“Confessions of a Republican” 1964

January 31, 2016

Just fascinating. Substitute Goldwater for Trump. Just an interesting exercise.

Update: May 10, 2016

A four-minute television commercial from the 1964 U.S. presidential election. In it, an actor playing a lifelong Republican who looks like a young George Will talks about his discontent with his party’s nominee, senator Barry Goldwater. (The actor, Barry Bogert, told Rachel Maddow a few nights ago that he wasn’t playing a role–that he really was a registered Republican and that he meant every word he said in the ad. I can’t embed the clip from the Maddow Show on my blog, but you have the information you need to find it.)

Anyway, a couple of things stand out about that ad. First of all, it’s four minutes long. That feels amazing; I can’t imagine our TLDR (“too long didn’t read”) culture paying attention to a mostly static shot (the camera zooms in a bit near the end) of a talking head for that long no matter what he was selling.

But more importantly, while Bogert is talking about Goldwater, it sounds uncannily like he’s talking about Donald Trump.

“I don’t know just why they wanted to call this a confession; I certainly don’t feel guilty about being a Republican,” Bogert, cigarette in hand, says. “I’ve always been a Republican. My father is, his father was, the whole family is a Republican family. I voted for Dwight Eisenhower the first time I ever voted; I voted for Nixon the last time. But . . . now it seems to me we’re up against a very different kind of a man. This man scares me.

“Now maybe I’m wrong. A friend of mine just said to me, ‘Listen, just because a man sounds a little irresponsible during a campaign doesn’t mean he’s going to act irresponsibly.’ You know that theory, that the White House makes the man. I don’t buy that. You know what I think makes a President–I mean, aside from his judgment, his experience–are the men behind him, his advisers, the cabinet.”

He goes on to lament that “so many with strange ideas” are working for his party’s nominee. He says he wished he’d been a nominee at his party’s convention because then he “wouldn’t have worried so much about party unity because if you unite behind a man you don’t believe in, it’s a lie . . . I mean, when the head of the Ku Klux Klan, when all these weird groups come out in favor of the candidate of my party–either they’re not Republicans or I’m not.

“I’ve thought about just not voting at this election, just staying home–but you can’t do that, that’s saying you don’t care who wins, and I do care. I think my party made a bad mistake . . . and I’m going to have to vote against that mistake . . .”

The good news is that although Goldwater did win the Republican nomination and lost badly to Lyndon Baines Johnson in the general election, that loss didn’t destroy the Republican party. In retrospect, it is difficult to imagine how a Republican could have been elected president in 1964, less than a year after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Goldwater was the harbinger of a nascent conservative revolution–an unsettled, jumpy nation couldn’t help but perceive him as an extremist. Goldwater ran a sacrificial race and in 1968 the complicated Richard Nixon won the White House.

Maybe the same will be true of Trump.

Still, it’s distressing to see leading Republicans–including our governor–back away from earlier statements distancing themselves from the Donald. Now that the man has become the presumptive nominee, it appears that the safe play is to support his campaign, because, you know, Hillary and/or Bernie. Because, they cynically calculate, he’s going to get blown out in the general election anyway. And in four years, he’ll be irrelevant politically. (While Ted Cruz will have seven or eight more cycles to win friends and influence people.)

I hope they’re right. But I don’t think Democrats should feel too smug. Trump ran as a Republican only because he perceived it as a slightly easier road to the nomination. I don’t doubt that he could have, with just a little tweaking of his message, been a contender for the Democratic nomination as well.

We created an odd dynamic in this country where name recognition and entertainment value count for more than anything else. Most of us don’t bother to gather, weigh and vet information for ourselves; we rely on sputtering talking heads that flatter us and tell us what we want to believe to direct our actions. You don’t need to dig at all to discover the Barnumesque qualities of Trump. Scratch him and you smell sulphur and snake oil. He’s not a Republican or a Democrat–he doesn’t subscribe to any philosophy or moral code deeper than reflexive narcissism. He’s the reality TV candidate.

And he may be exactly what we deserve.

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