The American Presidential Election of 1964

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The 45th episode in a very long series about the American presidential elections from 1788 to the present. With JFK gone, LBJ tries to scare the American people with tales of a man named Barry Goldwater.

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The 45th Presidential election in American history took place on November 3, 1964. Almost a full year before this, John F. Kennedy was assassinated while visiting Dallas, Texas, leaving the nation shocked and heartbroken. Vice President Lyndon Johnson was sworn in, becoming the 36th President in American history.

Lyndon Johnson sought to carry on many of Kennedy’s policies, but he was certainly no Kennedy. One thing probably was different- many argue Kennedy would have handled the escalation of sending troops to Vietnam to fight the Communist Viet Cong differently than Johnson. Although Kennedy was the one who started sending troops to there, some argue that right before he died he had wanted to withdraw- to bring the troops home. Johnson, on the other hand, ended up staying the course and sending more troops to Vietnam. In fact, his administration pretty much made up the fact that American navy ships were attacked twice by North Vietnam, in what became known as the Gulf of Tonkin incident. After this, Congress gave President Johnson the authority, without a declaration of war, to do whatever possible to help South Vietnam fight back against North Vietnam. This became known as the Vietnam War.

Overall, though, Johnson had aligned himself with Kennedy, and therefore was popular. He and most others were confident the Democratic Party would nominate him for President again, but he did face some challenges revolving around the civil rights movement. Earlier that year, Johnson had signed the Civil Rights Act, which gave the federal government power to enforce ending discrimination based on skin color, religion, gender, or national origin.

First of all, there were the Dixiecrats, who never really went away since 1948. They obviously didn’t like the Civil Rights Act so much. Led by George Wallace, the Governor of Alabama,
many of them threatened to leave the Democratic Party for good and even become Republicans. Wallace, who was totally against racial integration (aka for segregation), actually did fairly well in the Democratic primaries, even in some northern states like Wisconsin, Indiana, and Maryland. Other than that, as you can tell by this map, “favorite son” candidates (or ones who were popular where they came from) dominated the Democratic primaries. They all had ulterior motives, however, as they were just going to give their votes to Lyndon Johnson.

So Lyndon Johnson got the nomination, and the Democrats nominated Minnesota senator Hubert Humphrey as his running mate. However, there was a major controversy at the Democratic Convention when the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, made up of mostly African Americans who challenged the all-white Mississippi delegation who were elected in a shady way so that there would be no black delegates, protested. A compromise was reached to give more black representation, but many white delegates refused to compromise and they walked out of the convention.

Not only that, but Johnson and Robert Kennedy, the popular brother of John Kennedy and the Attorney General, did not like each other. Most Democrats wanted Kennedy as Johnson’s new running mate, but Johnson turned him down. In fact, Johnson had the FBI monitor Kennedy and made sure he spoke on the last day of convention to make sure he wasn’t drafted by delegates to be his running mate.

Despite all this, Johnson was a huge favorite to win, because this guy was his opponent.

Barry Goldwater, kind of a libertarian type guy except for foreign policy. Goldwater became the Republican nominee after a tough fight with New York governor Nelson Rockefeller. After Richard Nixon had declared he would not run for President this time, a bunch of Republicans, including even a woman, sought the Republican nomination. But Barry and Nelson were the two leading candidates, with Nelson representing the more moderate to liberal Republicans and Barry representing the more conservative. At the Republican convention, there was a lot of trash talking and a lot of booing, but ultimately Goldwater got the nomination, with William Miller, an obscure U.S. Representative from New York, as his running mate.

Barry Goldwater freaked a bunch of Republicans out, so much that they couldn’t support him and instead pledged to vote for Johnson. Opponents to Goldwater called him a “radical” and “extremist.”


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