Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Lyndon B. Johnson and the 1964 Election-Dean Caruso

After John F. Kennedy's assassination in November of 1963, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as President of the United States. After a short time in office, Johnson received the 1964 Presidential democratic nomination. His opponent was Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, a right-wing extremist who opposed the New Deal, minimum wage laws, Johnson's War on Poverty, school desegregation, and federal aid to education. He also expressed a strong willingness to use nuclear weapons.  At the Republican National Convention, he said the famous line "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice."Naturally, his extreme views scared many people away from voting for him. As a result, Johnson won by a landslide, collecting 486 electoral votes to Goldwater's 52.

One of Quintus' main points in his letter to his brother Marcus is that before a candidate can win over the general public, they need the support of their peers. Although Goldwater received enough support from extreme Republicans for the nomination, he did not have the support of many other moderate Republicans. As political commenter Walter Lippman put it,  "Barry Goldwater is not a conservative at all. He appears to be totally without essential conservative respect and concern for the social order as a living body." A Republican Congressman from Vermont said, "I'm really afraid of Senator Goldwater." Goldwater refused to support almost all actions proposed by moderate Republicans in Congress, and as a result many of his Republican counterparts did not approve of him either. Goldwater also picked William Miller as his running mate, a Congressman who had the same extremist views. Even former Republican president Dwight  D. Eisenhower's cabinet members pledged their support to Johnson.

Quintus also wrote that a candidate must be like a chameleon, changing what he says to appeal to the people he's speaking to. Goldwater was known to speak without thinking about the consequences. For example, in the low income area of Charleston, West Virginia, Goldwater gave a speech opposing the Equal Employment Opportunity Act. While in St. Petersburg, Florida, a place populated by many retirees, Goldwater said that Social Security should be made voluntary. Goldwater chose to give certain speeches in the wrong places, failing to become the "chameleon" that Quintus said was crucial in winning an election.

While Goldwater's many mistakes may have cost him the election on their own, Johnson used much of Quintus' advice in his campaign. Quintus emphasized the importance of showing voters gratitude and making them feel appreciated. Johnson showed gratitude by traveling over 60,000 miles around the country over a 42 day period, giving many speeches. He would make an effort to shake all his supporters' hands, and sometimes he greeted so many people that his hand became swollen and bloody. Quintus also expressed the importance of giving vague promises to the people so that the people don't become distrusting. In many of his speeches, Johnson promised to maintain peace during his presidency. Peace is a very vague term, but it still made the people believe that Johnson was a strong candidate.

During the election of 1964, Johnson's most effective campaign technique was smear campaigning, a tactic that is emphasized by Quintus over two thousand years ago and is still used today. The technique was particularly effective in this campaign because Goldwater's extremist views and speech blunders made him an easy target. Johnson attacked Goldwater simply by quoting him. Goldwater's take on extremism in his speech at the Convention was obviously a focal point, but he also said things like "you know, I haven't really got a first class brain." Here, Johnson doesn't even have to accuse Goldwater of being unintelligent: Goldwater said it himself. After the election, Arthur Frommer wrote a 113 page book of Goldwater statements that were contradictory and bizarre. Goldwater's most controversial ideal was his willingness to use nuclear weapons. Johnson ran an ad that showed a young girl counting petals on a flower, which then transitioned into a countdown for a detonation. After the countdown, the shot changes to an atomic bomb explosion. The powerful imagery of this ad made people more afraid of nuclear weapons, thus making Goldwater more unappealing. Johnson used Goldwater's quotes and extreme views in his own speeches and ads, thus making himself look like the better choice.

During a campaign, a candidate must appeal to a variety different backgrounds.  Goldwater only had the support of other Radical Republicans. Johnson on the other hand was able to gain the support of Democrats and Republicans alike. He also had the support of wealthy people because of the strong economy as well as the support of the poor because of the Democratic platform's War on Poverty. A candidate also must attack his opponent during a campaign. Undecided voters may not agree with all of a candidate's ideas, but if a candidate makes his opponent look like a worse option, they can gain more votes. This was evident in Johnson's campaign because although many people did not agree with many of his views, his attacks on Goldwater made him seem like the only choice. In addition, candidates must be approachable and appealing. Johnson's willingness to shake all his supporters' hands and give impromptu speeches made him popular with many people. On the other hand, Goldwater's extremist views made him seem frightening and remote.

At the end of the 1964 election, Johnson had won the election with 436 electoral votes and 61% of the popular vote while Goldwater had a mere 52 electoral votes and 38% of the popular vote. Goldwater's extreme views and misguided speeches, along with Johnson's smear tactics and country-wide tour, resulted in this landslide victory.


American Government, s.v. "Barry Goldwater: Republican National Convention Acceptance speech (1964)," accessed October 8, 2012.

American Government, s.v. "Democratic Party Platform (1964)," accessed October 8, 2012.

American Government, s.v. "election of 1964," accessed October 9, 2012.

American Government, s.v. "Barry Goldwater," accessed October 10, 2012.


  1. If Goldwater had followed Cicero's advice of changing policies based on audience and become more moderate for the National Election, how do you think the election would have changed?

  2. Alex Siber PolySci Green

    I am very impressed by your considerable level of detail in your blog post, Dean! You found that Lyndon B. Johnson was able to capture the full support of his party, and even the support of many moderate Republicans. Johnson's opponent, Senator Barry Goldwater, was a radical who only found support in the most radical Republicans. These varied political backings played a big role in Johnson's election.

    Similarly, in my case study of FDR (1932), Roosevelt was extremely supported by his Democratic party. The Democrats helped him plan, organize, and execute numerous parades, conventions, speech gatherings, etc. while Roosevelt's opponent, Hoover, had next to no support from the Republicans, who did not even put pictures of him up at the Republican convention.

    Do you think having the support of your personal party is just as important as having the gaining the support of both parties?

  3. I think Goldwater wouldn't have lost by so much if he had become more moderate, but I still think Johnson would've won due to his popularity amongst the poor and wealthy communities. Alex i agree with Cicero that both the support of the party and the general public is important, but a candidate needs to win over his peers first.

  4. This issue of Goldwater not matching his parties policies is one that is still extremely relevant and has become an issue during this current election. Many accuse Romney of 'flip-flopping' on issues in order to please his party as a whole now that he is running for national office and many claim he is appearing more conservative to win the total republican vote, do you think that Cicero would advise this practice and see it as the same as his advice to appeal to the masses?(as he was not accustomed to a two party system like ours today)

  5. Although Goldwater seemed like the kind of candidate who would have lost to pretty much anyone, do you think that one of the reasons that Johnson won was because of JFK getting assassinated? Generally when a president gets assassinated or an assassination is attempted on them, their approval ratings go up. I know that when an attempt was made on Ronald Reagan only a couple of months into his first term, before he had done much, his approval ratings skyrocketed. I would guess that just because Johnson was the man who stepped up to replace JFK, many people who's sympathies were with him would have voted for Johnson.