I have little interest in streamlining government or making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size,' the Republican wrote. 'My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them.' Such words are standard bread-and-butter for members of today's Grand Old Party. And to whom might they belong? Ronald Reagan in 1980? Newt Gingrich in 1994? In fact, they came in 1960 from the pen of an Arizona senator, Barry Goldwater, a towering figure of American politics, who died last week at the age of 89. Goldwater became best known for losing the 1964 presidential election to incumbent Democrat Lyndon Johnson in a landslide. It was a stunning defeat for the Republicans, one which was not to be relived until 1996, when Bob Dole lost to Bill Clinton. It might sound strange that a politician - whose greatest claim to fame was an infamous loss - was granted epitaphs and obituaries usually reserved only for the men who make it to the White House. Barry Goldwater is being remembered not as a great achiever, but as a standard-bearer; a politician ahead of his time, without whom the rise to power of Mr Reagan and Mr Gingrich would have been markedly more difficult, if not inconceivable. Goldwater was a conservative when conservatism was unfashionable, a maverick ideologue when the national mood was geared towards a liberal consensus. His firebrand rhetoric was judged too extreme even within his own party's establishment. According to conservative ally and National Review founder William Buckley, he was 'the primary political figure in the 1960s. Around him flowered a number of ideas that galvanised in the 80s'. But Goldwater is also being celebrated as the last giant from a bygone political age; a time when politicians could still say what they meant and lead with their heart, a time which seems distant from this Clintonian era of eternal polling and focus groups. It was fitting that a man of such libertarian leanings should have been born in the heart of the western frontier, in an Arizona which was then still only an American territory, three years before it was incorporated as a state. Having dropped out of college and run his father's Phoenix department store for a while, he entered local politics, finally shocking the Washington establishment with an unexpected victory in the 1952 Senate elections. Almost like this decade's right-wing pundit-turned politico Pat Buchanan, Goldwater immediately placed himself outside his party's mainstream, criticising the programme of popular president, Dwight Eisenhower, as 'dime-store New Deal' - in other words, liberalism in sheep's clothing. After Jack Kennedy narrowly defeated Richard Nixon in the 1960 election, Goldwater became the leading young gun. The only problem was the senator's views. While the federal government and the welfare state continued to expand after the war, few Republicans railed against the process. But even in the 1950s, Goldwater was saying: 'Government should stay the hell out of people's business.' Then there was the issue of civil rights. As the Supreme Court, followed on the political stage by Kennedy and Johnson, rolled back racial segregation and enacted landmark civil liberties laws, Goldwater opposed it at every step. His rationale was that such laws infringed on the individual rights of states, his position only slightly less controversial then than it would be in 1998. Despite their polarised views, Goldwater and Kennedy got on well behind the scenes; but the Arizonan's harsh anti-Kennedy rhetoric in public did not serve him well when the president was assassinated in November 1963. Goldwater took a lot of heat for contributing to the climate which, some believed, had made the shooting possible. He considered dropping out of the following year's race but, encouraged by a small but growing rump of conservatives, entered the race - and won the nomination. In recent years, Goldwater confessed that with the nation still traumatised by President Kennedy's death, he knew he had no chance of defeating Johnson. Perhaps that provided him with the freedom to pursue a campaign of ideals rather than politics. Johnson managed successfully to portray his opponent as a right-wing nut who could not be trusted with the nuclear button. In a seminal commercial from the early days of political ads, Goldwater was attacked in the form of an innocent young girl picking petals from a flower just before the bomb explodes in a mushroom cloud. It was not an image Goldwater ever sought to discourage. At the 1964 Republican convention, his acceptance speech was littered with conservative clarion calls. 'Extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice,' he growled. The Reagan era marked the eventual triumph of Goldwater conservatism, but even then its inventor - back in the Senate - did not always seem overjoyed by his moral victory. He continued to be a voice of dissent, complaining about how Mr Reagan's small-government policies had managed to explode the federal deficit. The last surprise of his life was a curious one. No doubt inspired by the experiences of a gay grandson, Goldwater spoke out in favour of homosexual rights - even of President Clinton's policy on gays in the military. Goldwater wrote his own future epitaph after his 1964 defeat: 'When you've lost an election by that much, it isn't a case of whether you made the wrong speech or wore the wrong necktie. It was just the wrong time.'