If you think you fully realize the truth of the old saw “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” well, might want to sit down for this one, folks. I assure you, it is going to blow your mind no matter how jaded and/or cynical you might think yourself to be.
At the height of the 1964 race between Arizona’s junior senator, Barry Goldwater, and President Lyndon Johnson, the cover headline of Factmagazine’s September–October issue practically screamed: 1,189 PSYCHIATRISTS SAY GOLDWATER IS PSYCHOLOGICALLY UNFIT TO BE PRESIDENT! Inside, every page was given over to the feature, titled “The Unconscious of a Conservative: A Special Issue on the Mind of Barry Goldwater.”
Forgotten today, Fact even then was far from a major player on the journalistic scene. It had launched earlier that year and would survive just until 1967. Still, it enjoyed a status among the day’s progressive bien pensants far beyond what its limited circulation might suggest. Edited by the profession’s reigning provocateur, Ralph Ginzburg, its early issues had generated buzz with ahead-of-the-curve investigations of the tobacco and soft-drink industries, as well as American policy in Vietnam.
The issue’s introduction set the tone for the 63 pages to follow. Ginzburg described Goldwater as the product of a “sadistic childhood,” a “paranoiac” with an “obsessive preoccupation with firearms” who “compulsively must prove his daring and masculinity,” adding that “psychoanalysts who find a connection between sadism and an anal character will not be surprised that bathrooms seemed to fascinate Goldwater.”
The “psychiatric evaluations” that took up the next 40 pages were in response to a question that Fact sent to the nation’s psychiatrists from a list supplied by the American Medical Association: “Do you believe Barry Goldwater is psychologically fit to serve as President of the United States?” Ruth Adams of New York replied that she saw in the GOP candidate “a strong identification with the authoritarianism of Hitler, if not identification with Hitler himself,” and other responding psychiatrists echoed that theme. “I believe Goldwater has the same pathological make-up as Hitler, Castro, Stalin and other known schizophrenic leaders,” wrote Chester M. Johnson, Jr., of Long Beach, while Philadelphia’s Paul Fink observed that, like the Führer, the Republican nominee “appeals to the unconscious sadism and hostility in the average human being.” G. Templeton, of Glen Cove, New York, warned that “if Goldwater wins the Presidency, both you and I will be among the first into the concentration camps.”
That the entire exercise was ethically dubious was apparent at the time. As longtime Goldwater advisor Stephen Shadegg noted in disgust, “Those who presumed to reach a medical and psychiatric conclusion about Goldwater without ever having seen him or followed any other of the normal procedures required in a patient-physician relationship betrayed themselves as men unfit to practice any profession.” But the feature drew widespread attention via the media coverage that it generated and full-page ads in the nation’s leading dailies—Goldwater’s people rightly wondered how a modest publication afforded their $100,000 cost—and it undeniably did real damage.
As you may recall, the exact same psychoanalysis-from-a-distance thing has already been attempted with Trump. Incredibly, it’s happening again right now, which I’ll have more on later probably. But the eerie historical echoes are only beginning.
Though his name was on the 1960 bestseller Conscience of a Conservative (actually authored by Brent Bozell), Goldwater was still something of an unknown nationally. But that was not necessarily a negative, since his supporters would have a chance to fill in the blanks. And, already, observed J. William Middendorf II, the investment banker who served as the Draft Goldwater Committee treasurer, a survey they’d commissioned had established that voters tended to view Goldwater “as warm, candid, and a man of strong convictions” and that he “was not thought to be connected to the ‘radical right.’ ”
Nor, before he ran for president, was the attitude of the press notably different. Since coming to the Senate in 1953, Goldwater had always been great copy; deeply conservative, yes, but in a town where most ate, slept, and drank politics, a man of interesting parts. He was a student of Native American culture and language, an expert in aeronautics who’d flown every plane extant, and not only a skilled amateur photographer but also a ham-radio obsessive, with unseen pals around the globe. His was an American story if ever there was one: grandson of an itinerant Jewish immigrant peddler who established Phoenix’s premier department store, which young Barry brought to new heights of success before turning to politics.
