The night the President was killed, one of the anchors of NBC's nightly news program spelled out the prevailing opinion of a country suffering from the paranoia and hate which had replaced political discourse. For the moment, and at a horrible price, extremism was taboo.
So, to some people, the Republican Convention the following July was a bit surprising. When Oregon Governor Mark Hatfield delivered a keynote speech against " "bigots in this nation who spew forth their venom of hate" he was called a "demagogue, a hate monger, a bigot, an anti-Christian and an ally of Moscow." When others proposed that the Republican platform include a plank denouncing extremism, it was thunderously voted down, with a presidential candidate, Gov Nelson Rockefeller of New York booed off the podium.
Then came this, the single most remembered moment of that Convention.
This is what we call today "tea party rhetoric" and, held by a small minority or not, it has engaged the beltway, and cable television, which has permitted the hate and fear to be, in Gov Hatfield's word, "spewed" far and wide.
Here's just a bit of what followed Senator Goldwater's call for extremism when he sang it from the podium of the Republican National Convention while accepting their nomination of him to be president:
Time magazine, as reliable as ever in its opposition to all things new deal, hopefully suggested that "[i]n the abstract, the lines are unimpeachable" but even it had to observe that
in the context that Goldwater used them, they were questionable. They drew tumultuous cheers from the delegates; they also got Barry embroiled in a thunderous dispute. New York's Governor Nelson Rockefeller blasted Barry's remarks as "dangerous, irresponsible and frightening." Barry shot back: "Extremism is no sin if you are engaged in the defense of freedom." California's Democratic Governor Pat Brown said the remarks had "the stench of Fascism." Retorted Barry: "It's the stench of Brown—it's ignorance." Dwight Eisenhower too was disturbed, declared that the remarks "would seem to say that the end always justifies the means." Added Ike: "The whole American system refutes that idea and that concept."
The New York Herald Tribune, the voice of the old "eastern establishment" Republican Party, ousted from their perch warned that
The Republican party now does face a clear and present threat from the Know-Nothings the purveyors of hate and the apostles of bigotry... There is a real danger that a Goldwater campaign could become a captive vehicle for their own subversions of reason.
Other newspaper editorials echoed the same fears, or, of course, trumpeted the demise of liberal thought. The elections that fall, less than year after President Kennedy's death, had the predictable result and crazy has not been the platform of a major political party since then, until now.
Every morning, now, in between tut tut tuts by Mourning Joe and his acolytes about the President and absurd suggestions that he does not care about unemployment but that somehow by his unspeakably foolish, but perhaps politically astute decision to try to kill off a tunnel project under the Hudson River NJ Governor Chris Christie is the future of the Republican Party, those who live in the Hudson Valley, north of New York City, get to hear commercials by an ophthalmologist running to unseat our Congressman, John Hall, that Congress enacted "government run health care" which "could prevent you from selecting your own doctor." (Oddly, her advertisements also attack me every time I open up TPM, too.)
The ophthalmologist raises money from the expected places---and lots of it, hence the ads on tv and TPM--- and adopts the same "let's privatize social security" rants that have energized people who have suddenly realized that while they were angry at President Bush, they replaced him with a black guy.
And while it is unlikely that Sharron Angle or Christine O'Donnell will be in Congress when it convenes in January, this strange visitor from the land of crazy likely will if current polls and Nate Silver have it right.
This is what it is like in the United States of America 46 years after the crazy dragon first seized control of a major political party but were crushed in the wake of the assassination of the President. Most voters today were either not alive then or too young to remember the noise, the fear and the craziness of that year. And to those of us who do, especially those of us just entering what is now called middle school in those scary days, the belated, but calming voice of the prior Republican president, General Eisenhower, by many other Republicans who said they could not vote for Sen Goldwater (Senator Clifford Case and Congressman John V. Lindsay come immediately to mind), provided reassurance that the grown ups would not allow crazy to succeed.
No such voices exist any more. Even Governor Mitt Romney, the offspring of one of the voices who stood up to Sen Goldwater in 1964---partly because the Goldwater supporters included virulent anti-Mormons---remains silent.
It seems impossible that They will succeed where they have so often failed. The reassurance that that is so, is quite missing, though and the silence deafening.