Sunday, February 26, 2012
Barry Goldwater and the Conservative Backlash
Barry Goldwater and the Conservative Backlash:
A Case Study of Ethnic Collective Action by Whites in the Election of 1964
In 1964, Republican Barry Goldwater, a two-term U.S. Senator from Arizona, defeated New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller in his bid to win the nomination as their party’s candidate for president, opposing the re-election of incumbent Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson. In the general election, Senator Goldwater carried his home state and the five Deep South states – including several states that had not voted for Republican presidential candidates since Reconstruction – but failed to defeat Johnson, receiving fifty-two electoral votes, two hundred and eighteen shy of the simple majority required to win.
Over twenty-seven million Americans, about six million of whom were strong Goldwater supporters, and nearly four million of whom worked in his campaign, backed the Republican presidential ticket in the election of 1964. Most of his supporters were males, the elderly, Republicans, and those who considered themselves conservatives as opposed to liberals.
Their support affirmed the existence of an abundance of voters who were willing to support a candidate who opposed labor unions, the ongoing American military involvement in Vietnam, excessive taxation by the federal government, and excessive spending on social welfare programs. But the outspoken rationality that rallied so many supporters to Goldwater’s side also contributed to his mischaracterization as racist, and to his eventual landslide trouncing.
The Senator propounded a complex, nuanced argument which at the time appeared to the average voter as a perspective that was in stark opposition to the racial progress that the United States needed and had just begun to embrace and advance. Goldwater opposed the portions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that to him and his ideologues represented the encroachment of the federal government on the right of states to permit owners of private establishments who wish to deny patrons equal access to their property because of the patrons’ immigrant status or because of their racial, ethnic, or religious identity, to continue to practice discrimination and / or segregation based on those criteria if they so desired.
Democratic Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy and Texas Senator Lyndon B. Johnson had defeated Republican Vice President Richard Nixon in the presidential election of 1960. During Kennedy’s campaign, he expressed interest in encouraging Congress to enact a new Civil Rights Act. Following Kennedy’s assassination in November of 1963 and Johnson’s subsequent succession to the presidency, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed by President Johnson four months prior to his re-election to the presidency. It included Title II, which prohibited discrimination in facilities engaged in interstate commerce, and Title VII, which prohibited the practice of discrimination by employers and provided for the establishment of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The support for Barry M. Goldwater throughout his political career, from his first foray into politics in 1949, to his election to the U.S. Senate in 1953, to his candidacy in the 1964 presidential election, to his re-election to the Senate in 1968, until his refusal to seek re-election to the Senate in 1986, following his fifth non-consecutive term, is an example of a collective action because it fits sociologist Jack A. Goldstone’s definition of a “contentious collective action,” which is “any sustained effort at making claims on a society, or on other social actors, by a cooperating group (or groups) of individuals that provokes resistance [emphasis mine].”
The collective action of the Conservative Backlash was certainly sustained, as in 1966, many of Goldwater’s supporters helped elect his ideologue Ronald Reagan the governor of California, and in 1968, Alabama Governor George “Segregation Forever” Wallace became the most successful third-party candidate in decades, and Goldwater was re-elected as U.S. Senator from Arizona, going on to serve three more six-year terms.
Claims on society were certainly made by the Conservative Backlash. For example, Goldwater’s stated opposition to Titles II and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was based on the grounds that the act attempted to “legislate morality”, and on the idea that “[o]ur aim… is neither to establish a segregated society nor to establish an integrated society… it is to preserve a free society… [b]arriers infringe the freedom of everybody in society, not just the minorities.”
The action to support Barry Goldwater certainly provoked resistance. Despite the conservative senator’s history of supporting civil rights legislation such as the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960, which aimed to protect the rights of blacks to vote, and the Twenty-Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which eliminated the poll tax, on June 18th, 1964, during a session of the 88th Congress, Senator Goldwater, “stressing… his belief that the legislation bestowed unconstitutional authority on the U.S. government in Titles II and VII… announced his intention to vote against [the House resolution to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964].” Goldwater’s declaration in defense of his position that “extremism in defense of liberty is no vice” was twisted and used against him by President Johnson, who called Goldwater’s “extremism” an “unpardonable vice.” He was also shamelessly campaigned against by Johnson re-election campaigns, best exemplified by the single televised airing of the infamous “Daisy” advertisement that featured the explosion of a nuclear bomb.
