Thursday, November 12, 2015

The 1964 Presidential Election

Recently I read a book titled A Glorious Disaster: Barry Goldwater's Presidential Campaign and the Origins of the Conservative Movement, written by J. William Middendorf II, who served as Goldwater's campaign treasurer during 1963-1964 and as the Republican National Committee's treasurer during the following four years.

Reading this book reminded me about my own childhood experiences of watching presidential politics.

My first political memories are about President John Kennedy's press conferences. When I was in second grade, our family lived in Middle Creek, which was a rural area outside of Seward. We lived next to a church and a one-room school, and I attended that school.  I wrote about that period of my life in this previous article of this blog.

Since we did not have any neighbors there, I did not have any friends to play with, and so I would just go into our home after school and watch television. The usual television programming that I remember was old Three Stooges films, which I enjoyed watching. Sometimes, however, the usual programming was preempted because President Kennedy was giving a press conference. At first I was annoyed by these preemptions, but eventually I came to enjoy watching Kennedy, because he seemed to be funny. I did not understand the humor, but I could see that he made the journalists laugh. My Mom would watch and laugh too.

Here is a video collage of funny moments in Kennedy's press conferences.

My next political memory after that was the assassination of President Kennedy, which occurred in 1963, when I was in sixth grade.

Then my next political memory was the presidential campaign of 1964. The two parties' political conventions took place during that summer, when I was between my sixth and seventh grades. The Republican convention was during July 13-16, and the Democrat convention was during August 24-27. Since those months were summer vacation, I was able to spend a lot of time watching the conventions on television during the days and evenings.

The Republican convention was especially interesting, because there was a dramatic struggle within the Republican Party. The common wisdom was that Goldwater was an extremist taking over the party, and this take-over was being resisted heroically by the party's wise moderates. The main two moderates were New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller and Pennsylvania Governor Bill Scranton.

I favored Scranton. I did not understand the political issues, but I liked the way he looked and talked. I think my parents like Scranton. For sure, they did not like Goldwater.

I did not like the way Rockefeller looked and talked. I kind of liked the way Goldwater looked and talked, but I understood that he was a villain. Since I did not understand the politics, my opinions were just impressionistic.

Here is a video of Scranton's campaign. Much of it is silent, but there are parts with audio of him speaking.

When I look at this video now, I don't experience the same favorable impressions about him. At that time, though, I liked Scranton so much that I even cried when the count of delegates during the convention gave Goldwater the majority.

Scranton came to the convention with 214 delegates, and Rockefeller came with 114, but Goldwater came with 883. Nevertheless, I hoped that Scranton would win by an upset because all the delegates would see what a great guy he was.

Here is a video showing some of the television coverage of the 1964 Republican convention. Watching this when I was 11 years old was very interesting, entertaining and educational.

The Democrat convention in August was not so interesting, because President Lyndon Johnson did not have to fight against any significant opposition within his own party.

Reading the book A Glorious Disaster, I was reminded that one of the biggest issues during the 1964 election was the use of tactical nuclear weapons. At some point, Goldwater had remarked that if the USA got into a war in Europe or Vietnam, then he would allow the military theater commander to use small nuclear weapons in some circumstances. The Democrats made a huge deal about this remark, giving the impression that any lieutenant colonel would be able to explode nuclear weapons whenever he wanted.

I had forgotten about that issue until I read the book. That issue never has been significant in any other campaign, but it was perhaps the major issue in 1964.

The 1964 issue that I remember was whether restaurants, hotels and other such private businesses should have to serve Negroes. As I thought about that issue at that time, I came to think that the government should not compel private businesses. My family recently had traveled through some Southern states, and we saw the segregation system, which was atrocious. Nevertheless, as I listened to the 1964 debates about that issue, I found myself agreeing with the Goldwater people who argued that the government's powers were limited. I pretty much kept that opinion to myself, however.

Another issue was whether the USA should get out of the United Nations. One aspect of that issue was that some people even criticized the UNICEF collections that we kids while trick-or-treating.

Another memory of that election was all the campaign bumper stickers and buttons. The Goldwater paraphernalia featured the chemical symbols for "gold" and "water".

I remember that Toby Beck's parents favored Goldwater and had AuH2O bumper stickers on their car and maybe a poster in their yard. That was the only family that I remember making such a public show of their support for Goldwater. My parents were for Johnson.

On October 27, a week before Election Day, Ronald Reagan gave a speech that was televised. This speech is so famous in US political history that it is called "The Speech". I happened to watch that speech, and I was hugely impressed by it. Thus, during the campaign's last week, I was converted suddenly into being a Goldwater supporter.

Here is a video of "The Speech".

A day or two before the election, our seventh-grade class voted for who we thought should be elected. As I remember, Johnson won our class vote by a big majority, but I voted for Goldwater.

The next presidential election, in 1968, was extremely dramatic and memorable, but by that time I had left Seward, Nebraska, and was living in Eugene, Oregon.


Gene Meyer posted the following comment on my Facebook page:
Mike, loved the commentary. We were there as kids in the 60s. My house voted for Goldwater, though I don't know why. My dad and mom always voted Republican. 
The ad of the child with the daisy and the count down helped Johnson win...biggest landslide ever?. 
He (Johnson) was a good president, I think. Nixon wasn't. Ford was a place saver, Regan energizied things but was a "little" corrupt. Bush 41 was too wonky. (Wouldn't be prudent, Read my lips). Clinton was the master politican with no regard for trurth or culture...just do what I need to do to get my way...(Back off Newt, you're toast), Bush 43 meant well, but WAY over his head. So my bias (family bias) gave me pause. 
I've mostly voted Republican over the years, (though I did vote for Carter), mostly because of Supreme Court nominations. I think both parties are married to special interests and money. I think Obama means well, but he can't sell anything and will go down worse than Bush 43 as the poorest viewed president since Hoover or Coolidge.

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