Most politics buffs probably watched this ad at one time or another. And after it was over, they may have wondered – how in the world was the daisy ad so effective?
By modern standards, it seems both outdated and completely transparent. The implication is most unsubtle: voting for Senator Barry Goldwater will bring nuclear war. Today’s viewer might find it somewhat ridiculous, even laughable. It would be as if Senator Barack Obama cut an ad implying that Senator John McCain would start World War Three.
Yet the Daisy Ad worked. Mr. Goldwater went on to lose the election by a landslide, partly as a result of said ad. This was because in 1964, believe it or not, many Americans actually worried that Mr. Goldwater might use nuclear weapons.
They trust in the rights afforded by the United States Constitution. Yet, Conservatives, committed Republicans, will vote for change. Countless on the Right have openly endorsed Barack Obama, a Democrat for President. Numerous established and esteemed dynasties remain steadfast and staunchly devoted to what are commonly thought to be traditional mores. Yet, persons within these same lineages say aloud and in print the Democratic Obama Biden ticket will best represent them, their long held values, and the country they love.
CC Goldwater, granddaughter of the renowned Republican, Arizona Senator and a Presidential aspirant Barry Goldwater illustrates this veracity.
Over the last several months, we've read a lot about Senator Barack Obama as the center of a movement. Clearly, something is going on with Obama, as crowds of 20,000 in Austin, Atlanta, Oakland, and Los Angeles show. Just yesterday, he was a sensation at the California Democratic Party convention, as this diary by an Obama supporter would attest. He is raking in donations - over 140,000 so far - to give him a record-breaking haul. Obama was reportedly drafted into the race after seeing the crowds react to him in speaking tours, and after encouragement from draft petitions. One such petition was delivered to him with over 12,000 signatures in December of 2006. Celebrity endorsements, from George Clooney to Oprah, came before he even announced an exploratory committee for a presidential run. Obviously, both his early emphatic opposition to the war in Iraq and direct appeal to people to hold a stake in his campaign have touched a nerve.
But we've also read a lot about the Obama phenomenon as unprecedented, and this is simply not the case. We can draw many parallels with another "Barry"- Barry Goldwater. In 1962, before he really thought about running for president, 18,000 people filled Madison Square Garden to hear Goldwater speak. In September of 1963, 40,000 paid to see him speak at Dodger Stadium, even though a crucial Dodgers road game duing the pennant stretch was televised that same night. In his presidential campaign, Goldwater received donations from over one million contributors in 1964, whereas only approximately 70,000 had donated to the Kennedy and Nixon campaigns combined in 1960. Goldwater had over 4 million campaign workers and volunteers, twice the number on the Democratic side. This despite an overwhelming Democratic advantage in party affiliation.
The above stats come from Rick Perlstein's excellent Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and The Unmaking of the American Consensus, a book I finally got around to reading last month. It's a great read, a romp through the conservative movement of the late 1950's and early 1960's, culminating with the Republican nomination of Goldwater despite fierce opposition by the more liberal GOP establishment. Perlstein's implicit thesis is that despite Goldwater's electoral annihilation at the hands of LBJ, conservatives had begun to organize themselves well enough to hold sway in the Republican Party in the 1960s and elect a prominent Goldwaterite to the presidency, 16 years after the electoral disaster of 1964 had led pundits to declare that conservatism was finished as a political philosophy. As Perlstein put it:
It was learning how to act: how letters got written, how doors got knocked on, how co-workers could be won over on the coffee break, how to print a bumper sticker and how to pry one off with a razor blade; how to put together a network whose force exceeded the sum of its parts by orders of magnitude; how to talk to a reporter, how to picket, and how, if need be, to infiltrate--how to make the anger boiling inside you ennobling, productive, powerful, instead of embittering.
For some time, there has been a meme in political discourse indicating that Republicans choose their Presidential candidates based on some notion of whose "turn" it is to win the nomination. I have found evidence of this meme from both the right (William F. Buckley) and the left (a MyDD commenter). Given the pervasiveness of this meme, I decided to test the historical evidence behind it by examining Republican presidential nominations from 1960 -- a full twelve years before the first election in which primaries played a deciding role in the delegate count -- through 2004.
According to most versions of this theory, there are three ways that one establishes one's "turn" in line: 1) by being a sitting or former Vice President; 2) by running in a previous year, losing but doing better than expected; or 3) by attaining some sort of formal institutional leadership, i.e., serving as Senate Minority Leader or Speaker of the House. I aim to show that criterion #1 is both natural and common to both parties, and that criteria #2 and #3 are simply not the hard-and-fast rules they have been made out to be. In fact, in the past twelve election cycles, there has been only one instance where a Republican presidential primary was decided by anything close to the concept of "turn," and even in that instance the outcome was far from certain until well down the stretch. Essentially, the Republican presidential "turn" is a myth with no predictive value for the 2008 GOP primary.
I had the pleasure of watching the premiere of "Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater" last night on HBO. Throughout the informative documentary, CC Goldwater examines the role her grandfather played in politics as well as illustrates the man behind the mantle of "Mr. Conservative". Using entertaining, revealing anecdotes and interviews with a variety of politicians, pundits and family members, we get a well-rounded portrait of man about whom a second look is quite appropriate. A man widely viewed as the father of modern conservatism, yet a man whose outspoken views ran counter with those of many claiming to have followed in his footsteps. In fact, a man with whom progressives would, on some key issues, share more common ground than would those in the modern-dayRepublicanParty who have forgotten Goldwater's lessons. In fact, without putting words in his mouth, I feel confident in saying that Goldwater would scarcely recognize today's ultra-right Republicans, let alone appreciate the regressive path they've chosen.