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Election 1964 - Johnson v Goldwater

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The 1964 presidential election gave voters one of the most dramatic contrasts in the positions of candidates in many years. Succeeding to the presidency upon the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson used the Kennedy legacy, as well as his own political skills honed during his tenure in the Senate, to push for civil rights legislation and the social programs of the "Great Society" and the "War on Poverty".

The leading Republican contender, Senator Barry Goldwater, won his party's presidential nomination over moderates William W. Scranton and Nelson A. Rockefeller. After the nomination was assured, Goldwater rejected calls of political strategists to move toward the center, throwing back the frequent charge that he was an extremist by asserting to the delegates in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." 

Goldwater campaigning in IndianaAfter Goldwater's nomination, one of Johnson's major decisions in the 1964 campaign was his choice of Hubert Humphrey as a running mate over Robert F. Kennedy, his slain predecessor's brother and Attorney General. Johnson and Robert Kennedy had maintained a contentious relationship since the 1960 campaign, but the President was concerned not to antagonize the Kennedy family and its still formidable political base. In the transcript below of a telephone conversation with his aide McGeorge Bundy, the President gives an account of his meeting with Kennedy to advise him that he would not be on the ticket:

...Johnson: Well I said, first I'll give you the longer after lunch, but I'll give you this run down. I said I want to know that I've been concerned about a matter that's of interest to you and to me. I've given a lot of thoughts since the convention and Goldwater's nomination. I put myself in your place, assumed you were in my place, figured out how I would want this handled if our positions were reversed. I've concluded you should here it from me, direct, first. I've reached a decision, that it would be inadvisable for you to be a candidate for the number two spot, this year. My reasons for it are as follows: In light of Goldwater's nomination, I think that the battle ground is going to be the border states, the states of Oklahoma and Maryland, and Kentucky and the Midwestern states. I have talked to all the leaders in every state either through myself or one of my intimate staff members. I've gotten their views. I feel like this is not the time for you, if you have ambitions to lead the country, to go after this spot. President Kennedy always wondered how I could endure it, he said it must be very frustrating. I told him I wanted to more or less retire from the Senate, I certainly did. I felt like I ought to do what's good for my country and good for my party and good for my state and I thought the Democrats much more preferable than Nixon and that's why I did it. And I said I don't think that you'd be very happy in there allthough I'm not in charge of your happiness. Presiding over situations in the Senate you couldn't do a damn thing about. Now I want you to be happy and do what you want to do. Our objectives are the same: carrying out President Kennedy's programs. I want to pass twenty-five of his thirty-five major bills in the first year. The next year I want to pass the other ten if I'm here and extend them. I've got his people carrying on, just like if he was here. I only have three people, George Reedy, Bill Moyers, Jack Valenti and Walter Jenkins, four of them. The other departments Bundy runs his shop even more so then he did when Kennedy was here, (inaudible) does the same (inaudible) does the same, (inaudible) does the same and we'll continue that way. I want you to direct the campaign, I want you to do anything else that you'd like to do. And appoint regional men working out your relationship with them or carrying on where you are or going to any foreign spot that you would like to or taking any place in the government that's available. I don't mean I'd throw a cabinet officer out, but I would try to work it out. I want to get along better with your staff. I need your help. I think you're brilliant. I think you're dedicated. I think that you're good for the country. I think you'd be good for me when needed.

He said, "Well I want to help any way I can, the rest of the campaign. I don't know what I'll do after that. I don't guess I could do it from where I am because I don't guess any precedence and I haven't felt the attorney general ought to be in politics. They say that I'm supposed to be handling racial matters, not here running a campaign. But how are we going to announce this?"

I said," Any way you want to."

He said, "Well I'll have to think that over."

And I said, "Alright, you can say that you are not interested in doing this. You can say that I thought because of the circumstances that developed, the areas of the country where the battle ground is going to be, I ought to give some attention there.

He said, "Did you decide who it's going to be?"

I said, "No, I've decided several that I don't think that fit in and I haven't decided the ultimate...the one. I don't think it ought to be done until I get the convention, and I think it ought to be done kind of like President Kennedy did."...

Excerpts from telephone conversation between McGeorge Bundy and President Johnson regarding President's earlier meeting with Robert Kennedy informing him he would not be selected as vice presidential running mate in 1964 campaign

Source: Baines Johnson Library and Museum

Once Johnson had selected Hubert Humphey to run with him, the Democrats effectively portrayed Goldwater as an extremist and out of the mainstream of his own party. Humphrey set the tone for the later campaign, delivering a rousing acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention held in Atlantic City where he listed a series of bills supported by the majority of Republican senators, "...but not Senator Goldwater", provoking the audience repeatedly to join him in shouting the refrain.

Urging a stronger U.S. military that would challenge Communism around the world, Goldwater also allowed the Democrats to question his judgment for such proposals as allowing U.S commanders to use tactical nuclear weapons.

The 1964 Democratic campaign also pioneered the use of negative ads attacking the opposition, highlighted by perhaps the most famous political commercial ever broadcast, the so-called "Daisy" spot developed by media innovator Tony Schwartz, which never mentioned Goldwater by name and ran as a paid ad only once, but was repeatedly rebroadcast by television news shows covering the campaign. The Goldwater campaign was not able to overcome the label of extremism effectively communicated by the Democrats, and Johnson's 61 percent popular vote victory was the greatest margin to that day.


The "Daisy" spot
Daisy ad

Image of little girl picking petals of a daisy, counting in her innocent voice:

"one, two, three, four, five, seven, six, eight, nine, nine,"

As she reaches ten, a resounding male voice suddenly reverses the count:

''Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one."

At zero comes a deafening roar, and the screen fills with the mushroom cloud of an atomic bomb.

Then the voice of Lyndon Johnson:

"These are the stakes - to make a world in which all God's children can live, or to go into the darkness. We must either love each other, or we must die.'

A reassuring male voice concludes:

"Vote for President Johnson on November 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay home."


Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum

1964: Johnson v. Goldwater >> American Museum of the Moving Image

The Cheerful Malcontent, George F. Will >> The Washington Post

A Choice Not an Echo: ATribute to Barry Goldwater

Biography of Tony Schwartz, Media Pioneer, Audio Documentarian

The :30 Second Candidate >>

Educational Tools

Lesson Plan: Lyndon Johnson: The 36th President >>

Lyndon Johnson: Quotes and Questions >>

Lesson Plan: Political Advertising >> Maryland State Department of Education