughter Ended Up at the Democratic Convention

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CC Goldwater reveres her grandfather's legacy -- and says he wouldn't recognize today's GOP. Last week in Charlotte, she helped renominate President Obama.

Of all the things Barry Goldwater, who died in 1998, might find foreign about today's political scene, one was surely the scene that unfolded on the floor of the Democratic convention in Charlotte last Wednesday: His granddaughter, surrounded by Arizona's Democratic delegates, nominating President Obama from the convention floor.

"Madam Secretary, Arizona is the Grand Canyon state and has produced some fabulous politicians on both parties. One includes my grandfather, Barry Goldwater," the dark-haired, red-lipsticked woman in a blue dress said, stumbling over her words a little bit -- she was very nervous.

"I'm CC Goldwater," she continued. "My grandfather wouldn't recognize the Republican Party of today."

It was very late -- 11:30 p.m., after Bill Clinton had finished speaking and most of the networks had cut away -- but to those still watching the convention, it was a riveting moment: A direct descendant of perhaps the most conservative presidential nominee the Republican Party has ever had, asserting that today's GOP has gone too far. "Barry Goldwater believed in personal freedoms, the right to privacy, and a woman's right to choose," she said. "On behalf of the Arizona delegation, I want to cast 77 votes for Arizona for Barack Obama, the president of the United States!"

I caught up with Goldwater, who lives in the Phoenix area, this week to see how Barry Goldwater's granddaughter ended up at a Democratic convention. CC isn't actually a Democrat -- she's still registered as an independent, though she thinks she might switch over soon -- and she wasn't a convention delegate, just a guest of the Arizona delegation. Nor was it her first public foray into Democratic politics: In 2008, she came out in favor of Obama and against the Republican nominee from her home state, John McCain.

This might seem like a repudiation of the legacy of the man many credit with pioneering the Republican Party's shift toward an ever more uncompromising conservatism. But CC Goldwater -- a filmmaker who in 2006 completed an HBO documentary about her grandfather called Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater -- sees it as consistent. Goldwater, 52, lived with her grandparents for part of her childhood in order to attend high school in Phoenix (she grew up in the small town of Sedona), but her sense of her grandfather was mainly nonpolitical. "Sometimes I'd see the Secret Service at my window because Kissinger was coming over for coffee or something," she laughed. "I knew he was really important, but not what he stood for."

It was through the documentary that she got to know, and admire, her grandfather's politics, interviewing dozens of political figures on all sides about Barry Goldwater's beliefs and his legacy. It's this education that she believes qualifies her to say what he would think of today's GOP. "At the end of his career, he was seeing it too," she said. "He was saying things like, 'If I had to run 10 or 20 years from now, I might not get elected in my own party.' The Republican Party has changed into less than what I think Barry Goldwater would be supportive of."

CC's critique of the GOP, one her grandfather began to articulate late in his life as well, is a libertarian one. "He was very vocal about his fear of people like the late Jerry Falwell and the religious right taking over the party," she said. "He was concerned about the change in civil liberties and women's rights." In fact, Barry Goldwater spent much of his political retirement as a thorn in the side of the mainstream GOP. He said the party had been taken over by "kooks" and "extremists"; he called for gays to be allowed to serve in the military, saying, "You don't need to be straight to fight and die for your country. You just need to shoot straight"; he even endorsed a Democrat in an Arizona congressional race.

A few weeks ago, CC and her mother Joanne Goldwater, Barry Goldwater's eldest child, endorsed Richard Carmona, the Democratic candidate for Barry Goldwater's onetime U.S. Senate seat, saying he best represented Barry Goldwater's integrity and support for abortion rights. It's safe to say Democrats haven't rushed to embrace Barry Goldwater in return, however. His name is most commonly used to invoke a conservatism so right-wing voters won't support it, as when Obama adviser David Plouffe told the New York Times that Romney was "the most conservative nominee that they've had going back to Goldwater, and that "one of the key issues in the campaign is to make sure people know that."

But to CC, her grandfather's legacy is best served by keeping Obama in the White House. But she has another, more personal reason for not supporting Romney. The decades-old conflict between the Romney and Goldwater families goes back to the 1964 Republican convention, when Barry Goldwater was the presidential nominee and George Romney, the governor of Michigan, helped lead a faction of moderates seeking to insert a civil-rights plank in the party platform. When they failed, Romney refused to endorse Goldwater, warning that the party was writing its death sentence with its extreme positions.

"George Romney walked out on my grandfather in 1964 at the Cow Palace," CC Goldwater says. "I'm not sure how I could support his son now. If my grandfather were alive, I think he'd say [of Mitt Romney], 'His father was a real weenie. He left me hanging.'"

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Molly Ball is a staff writer covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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