Barry Goldwater, Social Security & My Mother

Back in 1964, Senator Barry Goldwater was running for president, and I was going to vote for him. Since I admired him so much, I read his book, Conscience of a Conservative.

That is where I discovered that Goldwater intended to do away with Social Security. Being only about 23 at the time, I might not have thought much of it, except for one thing--my mother depended on Social Security to get by. And here this guy was going to do away with it? "Hold on there!" it suddenly hit me. "I can't vote for him! No way in hell!"

So Goldwater's stand on Social Security became a turning point in my life. Actually, I remember it as a time of intense shock and disillusionment as I went on to discover one conservative tenet after another that I simply couldn't go along with. It was terribly disturbing--the wreck of so much that I'd thought I believed in. No, I didn't vote for Lyndon Baines Johnson--that was somehow unthinkable at the time, just not an option; in fact, I was so disillusioned with the whole thing that I didn't vote at all in the 1964 election, nor for some time after. It wasn't until another 6 or 7 years later that
I eventually took part in the antiwar movement of the Vietnam era. The reality was, it took me an awful long time to work my way though some of that political stuff.

Very fortunately, Goldwater was overwhelmingly defeated in 1964, and Social Security wasn't seriously threatened for a good many years to come. My mother eventually lived to the age of 97, and, thanks to Social Security and other social programs, both state and federal, she was able to remain in her own home till the very end of her life--a situation which was extremely important to her. She told me many times, "I don't want to end up in a rest home!"

Her nieces and I were there to help out, visit and give moral support. But none of us was rich, and without the social programs I don't know what we could have done.

Today, Republican "reformers"--with help from some of their Democratic friends--are dismantling various social programs, including the ones that enabled my mother to live out her last years with some degree of dignity.

My mother was mentally alert and active up till the last year of her long life. Deriving part of her income from sewing, she was a thrifty person who knew how to balance her checkbook and manage with the little she had. She read books in both English and Norwegian, and wrote a very readable memoir of her childhood back
in the Horse and Buggy Days. Even in her mid-90s she took part in a quilting group and other church activities. People who knew her valued her as a friend and felt that she contributed to the community. Nevertheless, none of this would count much in the reckoning scheme of today's corporate elite. To put it in CEO-speak, my elderly mother was an "under-performing asset."

Social programs cut into the military budget. Social programs leave less money for Halliburton. Social Security funds could be channeled into Wall Street investment firms. Welcome to the "ownership society" of the Neoliberals--Republican and Democrat alike.

Daniel Borgström
March 2005

The Memoir

Several people have asked me where they could find the memoir mentioned in the above essay. In the Horse & Buggy Days by Agnes Grytness Borgström.