Support for Goldwater and the Conservative Backlash qualifies as a white ethnic collective action because 97.3% of Senator Goldwater’s supporters in the 1964 election were white – less than two percent below the figure for white supporters of George Wallace’s independent campaign, but over sixteen percent higher than the figure for white supporters of Johnson’s re-election.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was backed mostly by Northerners in both houses of Congress, and by a greater percentage of Republicans than Democrats in both houses, gave the U.S. federal government primacy over the states with regard to the regulation of the right of business owners to choose to deny entry to and / or segregate potential patrons on the basis of certain categories of social distinction. It did so by redefining numerous types of private enterprises as “public” so that the federal government may have the right to regulate them as “public accommodations engaged in interstate commerce”, the power to regulate interstate commerce among the states having been specifically enumerated to the federal government in the Constitution.
Title II of the legislation provided that “[a]ll persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, and privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation… without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.” It declares that a “civil action for preventive relief, including an application for a permanent or temporary injunction, restraining order, or other order, may be instituted by the person aggrieved” against those who “attempt to withhold or deny… or deprive… any person of any right or privilege secured by [the previous sections of the act]” to access establishments which “provide lodging to transient guests [with exceptions for those buildings having five rooms or less and those buildings which are occupied by the owner of the premises]”, are “engaged in selling food for consumption on the premises,” are “place[s] of exhibition or entertainment,” or are located within such establishments, provided that either their “operations affect commerce”, or that discrimination and / or segregation by the establishment is “supported by State action” or is “enforced by officials of the State…”.
In addition, Title II provides that injunctions and orders may not be made by aggrieved persons against “private club[s] or other establishment[s] not in fact open to the public, except to the extent that the facilities of such establishment are made available to the customers and patrons of an establishment within the scope of [the subsection of the title which described the types of establishments listed in the above paragraph].”
This law essentially redefined all private establishments which provided lodging, the consumption of food, exhibition and entertainment, as public places, and thus under the jurisdiction of the United States federal government. Although the law did not specifically state under what circumstances the owners of establishments could decide that their property constituted a “private club” – in which case they could have continued or resumed practicing discrimination and/or segregation on their property without fear of being subjected to legal recourse – the law did specifically state which types of establishments’ owners may not be permitted to practice discrimination and / or segregation.
In order to understand the causes and context of Goldwater’s defeat, and of the 73-to-27-vote failure of the U.S. Senate to prevent this legislation from being passed, it is necessary to briefly explain the history of the opposition to racial segregation and discrimination in the decade and a half that preceded the 1964 election.
During the 1950s and the first term of the Kennedy-Johnson administration, the United States underwent rapid social change, especially in the South. In the first few years of the 1950s, lawyers associated with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People filed several suits in federal courts questioning the constitutionality of public school segregation, eventually resulting in the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Kansas decision. Brown made segregation in public schools illegal, “thrust the NAACP into the limelight”, and made it conceivable that blacks might very well succeed in using non-violent, legalistic methods to fight systematic segregation and discrimination in public settings.
Although it was a “limited victory”, the 1953 mass bus boycott in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, officially headed by Reverend T. J. Jemison, and “mobilized and directed through the local black churches and the United Defense League”, which was an “organization of organizations”, provided “evidence that the system of racial segregation could be challenged by mass action”.
The successful mass bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama several years later, was organized by Rosa Parks, E. D. Nixon, the NAACP, the Women’s Political Council, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Baptist Ministerial Alliance, and “the majority of Montgomery’s black ministers”, who “saw this moment in history as a critical time when they and their churches could change the oppressive social system that choked Southern blacks at every turn.” The boycott lasted over a year, drew national attention, and served as a solid example of a non-violent successful collective action by blacks to oppose discrimination in publicly-provided services.
Following the Brown decision, the mass bus boycotts, and the integration of the University of Alabama, all of which were supported by the NAACP, “the bureaucratic strategies of the NAACP came under intense scrutiny and criticism by blacks for the first time.” The State of Alabama banned the NAACP in 1956, which “went to court to fight for the right to exist” for over eight years. Due to the fact that Birmingham, Alabama was the site of the headquarters of the NAACP’s Southeastern Region, which comprised six states, the entire Deep South was affected.
The attack on the NAACP by whites “occurred at a moment when the NAACP stood a good chance of attracting a large following”, “destroyed not only a great deal of what the NAACP was but also what it might have become,” and “left an organizational and protest vacuum in many Southern black communities”, depriving blacks of “organization[s] through which to address local grievances”.
The period between the bus boycotts and the Greensboro, North Carolina lunch counter sit-in protests of 1960, which sparked the broader, South-wide sit-in protest campaign (and which inspired more than fifty additional sit-ins in Southern cities in the following week alone), is referred to as the “quiescent period,” during which time “organizations appropriately designed to facilitate collective action were established… operat[ing] in a fluid but organized manner as they mobilized and prepared the masses to engage in direct action.”
