thumbnail of American Experience; 1964; Interview with Phyllis Schlafly, Conservative Leader
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So, Phyllis, why was 1964 such a pivotal year in America, do you think? 1964 was the birth of the modern conservative movement. Prior to 1964, we didn't even call ourselves conservatives. We were just ordinary, middle-western, grassroots Republicans, and Barry Goldwater popularized the word conservative with his book, A Conscience of a Conservative, and we know that Dean Clarence Manian gave it the title for the book, and it took, it grabbed people who were willing to call themselves conservatives after that. It's so funny because Goldwater represented a really significant break from the Republican Party that had been running things, right?
Well, of course, that's what we meant by a choice not an echo, because the establishment, which in those days was headquartered in the Chase Manhattan Bay, was picking all of our candidates, and we were tired of it. They had given us two-time Loser Tom Dewey. They were meet-to Republicans. Whatever the Democrats said, basically, they said meet-to, and we were tired of that. We wanted a real conservative who would stand up for a real American and conservative principles. Where were you in 1964? What were you doing? Well, 1964 was the biggest year of my life. I was the president of the Illinois Federation of Republican Women, a really big, about a 30,000-member organization running that, and then I ran for delegate to the Republican Convention as a Goldwater delegate and was elected.
And I went all over the state of Illinois, giving speeches for Goldwater, and then we had the big week in San Francisco for the Republican Convention when Goldwater was nominated, and I ended up the year having a baby in November. Wow. So that must have been in many ways one of the- It was the biggest year of my life. I guess it would be impossible to say that the Goldwater campaign could possibly measure up to the birth of your child, but it must have come close because it was a pretty exciting day. A year wasn't it? Well, it was an enormous fight between Goldwater and Rockefeller. That year Rockefeller was the candidate of the establishment, and we didn't want him for many reasons. We didn't believe he was a true conservative, and he had signed the abortion bill in New York, and we wanted a true conservative. And I had really launched Goldwater before a national Republican audience at the previous
convention in 1960. Again, I was the president of the Illinois Federation of Republican Women, so I could pick the speaker, and I picked Goldwater for a main event. And it was an exciting day. Last year, you may remember or have learned that the convention, we nominated him, and we marched around. Convention was fun in those days. We marched around with our standards, and then Goldwater came up on the platform and said, conservatives, this isn't our year, I'll see you in four years. And so that's the way it was, but 1960 really launched him as a national figure. And you realize nobody thought that anybody from Arizona, where is that? We didn't know where it was. We didn't know anybody who ever went to Arizona.
There was no baseball team. There was any farther, western farther south, and St. Louis. So you had to be from Pennsylvania or Ohio or some important state to run for president. And so it was quite something when we decided to run Barry Goldwater for president as the candidate of the grassroots. That's great. What happened on January 3rd when he announced his candidacy? Well it was a struggle to get him to announce. He really had to be dragged, kicking and screaming into the job. He liked being a senator. And we were very happy about that. We went to work to line up delegates for him. That was one of the most interesting things about Goldwater in a way. He was a reluctant candidate. Yes. Why? What was it that held him back, do you think? Well, as I say, who could imagine the president from Arizona back in 1964?
Nobody knew anybody who ever went to Arizona. Right. Right. What was it about Goldwater's personality and his sense of himself that made him, you know, maybe less, less than a sort of all-in candidate? You know, he so often was his own, he put the brakes on whatever he was doing himself rather than sometimes by events, you know. Goldwater was authentic. What you saw was what you got. He would vote the way he believed something was right, regardless. And he espoused the views that I think the big majority of grassroots Republicans supported. And Rockefeller was just another Eastern internationalist, a globalist, whatever the Democrats said.
Basically, he was, whatever the Democrats said, basically, he said me too. And we didn't want them. And basically, we didn't want that crowd running the party. We wanted the grassroots to be able to pick the candidate they wanted. When you traveled around and talked to women in your state, a part of your organization, was that where you first began to sort of pick up this idea that there was this we'll need for something different? Well, if you go back to the earlier years before 1964, for example, our Illinois Federation of Republican Women passed all kinds of policy resolutions. And if you would read them today, you would say, my, they're very right-wing. And they were authentic conservative.
