Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as President on November 22, 1963, the day of John Kennedy's assassination. On January 8, in his first State of the Union Address, President Johnson declared a "War on Poverty". He said:
Let this session of Congress be known as the session which did more for civil rights than the last hundred sessions combined; as the session which enacted the most far-reaching tax cut of our time; as the session which declared all-out war on human poverty and unemployment in these United States; as the session which finally recognized the health needs of all our older citizens; as the session which reformed our tangled transportation and transit policies; as the session which achieved the most effective, efficient foreign aid program ever; and as the session which helped to build more homes, more schools, more libraries, and more hospitals than any single session of Congress in the history of our Republic. .... Today, Americans of all races stand side by side in Berlin and in Viet Nam. They died side by side in Korea. Surely they can work and eat and travel side by side in their own country.
Johnson used his experience in legislative politics to push against opposition from conservative Democrats in the deep South what would become The Civil Rights Act of 1964 — described as proposed by President Kennedy. The bill outlawed segregation in public places, and it banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The Senate voted of 73-27 in favor and it won in the House, 289-126. More Republicans voted for this bill than did Democrats.
Senator Goldwater of Arizona back in 1946 had worked for the desegregation of the Arizona Air National Guard in 1946. He was a founding member of a local chapter of the NAACP, but he voted against the 1964 bill because it included law about employment discrimination based on race or gender. Goldwater was for people being free to hire or fire without government interference. Rival freedoms were involved (a matter of freedom for whom), but Goldwater held to the idea that such law was a violation of Freedom and, moreover, unconstitutional.
Freedom Summer was a voter registration drive that targeted Mississippi. On June 21, during the last month that Congress was struggling with the Civil Rights Bill, three participants, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner (from New York) and James Chaney (from Mississippi) were abducted. Their burned car was found near a swamp three days later. Their bodies were found on August 4 following a tip. It was learned that local White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Neshoba County Sheriff's Office and the Philadelphia, Mississippi Police Department were involved in the abduction. A Ku Klux Klan organizer, Edgar Ray Killen, would be accused of planning and directing the killings. (He would be tried and found guilty of three counts of manslaughter on June 21, 2005, at age 80, and would die in prison thirteen years later).
At their convention in San Francisco on July 18 the Republican Party nominated Senator Goldwater as their candidate for the presidency. His supporters at the convention were passionate in their opposition to his major opponent, Nelson Rockefeller, whom they considered a wicked eastern establishment liberal. Goldwater accepted the nomination with a speech that contained the line, "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice; moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue". He was emphasizing his dislike for weak responses and for middle of the road politics, having said something about the middle of the road being only yellow lines and dead skunks.
During his campaign, Goldwater repeatedly criticized Johnson and his administration for letting the US fall behind the Soviet Union in the development of new weapons. Goldwater associated himself with Eisenhower's "peace through strength," but Eisenhower didn't help Goldwater, perhaps remembering Goldwater describing his policies as a "dime store New Deal."
Goldwater described the US as "truly the home of the free and the brave" and added that the "Today that free and orderly community faces the grave danger." The danger, he said, was it "becoming merely another possession of the White House, and we who live here face the grave danger of becoming the servants of some Big Brother who lives there."
The actor Ronald Reagan joined the Goldwater campaign and encouraged Goldwater supporters with a rousing speech about the importance of smaller government and about government denying freedom rather than helping people achieve more of it. Reagan said:
The Founding Fathers knew a government can't control the economy without controlling people. And they knew when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose.
Reagan's speech came late in the campaign. Meanwhile Goldwater's anti-Communism had appeal among fellow conservatives. In his book Conscience of a Conservative published in 1963, communism was described as "growing day by day," and it was written that "Our goal must be victory." It expressed a desire to withdraw diplomatic recognition from all Communist governments including th Soviet Union, and it declared: "We must – ourselves – be prepared to undertake military operations against vulnerable Communist regimes." (It was Goldwater's fervent anti-Communism that won Hillary Clinton, who turned 17 during the campaign and became a "Goldwater Girl". She had been introduced to The Conscience of a Conservative. Her father, Hugh Rodham, was a staunch Goldwater supporter. Her high school history teacher was a fervent anti-communist, as was her Methodist minister.
An effort to extend support for Goldwater came with a film titled "Choice", a film repetitive with rioting and women shaking their bottoms, a film intent on depicting a society that had lost its moral bearings and was coming apart. The film said something about the attitude of a least a few conservatives in the mid-Sixties, but form some others it was comedic. Goldwater disliked the film and demanded that it not be shown on his behalf.