Although the common misperception regarding the Greensboro sit-ins is that “they were the product of an independent student-initiated movement”, the four black male students at the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College who sat down at the Woolworth’s in Greensboro that February “were, or at some time had been, members of an NAACP Youth Council” and “had participated in numerous meetings in social action-oriented churches in Durham.”
The fact that the students had been involved with the NAACP should not be misconstrued to suggest that any part of the NAACP besides members of its Youth Councils were openly or directly involved in coordinating the sit-ins. On the contrary, “[t]he NAACP, with some 380,000 members… was dominated by older leaders who never endorsed the sit-in strategy.”
This particular non-violent sit-in protest occurred at a time when the NAACP was mired in a legal battle in the courts of Alabama, and was effectively outlawed in the South (including North Carolina) at a time when the number of anti-segregationist organizations by which one could be recruited had recently grown. Numerous “[p]reviously established movement centers were directly involved in the planning and execution of the early 1960 sit-ins,” such as the Southern chapters of the Congress of Racial Equality, the NAACP’s Youth Councils, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and the Durham Committee on Negro Affairs.
The dramatic increase in the frequency of the practice of non-violent sit-in protests in the late 1950s and the early 1960s represented a distinct shift in the strategies of the Civil Rights Movement. The movement, which had used legalistic techniques of contentious collective action to achieve justice in public schools nationwide in the Brown victory, and which had used non-violent, direct-action techniques of contention in the bus boycotts, had succeeded thus far in its goal to stop racial segregation and discrimination in public settings.
Considering that those high up in the leadership of the NAACP did not endorse sit-in protests, and that the success of the Montgomery bus boycott “let the black population know that the tactics and strategies of the mass movement could be effective and could bring far faster results than the legalistic method of the NAACP”, and given that sit-in protests had been common and successful in the South for the previous three years, is it any surprise that youths who had been involved in anti-segregationist organizations would once again choose to employ methods of non-violent direct action to fight for their right to be served in settings which they felt they deserved the permission and ability to frequent? Moreover, is it any more surprising that they would do so without considering that the business owner, as a legitimate possessor of property, an obvious racist though he very well may have been, in theory retained the legal right to decide who comes on to his property and for what purpose? Is it irrational or extremist to suggest that, with the NAACP held in thrall, the movement lost focus on its original goal of prohibiting discrimination in public places and instead unwittingly drifted into the realm of organized crime?
When those students decided to occupy the segregated restaurant section of that segregated Woolworth’s shop that day, they boldly bore the brunt of whatever harassment and humiliation the whites frequenting the shop were willing to dole out, and they deserve praise for their bravery and courage, and also admiration for their success in sparking action that caused many businesses throughout the South to voluntarily end segregation long before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did away with their ability to choose to do so.
However, the direct anti-segregationist action that those four college freshmen implemented was in fact unlawful, violated the rights of the owner or owners of the Woolworth’s store, and was essentially a case of conspiracy to commit the criminal trespass of private property. Furthermore, the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, for which the protesters expressed approval, constitute violations of the Fifth and Thirteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
Following Barry Goldwater’s loss to incumbent President Johnson, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States, ruled against the plaintiff, attorney Moreton Rolleston, the owner of the motel, who was asking for $11 million in compensation, re-affirming the legitimacy of the Civil Rights Act that had been passed several months before, and issued a permanent injunction against Rolleston, requiring him to integrate his lodging facility within twenty days. The circuit court case which had preceded the U.S. Supreme Court case had prohibited Georgia Governor Lester Maddox from using race as a criterion by which to deny entry and access to his Pickrick Cafeteria in Atlanta, which employed blacks. Rather than integrate, Governor Maddox chose to shut down his cafeteria.
Those representing Governor Maddox and Mr. Rolleston had argued that their Fifth Amendment rights had been violated because they had not been justly compensated for the compulsory taking of their property (i.e., their labor and service) for public use without due process of law. They also argued that their Thirteenth Amendment rights had been violated because they had been forced by Congress, through the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to serve people they did not wish to serve, which to them amounted to “involuntary servitude,” (i.e., slavery), which the Thirteenth Amendment prohibits without either due process of law or just compensation.
Concurring with the Supreme Court’s decision, Justice Hugo Black wrote the following: “in view of the Commerce Clause, it is not possible to deny that the aim of protecting interstate commerce from undue burdens is a legitimate end. In view of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, it is not possible to deny that the aim of protecting Negroes from discrimination is also a legitimate end. The means adopted to achieve these ends are also appropriate, plainly adopted to achieve them, and not prohibited by the Constitution, but consistent with both its letter and spirit.”