The fiscal solvency for the government was written into our constitution of our organization. And we wanted somebody who expressed those views. And it was obvious that the Dewey crowd, the Rockefeller crowd, did not express the views that we thought should be carried out in government. Hey, Kyle? Yeah. Can you come in for one sec? It's kind of fascinating looking back now that Rockefeller's marriage to Happy Rockefeller was so controversial, but it was, wasn't it? It was very controversial. And in 1964, the California primary was in June, was the last one. Dates are all changed now, but it was June and decisive. And Happy Hatter, baby, the day before the primary, which reminded everybody what was
going on. What was it about the fact that Rockefeller was married in that year that made it such an issue? It's hard now to think about it with divorce, so prevalent in America. Yeah, but it's not so prevalent among candidates for president. And it was a great candy cap he had. But I think the main things were that he was a big spending guy, a globalist, an internationalist, and he agreed with the Democrats on a lot of things, and we didn't agree with him on anything. How did Goldwater staff his campaign? Like Dennis Kitchel and Dean Birch were an exactly veteran political operatives. East have to be pretty much with people he knew.
Anything that was the right move for him? Well I don't think the campaign was terribly well run. That's why when Reagan made his speech toward the end of the campaign, a time for choosing, everybody said that's what we've been waiting to hear. And that's what created Ronald Reagan as a national figure. Because everybody had been waiting for Barry Goldwater to sail all those things. And finally, Rod and Reagan said them. Tell me what happened, how did Reagan end up in the limelight? Well it was just some ordinary pro-Goldwater talk to some local crowd in California. And some smart guys thought, well, let's just film it. Let's just film it live and put it on television, and the Goldwater people just went bananas when they saw it.
Oh, bananas in the sense that they were threatened or they were threatened. Oh no, it was great. It was great. Everybody thought, why haven't we heard all these hard-hitting speeches before now? Reagan went after Social Security in particular, didn't he? I don't remember that he went after Social Security in that speech. But he did go after the whole welfare apparatus. And he had some live examples of that. What was going on with Goldwater that he was able to tap into young people, do you think? Lee Egrich was a founder of Young Americans for Freedom. What was it that was speaking to them in a silver-haired senator from Arizona? Well Goldwater was authentic. You just knew that what you saw was what you got with Goldwater.
And I think that appealed to a lot of people. Young people in particular, do you think? Yes, they had the young people. Yeah. Because Lee was talking about the fact that he felt like they had 50,000 volunteers on the ground in California by the end. Yes, that's... A lot of foot soldiers. Was that what Goldwater was weeding? Was it an army almost? It was the grassroots for Goldwater against the party establishment. And the, as I say, the establishment was always concentrated in the Northeast in New York. And we had had two losers with Tom Dewey, and now they were trying to give us Rockefeller. And we were just simply fed up with it. We wanted the grassroots to nominate the candidate. And that's where my book, Choice Not an Echo, came in. And it started out as speeches, and then I developed it into a little paperback book called
The Choice Not an Echo. And self-printed, I plunged with an order for 25,000, thinking that would take care of it. And I ended up selling three million out of my garage. And about a million of them were sold in California before the primary. And the party officials recognized that that was what carried the state for Goldwater. And I had a friend who handled the distributing them in California. He had a door business, so he had some kind of a landing at his place of business. And we delivered the books there. And he said, these people who were working there precinct for Goldwater had Canvas, and they knew where all the votes were. And they had discovered that it took 300 books to work a precinct. So they would come, and he said they were counting out their money and dollar bills and quarters
and half dollars to pay for the 300 books. And then they would distribute them. And then they would read Canvas. And they would find that the book had changed Lyndon Johnson people, into Goldwater people, and changed Nelson Rockefeller people, into Goldwater people. So the book had a meeting of the book converted people. It didn't just do what ordinary political writing does, rev up your juices. It actually converted people. And I meet people almost every week still who tell me, Phyllis, I came into the conservative movement reading a choice not an echo in 1964. I was 16 years old, or I was 18 years old. These are some prominent people. Did you have any idea that it was going to hit strike such a chord?
