In travelling around the eastern half of the country during the last three months, we have been impressed by the marked differences in public reaction to the present political situation and the upcoming presidential election. We have been impressed by the extent to which the attitude of the ordinary, politically innocent, everyday citizen (a category in which we are included) is influenced by the prevailing propaganda to which he is subjected in the news and communications media of his area.
In regard to the imminent Republican national convention - which will be history by the time this is read - the inhabitants of New England and the large northeastern states regard Mr. Goldwater's candidacy with an unbelief akin almost to horror. To the suggestion that Mr. Goldwater might have some popular support elsewhere, the reaction is one of pained surprise: "Surely, you're not serious?" The reaction would not be much different if Fidel Castro were mentioned as a possible nominee. In the east they are not sure whom they prefer among the Republicans, but any of the others would do, and probably Scranton would suit them best.
Here in the south and southeast, while some may have reservations about the Arizona senator, the alternatives are viewed with such distaste that there is no choice but Goldwater. Scranton, viewed from the southern standpoint, is a moderately attractive candidate, but a late-comer, and strictly a local eastern phenomenon slightly damned by his social position, Ivy League background, and eastern sophistication.
In the eastern "mid-west" the attitude is quite schizophrenic. They can accept neither the viewpoint of the northeastern seaboard nor that of the south. There are misgivings about Goldwater, but, with their strong conservative leanings, they have even greater misgivings about the progressive, liberal candidates opposing him.
Our amateurish observations, that were carried no futher west than Minnesota, make us suspect that there is more sentiment for Goldwater - or rather for his conservative position - than meets the jaundiced eye of the liberal-dominated eastern press and communications industry. The news people are reluctantly becoming aware of this, and perhaps this is why their reaction against the Goldwater candidacy has become so increasingly determined and hysterically vicious. At any rate, at this time, more than a week before the Republicans gather in San Francisco, it would seem that the chances of nominating anyone but Goldwater as the Republican candidate are slim.
Once the Republican issue becomes settled, there seems to be general agreement in all areas that Mr. Johnson cannot miss being elected President in November. But here again we have noted a peculiar and almost universal attitude. Everyone thinks he can't lose, yet no one likes him or admires him. The northeasterners can't stand him, the mideasterners dislike him, the southerners are irritated by him, the Texans distrust him, and how the westerners feel we don't know. Even among his own Democratic party, except for respect for his power and for reasons of political expediency, few of his fellow politicians really love him; this was evidenced by his showing as a candidate in the 1960 Democratic convention. The persistent antagonism between Mr. Johnson and the remaining influential Kennedy is such common knowledge that even the liberal press acknowledges it. Under ordinary circumstances it would seem that Mr. Johnson is walking a political tightrope. Yet Republicans and Democrats alike are willing to concede the Presidency to him.
While the Republicans have dominated the news for many months, and have offered a wide choice of capable and attractive candidates, the Democrats have been content and apparently feel secure in offering only Mr. Johnson. In fact such has been Mr. Johnson's control of party that there seem to be no other potential presidential hopefuls of enough prominence or national appeal available to the Democrats. Their eggs, truly, are all in Mr. Johnson's saddle bags.
In spite of what the news media tell us, there is a good possibility that the coming November election will not be the cut and dried affair that the Democrats and liberal elements of both parties anticipate. If President Kennedy were still alive, and for some reason not seeking reelection, it is doubtful that Mr. Johnson could hope to be the Democratic nominee on his own popularity and merit. His sectionalism, his personality, his reputation as the ultimate political slickster and wheeler-dealer, his association with the unsavory Bobby Baker, and the general basic distrust of his motivation would not recommend him as a nominee, and certainly not as the unanimous choice of his party. His strength lies only in his position as the incumbent, and in the grudging respect he commands as a modern Machiavelli adept at political chicanery.
The indoctrinated, liberal political experts had deluded themselves into believing that Mr. Goldwater was unthinkable as a serious Republican nominee. They are apparently now discovering that they have underestimated the conservative sentiment and the smouldering antagonism against ever increasing federal bureaucracy and centralization. When the Republican Party, with conservatism as its battle-cry and the preoccupation with its own difficulties behind it, directs its full energies toward the coming presidential campaign, these same political experts may find that they have also over-estimated Mr. Johnson's strength.
(c) The Bulletin of the Muscogee County (Georgia) Medical Society, Editorial, Aug 1964, Vol. XI No.8, p.13