Thursday, August 11, 2016

Everything old is back again

I was watching a film on PBS, a report on the '64 campaign, LBJ v. Goldwater.  I remember only that LBJ won that campaign (direct memory, I mean), and that I backed LBJ because he was from Texas.

Well, I was 9, so what do you want?

I don't remember the "Daisy ad," even though I saw it later and thought, for years, that I'd seen it on TV.   That ad is now given credit for most of the TV ads we see today, and all the money raised to buy TV ads that we abhor today.  Probably true; I'll accept the argument, anyway.

What was interesting was that Goldwater was a very controversial candidate, and was also credited, by Pat Buchanan in the film, with creating the split between the conservative and liberal (i.e., Rockefeller) Republicans (even saying "Rockefeller Republican" doesn't mean anything anymore.  Although, of course, Nixon was considered an arch-conservative Republican, and he'd be a liberal, not to say "progressive," politician today.  He established the EPA, after all.).  Buchanan argues that Goldwater fomented the split in party and the eventual dominance of that party by people like Buchanan (and worse).  So there wasn't the solid support for Goldwater that we've come to expect from political parties today, which is not the only parallel with Trump.

In fact, the film ended with a Democratic TV ad portraying a Republican agonizing over his choice for President and, after losing all the cons against Goldwater that fit into 60 seconds, deciding to vote for LBJ.  Yeah, you could run that one today with only minor changes (though, at 60 seconds, it would probably be on-line only.  Tl;dr, don't ya know; at least on the TeeVee.)

But it seems Goldwater didn't think he could win, and didn't much care that he wouldn't.  He ran as Goldwater, not as a winning candidate.  Buchanan said his father watched Goldwater's speech to the GOP, the speech where he said:  "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.  And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."  Buchanan said his father said something like, "Yeah, he's gonna lose."  Someone present at the GOP convention in the Cow Palace that year (sorry, lost the name) said he looked at a friend and said, "My God!  He's gonna run as Goldwater!"

Yup; history has an eerie way of repeating itself.

Goldwater really resented that "Daisy Ad."  On the other hand, he considered nuclear weapons "just another weapon" (not quite the "Why can't we use 'em?" of Trump, but close).  And he was shown on a TV news show, explaining that low-yield nukes could be used to defoliate the forests of Vietnam (probably more efficient than Agent Orange, but certainly with the same long-term health effects).  Considering this was in the day of Curtis LeMay, who argued FOR pre-emptive nuclear strikes, this was a slightly more active issue than it is today.  The use of nukes was, in other words, slightly more imaginable.  Goldwater hated that LBJ made Goldwater look like a trigger-happy fool.  Then again, as I think when I hear so many Trump defenders complain about how Trump is being portrayed in news reports:  truth hurts.

The other aspect of modern politics that was invented in '64 was the well-scripted convention.  It wasn't quite the yawnfest then that it is now, but there was no doubt LBJ was the candidate, so the Democratic convention was less a surprise in the end than the GOP convention (where Goldwater outmaneuvered Rockefeller for the nomination).  If conventions are now a 4 day advertisement for the party's nominee (and the party), it started when we were urged to go all the way with LBJ.

So we've been here before, with a major party so split over it's candidate it's doom seems sure.  The GOP wasn't destroyed by Goldwater, it probably won't be destroyed by Trump.  The campaign was ugly, but not as ugly as what we're used to now; and again, the truth hurts.  Trump lies so thoroughly he reinvigorates the old insult about every word he utters being a lie.  Goldwater actually turned out to be a decent politician, supporting what today would be considered wildly liberal ideas (like gay rights).  If he was a caricature in '64, it's because he left himself open to it.  "In your heart you know he's right" was too easily turned into "In your guts, you know he's' nuts."  The "Daisy" ad worked because it played into perceptions of Goldwater he himself created, knowingly or not.   That famous statement about extremism and moderation is not as nuts as some of the things Trump has said, but it is just as indefensible.

And besides, anytime you can change political history and win a political campaign by quoting (almost accurately) a gay ex-patriate English poet, it's a win-win; in my book, anyway.

A bonus, because they liked kids in ads in those days. And here's that ad I was talking about (ain't the internet grand?)

And yeah, just change the names to Clinton and Trump, and run this again.

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