No, I thought my target was just the delegates to the convention. And when my first shipment came, I cut a letter on a manual typewriter on a stencil. And then I went down on the basement on an old copy, and I ran a 200 letters and sent them out to friends around the country and said, well, get this book right now and send it to your delegates to the Republican convention. And there are a couple of thousand delegates, I thought that would be the sale. Well, it just went like wildfire. Because people saw that it was making conservatives out of people who were not conservatives before. And when you look at the way in which that book landed in the kind of a political landscape
of that moment, what does it tell you about the electorate and about the sort of pent-up passions about electorate? Does it tell you anything about what people were looking for? Yes, I think the people wanted a real conservative president. They were still a little myth that the establishment had rejected Senator Bob Taft at a earlier convention, who was the choice of the grassroots, and given us Eisenhower in really a crooked convention in 1952. And they wanted somebody that the grassroots people supported and believed in and felt that he would do what he said.
They didn't want somebody coming out of New York. How did the Goldwater Campaign deal with some of the more extreme elements of the right campaign that were also drawn to the Goldwater Campaign, like the John Burke Society, for example, that presented a kind of a political challenge to them, didn't it? Well, for the most part, they ignored it. They made a few cutting remarks about them, but the John Burke Society was very strong in Southern California. And really, that's where the conservative movement was born in Southern California. And it didn't bother them, that somebody was insulting them. That didn't ruin their day. What was the sort of stock Goldwater movement all about? Well, I'm not sure.
You just grant in and Romney and Nixon, you're trying to position themselves. They all kind of made fools out of themselves in the end, but are you telling what happened? Well, yes. One of the things that made a choice on an echo cell was that I predicted in the book that when Nelson Rockefeller fault her, they would put in Scranton. And that's the way it happened, but they couldn't put him over. There were kind of competing visions of civil rights going on in 1964, and Goldwater was opposed to the Civil Rights Act. What do you think was his position on the Civil Rights Act, and why was it such a difficult thing for him to try and navigate in that year? Well, I believe he voted against the Civil Rights Act. And so they did talk to him about that.
Now, and a lot of the country, it wasn't any big deal. It wasn't something that was an issue, for example, in Missouri, where I lived. And these southerners who were happy with his vote liked him for other reasons. So it's true the press tried to make a big issue about that. But I don't think it factored as a reason why anybody voted for or against a merry Goldwater. The establishment didn't like him, period, because they only want candidates they can control. They want candidates who will be big spenders like the Democrats and be internationalists. And Goldwater did not fit that mold. And they were the reasons why they were against him. Do you remember what happened during the debate in the House?
One of the senators from the South inserted a line saying that it also had to apply to equal equality among the sexes. Do you remember that? Yes. Which was a kind of fascinating moment to sort of introduce that idea. Of course, it was a sort of a political ploy. I'm not sure whether it was Richard Russell or who, but it was designed to sort of be this shock treatment to the Democrats and put them on the spot. Well, I think he thought it was a killer amendment, but nobody noticed it. I mean, I didn't even, I wasn't even aware of it. Really? And it wasn't played up any. It was kind of so what? How did, how do you think Goldwater saw the situation in Vietnam and what was his solution to that problem?
Well, at that time period, the Democrats were the war party. They were the ones who had gotten us into all these wars and Republicans liked to hang that on them and Republicans thought, if you got no war, you ought to win it. And they felt that Johnson was handling it badly. I mean, now know that that so-called Gulf of Tonkin event really didn't happen. That was Johnson's excuse for building up more forces to fight in Vietnam. And they tried to make, the press tried to make a big deal of some of Goldwater's statements, but basically it was just coming out of the Republican attitude. If you get no war, you ought to win it. Right.