The "classical" economist Milton Friedman, who was in the Goldwater camp as an advisor, wrote an article in the New York Times (Oct 11, 1964) that described Goldwater favorably. He claimed the Goldwater was not against Social Security or labor unions but was for "less regulation of business by the Federal Trade Commission," and for "less government spending." And Friedman elaborated on Goldwater's support for "freedom and opportunity." But Goldwater needed some strong specifics on why to vote against Johnson, and Friedman's description of Goldwater's philosophy apparently didn't do it and didn't reach many of those inclined to vote for Johnson
When Johnson became President he was advised by the US ambassador to South Vietnam that as President he would either dramatically increase US involvement in Vietnam or watch a Communist victory there. In private, Johnson told his ambassador that he was not going to be the first US president to lose a war.
At a rally in Saigon on July 19, South Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyễn Khánh called for expanding the war into North Vietnam. And on July 27 the US sent 5,000 more military personnel to South Vietnam, bringing their total number there to 21,000. On 31 July in the Tonkin Gulf the US Navy was helping the Saigon regime strike against a radio transmitter on the island of Hon Ngu, four kilometers off the coast of North Vietnam. The Hanoi regime responded by sending out torpedo boats. The US destroyer Maddox sank two of the torpedo boats and damaged a third. On August 3, Secretary of Defense McNamara told President Johnson about it and US naval mission in the area. On August 4 in the dark of night, off the coast of North Vietnam, the Maddox thought that it was again under attack. The Captain of the ship was to admit that it was just an "overeager sonar-man" who "was hearing his ship's own propeller beat." But for two hours the Maddox and another destroyer, the USS Turner Joy, fired at imaginary targets.
Air support from two US aircraft carriers was sent on a retaliatory mission against targets on Vietnam's coast. And President Johnson spoke to the America public about "deliberate attacks on US naval vessels." He said, "We must and shall honor our commitments." On August 6, Defense Secretary McNamara met with US legislators and gave a distorted description of US naval activities in the Tonkin Gulf. On August 7 the Senate and House of Representatives passed the "Tonkin Gulf Resolution," characterized as a response to Communist aggression against US naval vessels. The swell of public opinion in support of a tough response was overwhelming, with only two US senators, Wayne Morse of Oregon and Ernest Gruening of Alaska, voting against it. The Tonkin Gulf Resolution allowed the President to take any measure he believed necessary "to promote the maintenance of international peace and security in southeast Asia."
On August 26, the Democratic Party convention (in Atlantic City) nominated Johnson for his first full term (four years), to begin in January 1965. In his acceptance speech he appealed to the legacy of the assassinated President, John Kennedy. Johnson described former President Truman as a "great champion of freedom". He described his party as not the peace party or the war party but the party of all Americans. He spoke of the wisdom "to move the world toward peace instead of war."
Thinking perhaps that with "US advisors, supplies US and naval power the Saigon regime could defeat "Communist aggression. He told voters: "We are not about to send American boys 9 or 10,000 miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves."
Johnson's campaign ran ads that portrayed Goldwater as a fringe candidate. One featured a man saying he had previously voted for Eisenhower and Nixon but that he now worried about the "men with strange ideas", the "weird groups" and "the head of the Ku Klux Klan" who were supporting Goldwater, and he concluded that "either they’re not Republicans or I'm not".
A few thought Goldwater "crazy" because he had opinions that differed from theirs, and there was a psychiatrist or two willing to give their professional judgment about Goldwater's lack of fitness to be president. It would inspire a new rule by the American Psychiatric Association's Principles of Medical Ethics — to be informally called "The Goldwater Rule," which states that it is unethical for psychiatrists to give a professional opinion about public figures whom they have not examined.
Goldwater failed to broaden his support. Not enough people felt a "threat of servitude from the White House." His campaign slogan "In your heart you know he's right" was presumptuous and didn't appeal to voter concerns. There was the response, "In your guts, you know he's nuts". And there was the Johnson campaign's "daisy" ad suggesting that with Goldwater there could be a nuclear war.
On November 3, Goldwater received 38.5 percent of popular vote, and Johnson 61.1 percent. Goldwater won Lousiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and his own state, Arizona, and that was it: 52 electoral votes to Johnsons's 486. Mississippi was strongest for Goldwater: 81 percent to Johnson's 12.9 percent. Whites living in Mississippi's northeastern hills feared Goldwater would dismantle public works, and there Goldwater received more than sixty percent of the vote, which says something about the race issue in Mississippi.
The Democrats picked up a couple of Senate seats (including Robert Kennedy winning a New York Senate seat) giving the Democrats 68-32 majority. In the House, the Democrats picked up 37 seats, giving them a 295-140 majority. The Goldwater campaign had diminished Republican strength in Washington.
CONTINUE READING: Johnson's Great Society, the Economy and Vietnam
Copyright © 2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.