I was a passionate conservative republican voting in my first national election in the fall of 1964. I was a Marine corporal in my fifth year of active duty by day and a community college sophomore at night. From this somewhat biased vantage point, I couldn’t imagine any intelligent American being anything other than a hard-core conservative. The conservative wing of the grand old party was tough on Communism, stood for less federal government and strong fiscal responsibility and to top it off, was very big on individual and states rights. How could you not support these values?
The Democrats of the day were role models for the things I disliked most about politicians and politics in general. They were either East Coast blue-bloods like FDR and JFK, or more commonly, chunky Southern windbags donned in straw hats and light-colored, baggy suits. Although I was raised to respect, almost worship, FDR and JFK, I couldn’t imagine these two privileged rich boys empathizing with or fighting for the rights of the common man from their mansions, limousines and yachts.
I knew that JFK had been talked into choosing LBJ as a running mate to counter his Catholicism and Northeastern-ness. The powers-at-the-time rounded out JFK’s ticket with this slow talking poster boy for the baggy-suited southern set to appeal to southerners and red necks. We knew how many southerners there were but how many true red necks could there be? Lyndon Johnson was almost a notch above the southern Democratic governors that we all admired so much, folks like Lester Maddox, Hughie Long and George Wallace. These guys with their straw hats, bad accents and light-colored baggy suits were everything that was bad about American politics.
This, my first big election, pitted the champion of the conservative cause, Barry Goldwater with the then recently succeeded incumbent (damn you to hell, Lee Harvey Oswald) and stereotypical baggy-suited Dixiecrat, LBJ. The only real campaign issue of the day was the then fledgling war in Viet Nam. Barry, a general in the Air Force reserves, talked about actually winning this war in which his Democrat predecessors had us entangled. He even proposed bombing and clearing a Korea-like DMZ to create a distinct boundary between the good guys and the bad guys. Lyndon in his baggy-suited drawl said nothing the least bit controversial about the war he had help start. Their campaign speeches left us with the impressions that Barry was for winning the war and that Lyndon would somehow, as he had in the past, keep the world safe from Communism.
I proudly cast my first ever vote with absolute certainty the rest of the country would see this choice exactly as I did. When LBJ won a landslide victory I couldn’t believe what had just happened. What was wrong with America? What the hell were we thinking?
Barry won in only six states, his home state of Arizona and five deep-south states.
What’s up with that?
©2007 by Bob Rockwell