I think Goldwater was on the issues and answers show. Do you remember that appearance? No. He made a statement. He thought that one thing they could do was use that low yield nuclear weapons would be useful for defoliating the jungles of Vietnam, and it was one of those statements that got him associated in people's minds with nuclear weapons and with a nuclear standoff. Why do you think that was sort of an image that stuck to Goldwater? Well, of course everybody was afraid of nuclear weapons. We didn't know what they would do, Soviet missile threats, and what we were going to do about it was a big issue. And of course we weren't using Reagan's expression, peace through strength, but that in general was always the Republican position. And the media picked that up and tried to blow it up into a big gaff and something he
shouldn't have said. But everything that we know is that Goldwater would have deferred to MacArthur for any strategy about winning the war. Goldwater was incredibly out by today's standards, and even by standards of 64. He was an unbelievably outspoken candidate. He was. He was. His campaign must have just been going, oh God, crossing their fingers at times, right? Yes, I think so. I kind of love that about him. Well, so did I. So did a lot of people. Tell me about it. What was it like to watch Goldwater in action that way? Well, he was for real, and he was a genuine person, and he said what he believed and believed what he said. And we like that. And he wasn't taking his orders from the Chase Man at and back. Right.
But from a politician, it's almost like he was a politician that didn't want to be a politician. He didn't care about polls. He didn't seem to want to say things that were politically expedient. He was. What was it about him that he put him in that position almost? There's a quote of someone saying that he sometimes had the aura of somebody who didn't really believe that he was actually running for president of the United States. Well, again, he really didn't want to run for president. He liked being a senator. He liked being able to walk in and say what he believed and do and vote the way he wanted to. That's the life that he liked. And he didn't like being remolded into something that he wasn't. How did the conservative movement deal with the fact that their standard bearer didn't seem to want to be the standard bearer? I think it's a fascinating conundrum in a way.
Well, it was an honest draft. It was some real conservative bigwigs in the party all around the country who got together and who were we going to run? And they picked on Go Water. And then they got somebody to write the book for him, a conscious of a conservative. And as I mentioned, Dean Clarence Manion gave it the title. I always believe the title is 50% of the sale of the book. And so it went over big. People liked it. They made it out of liked every paragraph in it. But it just sounded like this is what the guy believes. Interesting. How did bearer Go Water feel about the great society? Well, now you're talking after the election.
We didn't get into the big spending for the great society until after 1964. And as we now know and look back on it, it was it was a disaster. It started this enormous welfare that has now mushroomed to 79 different programs and about 47% of our budget. And Go Water would have been horrified at it. But I don't know that... I guess I don't mean so much specifically that what became the actual programs of the great society. But just Johnson's domestic plans, he'd begun the war on poverty at that time. So his vision of a domestic agenda was clear. And it was very much at odds, right, with what Goldwater thought should be done.
Well, it certainly was at odds with Go Water. But I don't think that was revealed really until after he became present, until after he won the election. That's when he launched the war on poverty. When we were not spending so much money on war, he was diverting it into social spending. Right. Right. In California, Rockefeller's campaign, in back to that for a second, was so profoundly different in style than Goldwater. Were you out in California during the primary? I did make one big trip. And I think I had a big speech in Southern California, maybe a few. Most of my speaking for Goldwater would have been in Illinois. Right.
Right. What... Contrast the style of the two campaigns for me. Goldwater versus Rockefeller. Well, they just were different in every way. Of course, Rockefeller was... He was a pretty good campaigner. He knew how to associate with people who came to his speeches and be genuine with them. Kiss babies. Yeah. Yeah. No trouble giving me an autograph when he passed by me. That's somewhere. And he had a blank check, too. Yes. I mean, it was not... He had plenty of money. That's not the way the Goldwater campaign operated. What kind of campaign did Rockefeller run against Goldwater? I mean, just in terms of its tone, it was an overwhelmingly negative. Yeah.
