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Goldwater's predictions for 2012

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Arizona centennial

Goldwater's predictions for 2012

  • The Barry Goldwater Memorial in Paradise Valley.
    gwilmore/FlickrThe Barry Goldwater Memorial in Paradise Valley.

Predicting the future and invoking the past are both tricky propositions. This is nicely illustrated by a 1962 newspaper article written by conservative icon Barry Goldwater, in which he tried to imagine the Arizona of 2012. Excerpts from the Tucson Daily Citizen piece, titled "Arizona's Next Fifty Years," were posted by the Smithsonian in view of the state's centennial. Reading them now, it's easy to note the things that the longtime Republican senator got wrong. It's also interesting to note the parts that aren't quite Right — at least by today's political standards.

 The Smithsonian calls the article a "love letter to the state he grew up in and adored." 

 Goldwater refers to Arizona as "heaven on earth" and writes, "A desert rain, just passed, accentuated the pungency of the greasewood and I stopped my walk with the dreadful first decision that the man of 2012 would not be able to walk from his doorstep into this pastel paradise with its saguaro, the mesquite, the leap of a jackrabbit, the cholla or the smell of freshly wet greasewood, because people will have transgressed on the desert for homesites to accommodate a population of slightly over 10 million people."

 He was on the right track there, but Goldwater, as would be expected, had both hits and misses. He correctly predicted that by 2012 Phoenix would be either the fourth- or sixth-largest city in the United States — it's the sixth — but expected a population of 3 million (it's about 1.5 million). He also accurately envisioned Valley cities growing and merging into "a city complex not unlike the present city of Los Angeles."  On the other hand, he expected Arizona to be obtaining water from the ocean, to have an economy based on manufacturing and to be without Indian reservations — as Native Americans became individual property owners. 

 Perhaps most interesting, though, were Mr. Conservative's expectations for the relationship between Arizonans and Mexicans:

Our ties with Mexico will be much more firmly established in 2012 because sometime within the next 50 years the Mexican border will become as the Canadian border, a free one, with the formalities and red tape of ingress and egress cut to a minimum so that the residents of both countries can travel back and forth across the line as if it were not there.

Well, not exactly. Many people indeed do cross the border "as if it were not there," but we're spending billions to stop them, and routinely portray undocumented immigrants — a category that apparently wouldn't exist in Goldwater's vision — as brazen saboteurs of our way of life. It's a curious disparity, compounded by the fact that most Arizonans who entertain such sentiments are likely to call themselves conservatives and to revere the principles and person of the late senator.     

 So what's it take these days to be a "true conservative" in Arizona? 

Hard to say, though it's unlikely Goldwater would make the cut, given that he was also pro-choice, a supporter of gay rights and a vigorous critic of injecting religion into politics — opining in 1981 that "I'm frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in 'A,' 'B,' 'C' and 'D.' Just who do they think they are?"

The other major conservative deity, Ronald Reagan, would also probably fall short, due to—among other things—his large tax increases, deficit spending, expansion of Social Security and negotiations with the Soviet "Evil Empire." Oh yes, and his signature on the 1986 Immigration Control and Reform Act, which granted amnesty to millions of undocumented immigrants.

So what is lesson here, besides the common failure of the crystal ball? For sure it's that times change — but we knew that. Maybe it's also that we should be careful about cloaking our political viewpoints in the solemn garb of conservatism or liberalism — or anarchism for that matter — and instead take a minute to reflect upon how our hallowed principles best fit with our actual realities.

In any case, let's hope that at least some of what Barry Goldwater predicted will indeed come true. For example: 

I expect the people of this state in the next 50 years will be able to maintain the same kind of good government in the state, county and local levels that the people of the first 50 years have to an almost complete degree.

Morrison Institute for Public Policy is a leader in examining critical Arizona and regional issues, and is a catalyst for public dialogue. An Arizona State University resource, Morrison Institute uses nonpartisan research and communication outreach to help improve the state's quality of life.

Bill Hart is a senior policy analyst at Morrison Institute for Public Policy.

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