Black also wrote that “[i]n the past, this Court has consistently held that regulation of the use of property by the Federal Government or by the States does not violate either the Fifth or the Fourteenth Amendment… A regulation such as that found in Title II does not even come close to being a ‘taking’ in the constitutional sense… Moreover, it would be highly ironical to use the guarantee of due process – a guarantee which plays so important a part in the Fourteenth Amendment, an amendment adopted with the predominant aim of protecting Negroes from discrimination – in order to strip Congress of power to protect Negroes from discrimination.”
It is lamentable that there has to this day been no successful opposition to the proclamation by the highest court in the nation that racial equality is to be recursively defined as the conditions that result from the implementation of any law that is interpreted by the court to have been passed in order to “protect Negroes from discrimination,” and even more lamentable that the efforts by Goldwater and his supporters remain largely forgotten today, perhaps in part due to the evolution of the Republican Party away from its ideological roots.
What is fortunate for the public is that so many of the prominent political and ideological figures who succeeded Goldwater and allied themselves with him as part of an “extremist” Conservative Backlash or as members of what Goldwater called the “new liberal” faction of the Republican Party, such as George Wallace, recurrent presidential candidate and political commentator Patrick J. Buchanan, conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, and former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, have proven themselves to be too conservative, intolerant, or unamenable to reason with regard to social issues (save for Wallace, who, following the attempt on his life in 1972, rescinded his pledge to always support segregation) to experience sustained political success.
Although it has been said that Goldwater energized the libertarian movement of the early 1970s, his efforts likely did more to empower people like Wallace, Reagan, and Buchanan than people like Texas Congressman Dr. Ron Paul and his son Barry Goldwater, Jr., the former congressman from California, who remains for the most part invisible on the national political scene, having left Congress in 1983, but having campaigned for Dr. Paul and appearing as his hypothetical running mate on an unofficial Louisiana Taxpayers’ Party ballot.
The Conservative Backlash continued to affect national politics during the 1980s as the elder Goldwater remained a senator until the latter half of that decade, regaining prominence towards the end of his career with the reworking of the military command structure in the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986. Although the “extremist” / liberal Republican faction lost steam due to competition within the party against the religious right – which gained notoriety and popularity following the era of public focus on family values during the presidencies of born-again Christian Jimmy Carter and during the Reagan-Bush era – today, the stranglehold imposed on national politics by evangelicals and born-agains of the religious right has appeared to begin to weaken.
This weakening is best symbolized by the widespread popular opposition to the social policies of former President George W. Bush, the dismissal of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as an inexperienced, insufficiently intelligent religious conservative unfit for office, and by Arizona Senator John McCain’s failure to invoke the moral-religious legal rhetoric necessary to garner enough of the Reagan-and-Bushes-voting conservative religious base of the Republican Party without alienating himself from those supporters who exalt him as a “maverick” for his contention with his own party, though reticent as he was to distance himself from his would-be predecessor.
With many supporters of Barack Obama seeing him as part of the legacy of the Kennedy-Johnson administration, and perceiving the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as having been an event which secured the freedom of immigrants and of racial and ethnic minorities to associate with society, and moreover an event which allowed for the possibility that the son of an African immigrant could become the commander of the strongest armed forces on the planet, it is almost inconceivable that a politician today could voice his support for the reversal of the 1964 bill and the subsequent court decisions which affirmed its legitimacy and still be taken seriously as a viable candidate around which either of the two major parties could organize a presidential campaign.
Since the tide of public support turned against Republican President George W. Bush after his 2004 re-election, and especially in the past several months, which have seen much debate concerning which ideologically conservative figure ought to be thought of as the one best representing the views of the party, the Republican Party now appears to be in imminent danger of becoming fractured, leading the public to consider the possibility that there will soon emerge a niche for a new breed of conservative – perhaps one that will embrace secular values, perhaps a religious extremist the likes of which this country has not seen since Alan Keyes vowed to implement state-sanctioned prayer in public schools – but nonetheless one who will undoubtedly threaten the stability of the domination of electoral politics by two parties that inevitably drift toward one another as every other November nears, by doing what true mavericks do best: by unwaveringly and unapologetically demanding that the issues highlighting the differences between more than two candidates and parties be addressed and brought to public attention.
“[F]reedom is diminished when barriers are raised against the freedom not to associate.”
- Senator Barry Morris Goldwater, five-term United States Senator from the State of Arizona
Written in May 2009
Originally Published on February 26th, 2012
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