I don't remember anything specific. Yeah. He was just the other one. Just the other guy. Right. But to show you how really genuine and friendly Goldwater was, I told you that I launched him before a national Republican audience at this luncheon at the convention of 1960, which was in Chicago. And it turned out to be a big success. We took the ballroom at the Palmer House and we sold out. And what were we going to do with the other people? And then I took another room, the Red Lacka room, for the hundreds of people who didn't get in the main ballroom. So this is all pre-all this technology we have now. So when Goldwater arrived, I had to ask him to go to the other room and repeat his act in the other room for the other people, which he was very nice about doing. Oh, that's great.
That was a great event. We called it the Hawaii and Hooky Lau. And I had the new governor of Hawaii, Bill Quinn, who had been a singer in college musicals in St. Louis, where he'd been a star and I was on the course line. And I got him to come and sing at the event. He was the governor of Hawaii then. And then I got Edgar Berger and Charlie McCarthy to come. And I got him all to redo their show in the other room. That's amazing. We didn't have any instant replay and television coverage at those days. No signal cast. No. The cow palace, San Francisco, what was it like? Well, it was like all the conventions. It was a lot smoky, not like that today. Crowded. And I do remember when we all marched around, they don't let us do that anymore. They're also so worried about security.
But we grabbed the Illinois standard and marched all around and that was fun. And you could tell by looking around the delegates that this was not the same crowd that had been there in 1960, right? Yes, it was a crowd. And I knew many people who went to San Francisco for the sole purpose of watching their delegate and making sure he voted for Go Water. People were really revved up about getting Go Water nominated and elected. Was it his convention from the beginning? Oh, yes. Absolutely. Students were different than they are today. How were they different back then? Well, it wasn't just a TV event. It really mattered. Yeah, it really mattered. It really mattered.
I think, well, no, I can't say that. I don't know. It's really very different at all. Do you remember the Scranton letter? I think it was called William Scranton, sort of announced a tact Go Water on the eve of the convention, the very sort of bitter attack on Go Water. That doesn't ring about. No, it doesn't. And certainly, the people who think of the establishment certainly did expect to defeat Go Water at the convention. And then after the convention, they tried to defeat him anyway. Do you remember Rockefeller speaking at the convention? Yes. And the crowd was not foreign. Sounds like you're being polite.
What do they do to him? Well, I think he said something that they found offensive. He was saying that he felt that extremists had taken over the party. Yeah. Well, he's insulting the people who are sitting there in front of him. So what do you expect? I think it was a calculated maneuver on his part to show the Go Water rights as being probably. Yeah. Yeah. It's an amazing footage of Rockefeller being booed and obviously kind of reveling in it in some odd way. Well, he was clearly the candidate of the people who think they're begging important. He had little or no support among the grassroots Republicans. Right. Right. And I think the conventions were pretty grassroots. For example, in Illinois, we would run just like a congressman.
We'd go out and get a certain number of people to sign our petition. Then we would file it. Then we would go out and ask people to vote for us. And there was no pledge or dictation of who it would be. Many of the states, including Illinois, have tightened up so that you could only get on the ballot if some candidate picks you. And so the parties have tried to tighten it up quite a lot. You're talking about running in Illinois for what? For delegate to the Republican National Convention. Right. Right. Was television beginning to change the way conventions operated and the way conventions had an impact on politics in 64? Well, it was a relative of mine who invented the teleprompter. And I remember him demonstrating it and complaining that Adley Stevenson was a head bobber. He wouldn't use it.
But I think by 64, they probably were using it. Yeah. The work news was really there and shaping the agenda in a way that they hadn't in previous conventions, I think. Just in terms of the power of the media to shape the political process. You didn't feel that at the time? Well, we didn't think the media were our friends. Well, certainly the way they treated go-water speech and Rockefeller speech and the whole convention was a media effort to defeat go-water. What did go-water say in his speech? Well, the famous line that they carried on about is a perfectly okay line that extremism
and defense of liberty is no vise. And so what's wrong with that? But anyway, they made a big deal out of it. Right. Why do you think some of his political operatives were worried about that phrase and why do you think that they wished he hadn't said it? Because the media reaction. I don't know that anybody worried about it until the media and the people who wanted to defeat go-water started hitting him on it. How did they hit it? How did they use it? Oh, they kept it around about it all the time. In what way? Well, they said it made him an extremist, that's the bad word. And what was it about go-water and about the setting and the time that made that stick to him the way it did, do you think?
