Sunday, September 26, 2010

Lessons from a bygone campaign

In more ways than one, Barack Obama and the Democratic leadership should take a few lessons from Lyndon Johnson and the 1964 campaign.

In 1964, the Democratic ticket of Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey ticket defeated Republicans Barry Goldwater and William Miller in one of the biggest landslide Presidential elections in history (it ranks #5). Johnson, who was sworn in as President upon the death of John F. Kennedy in 1963, received 61% of the popular vote and 486 votes. Goldwater got 38.5% of the vote and 52 electoral votes. The defeat of Goldwater was so overwhelming he took down the Republican party with him.

The more things change, the more they remain the same (only different).

Johnson road the coattails of Kennedy's popularity and painted Goldwater as a reactionary who wanted to end Social Security. Johnson, as part of his campaign, was promising to expand Federal programs to include Medicare and Medicaid.

Richard Nixon, who had lost the 1960 election by one of the narrowest margins and then was defeated in the 1962 California gubernatorial race, had decided that no one was going to "kick him around anymore" and opted not to run. During the 1964 primary season, there was a clear divide between the Conservative and Moderate wings of the party. Goldwater championed the Conservatives and was eventually crowned "Father of the Conservative Movement." His opponent in the moderate wing was Nelson Rockefeller, the Governor of New York.

Rockefeller was initially the front-runner, but his quick 963 marriage to Happy Murphy (who gave up custody of her kids to get divorced and marry the governor) angered the social conservatives in the party and caused his poll numbers to plummet. Senator Prescott Bush (who unfortunately spun off a dynasty that would later lead this country to real ruin) was one of the most vocal critics of Rockefeller. Goldwater would secure the nomination after narrowly winning the California primary (Happy Rockefeller had given birth 3 days before primary day, and this revived the adultery issue).

At the 1964 convention in San Francisco, Rockefeller was booed as he gave his speech condemning the conservatives. The open warfare between the two sides led to a split in the party that could not be healed during the 1964 presidential campaign.

Goldwater was a strict Libertarian and had a deep hate of communism. He voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which Johnson was able to use to tarnish Goldwater as a racist. Goldwater's comments from his past came back to haunt him. His criticism of Eisenhower caused the former (and still popular) Republican President to withhold support. He often spoke about his dislike of liberal social and economic policies - to which Johnson used in a commercial. He remarked about selling the Tennessee Valley Authority and stated that the military "should lob a nuclear bomb into the men's room of the Kremlin." Aside from Eisenhower, moderate Republicans like Rockefeller and George Romney (Mitten's dad) refused to support him.

One person who actively supported Goldwater was Ronald Reagan. A speech in support of the GOP nominee was used in television commercials during the campaign. This is often thought of as the launch of Reagan's political career.

Johnson successfully painted Goldwater as an extremist and right winger. The Johnson staff took Goldwater's campaign slogan of "In your heart, you know he's right" and morphed it into "in your guts, you know he nuts" and "in your heart, he's too far right." All of Johnson's ads concluded with "the stakes are too high for you to stay at home."  The famous "daisy ad" which had a little girl picking daisies just before a nuclear attack, was probably the most effective ad for the Johnson campaign.  That ad only aired once.

Goldwater won 6 states - Arizona and five states in the heart of Dixie (he was the first Republican to win the Deep South since Reconstruction).

Of course in 1964 there were only three television networks, no national newspapers and no takeover the radio airwaves by mega-owners.  There was not a mouthpiece to counter the arguments tossed out by Johnson - being in charge really meant having the bully pulpit.  Today, the lack of limited access has degraded the bully pulpit as a position of dictating the narrative.

Barry Goldwater went on to be re-elected to the US Senate in 1969 and served until 1987.

The father of the modern Conservative movement, while often admired by some of the more intellectuals in the GOP, would more than likely cringe at the lunacy of the party he led to a resurgence.

Goldwater's father was Jewish and sometimes referred to himself as Jewish (he was raised Episcopalian). He rarely attended church. Goldwater won the Arizona Senate seat in 1952. He was an active supporter of the conservative coalition and was a staunch anti-communist and was known to match his convictions with his actions. He did not vote to censure Joseph McCarthy, but often rejected the wild fringes of the anti-communist right. He was a strong supporter of state's rights due to his libertarian views. Goldwater was one of the Senators who forced the resignation of Nixon in 1974 (Goldwater hated Nixon and stated "Richard Nixon was the most dishonest person I ever met in my entire life.")

In 1980, as Reagan easily defeated Jimmy Carter, Goldwater barely won his Senate seat. As the religious right became more influential in GOP politics under his protege Reagan, Goldwater became more outspoken on several key Republican hallmarks. He viewed abortion as a matter of personal choice and that the government should stay out. While the religious right supported him in 1980, he then voted to uphold abortion rights and resented the bullying of these religious organizations.

When Jerry Falwell opposed Sandra Day O'Connor's nomination to the Supreme Court in 1981, he said "every good Christian should kick Falwell in the nuts." He criticized the military's ban on gays, told the GOP to lay off Clinton. He wanted to legalize medical marijuana.  He did not want to be associated with the new right of the Republicans. In 1989, he stated the Republican party had been take over by a "bunch of kooks" (if he were only alive today!). In 1994, he said to the Washington Post:

When you say "radical right" today, I think of these moneymaking ventures by fellows like Pat Robertson and others who are trying to take the Republican party and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye.

Finally Barry Goldwater said to Bob Dole during the 1996 campaign "we are the new liberals of the Republican Party."

I surely do not agree with much of Barry Goldwater's politics and ideals - but he was basically a man of conviction and one who would adapt over time. Some of his policies were extreme, but as real libertarian - his cause was individual freedom and policies, not the lunatic arguments of the current GOP torch bearers. Having a viable opposition is actually a good thing for this country - but the current Republican party is not so much opposition as it is just obstructionism and idiocy.  Barry Goldwater died in 1998 - he must be turning in his grave with the thought of Sharron Angel, Joe Miller, Rand Paul, Christine O'Donnell and especially Sarah Palin as the new keepers of the right.

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  • Barry Goldwater's son endorsed Ron Paul for president. I think you don't know Rand Paul. Here's his new 30 second ad.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:39 PM  

  • Last time I checked, Barry Goldwater's son is not Barry Goldwater.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 2:52 AM  

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