Reporters also couldn’t help but like Goldwater personally. He was a man’s man—said what he thought, and cursed for emphasis. Even those who despised his ideas respected his keen sense of honor and love of country. Little wonder, as Perlstein remarks, that to peruse pre-1964 media profiles of Arizona’s junior senator is to find “eight or so years of his uninterrupted honeymoon with the press.” But as generations of Republicans have learned, sometimes to their surprise—see Goldwater’s Senate successor, John McCain—coverage changes according to need.
Starting to get that creepy feeling yet, anybody?
Goldwater and his followers were equally beyond the understanding of the Republican establishment. Even as the GOP convention opened in San Francisco, with the Arizonan’s nomination looming as inevitable, they were still plotting to replace him with a moderate savior: Pennsylvania governor William Scranton.
From the start, Goldwater had been taken aback by the Republican vitriol directed his way. A loyal party man himself, he’d often appeared on behalf of GOP moderates, eager for conservative support in tight races. Now, in San Francisco, he heard defeated rival Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge say that Goldwater’s foreign policy “would destroy everything we hope for—including life itself”; and also-ran Michigan governor George Romney urge the delegates to “repudiate extremism of the right and the left.” But the cruelest blow came from Scranton, whom Goldwater had served with in the Air Force Reserve, mentored politically, and was considering naming as his running mate. In an open letter challenging Goldwater to a debate on the party’s direction, the Pennsylvania governor said that “Goldwaterism has come to stand for nuclear irresponsibility…for being afraid to forthrightly condemn right-wing extremists…for refusing to stand for law and order in maintaining racial peace.”
Gee, fake-conservative Vichy GOPe Swamp things backstabbing one of their putative own, a DC outsider who desperately needs some support implementing the exact same agenda they paid lip service to for years? Where, oh where, have I heard THAT before?
You’ll definitely want to read all of this one, it’s fascinating (and depressing) stuff. In the end, Goldwater—who I’ve always liked quite a bit, having frequently said that we could surely use more like him nowadays—had a penchant for shooting himself in the foot; his direct, pull-no-punches honesty, his unswerving loyalty, his core decency, his rawboned and unapologetic integrity—none of those fine qualities are at all marketable in the sordid, seamy environs of Mordor On The Potomac.
In a better world they would have been assets, Goldwater’s greatest strengths; instead, they were and remain liabilities that make a candidate his own worst enemy, carrying with them the seeds of his own political destruction at the hands of slimeballs, knaves, blackguards, and just plain scum. Thus:
There’s no knowing if Goldwater would have made a good president. He once told John McCain that if he’d been elected, “you wouldn’t have spent all those years in a Vietnamese prison camp.” “You’re right,” countered McCain, “it would’ve been a Chinese prison camp.” Unquestionably, though, Goldwater was a terrible candidate; it isn’t easy for a major party nominee to poll under 39 percent in a two-man race.
Still, if the GOP and its candidate were 1964’s most obvious losers, what Goldwater would recall as “that season of untempered abuse, vindictive falsehood, desertion of civility” also carried consequences for his tormentors in the media that continue to reverberate today. “At least forty percent of the people,” as GOP national chairman Dean Burch noted at the time, “feel subconsciously or consciously that the press has jobbed Goldwater.” It is a lesson about bias, double standards, and the slope of the playing field that millions of Americans have had no reason to forget ever since.
No reason to forget—and every reason to remember, so as to ensure that a just price is exacted when the time comes.
Moar propaganda update! On the other hand, some things DO change. All of a sudden-like, too.
That there’s a little chart put together by Zach Goldberg recording the sudden curious surge in usage-frequency of certain words and phrases in the NYT, explored in more depth and detail here. Why, the coincidence is just UNCANNY, innit?