Well because he said it and they had pictures of it and there's no question about he said it. Right. And it was a perfectly okay thing to say, but maybe a little inappropriate for the time considering what the so-called establishment was going to do with it. Yeah, because Grant and Rockefeller had already called him an extremist and started struggling to try and say. Well, he was answering that when he said extremism and defensive liberty is no vice. What was the answer? There are attacks on calling go-water an extremist. Right. How did go-water campaign against Johnson? Do you remember the national campaign? Was there a moment that was particularly telling for you about where things were headed? Did you think go-water was going to win?
Well, I wasn't confident, but I felt the big issue was a Soviet missile threat. And that's why I wrote my second book called the Gravediggers. The people who brought us to this situation of danger against the Soviet Union were not necessarily communists. That's why I invented the term Gravediggers. They weren't necessarily disloyal. They were just digging our grave. And I tried to get go-water to speak out more strongly on that issue. And he was right, whatever he said, was okay, but he didn't go into it with the depth and the passion that the issue called for. He also went to the White House after the convention and announced that he wasn't going to talk
about, he wasn't going to make Vietnam or the Civil Rights Act into issues in the campaign. Well, how do you feel about that decision? There's very, very go-water. Yes. Well, there's a feeling of a lot of people. If we've got guys fighting out there, we don't want to tell them we're not backing them up. Right. Even if you think the war is dumb. Right. Do you think that's what was behind it? Yeah. Right. What was going on in the South during that year politically? The strong thermon becomes a Republican in 1964. Yes. And a lot of the South, well, the South voted for go-water. And the first time many of them had voted for a Republican, like I've had some really prominent
people tell me how they were converted by a choice out of an echo. And they said they didn't know a single Republican in their whole lives. They were to the around. So it really was quite a conversion to go-water and by a choice out of an echo. What do you think was, how did race play into that? A race? I mean, this is a group, the solid South, the Democratic South, since reconstruction had been, since the Civil War had been a Democratic stronghold. And in literally one election cycle, it flips on its head. What was driving that? Well, I don't know. Maybe I'm not the one to answer that question, because I didn't have much contact with them then.
And really was not involved in those debates. Right. Right. Let me be interesting. I'll ask Robert Dalek later. Who was he? He's a very distinguished biographer of LBJ. Oh. Well, he's not the one who wrote five or six books on Linda Johnson. No, that's Robert Carroll. Yeah. Can you imagine devoting your whole life to write books about Linda Johnson? Well, he's a pretty fascinating character. I can see I'm not whether you like him or hate him. He's nothing if he's not a big personality. I'll give him that. If you remember some of the more controversial television ads that ran that year, well, the most controversial ad of all time was the mushroom where the little girl was picking the petals, and the world was blowing up in a nuclear bomb. And that was hurtful to go water. It was designed to hurt him, and I think it did. What was it? Again, what was Johnson trying to do?
He was trying to say that go water was some kind of a warmonger, where of course it was Johnson, who was getting us into war, without any real reason. We know that was the Gulf of Tonkin was a fake, but it was an extraordinarily effective piece of film. It needed was. Yeah. Yeah. There were other things going on in 1964. Oh, there were. The Beatles arrived. Muhammad Ali, or Cassius Clay, beat Sonny Liston, and rises to prominence. The Supremes are on the Enselman show. The Berkeley Free Speech Movement takes off. What was going on in that year that created so much turbulence? And how did you, as a young conservative person, feel about all of those things?
Those things you mentioned didn't cross my path. Mention them for me, because I'm not on camera. So what was going on in six, what were the cultural things out there that at least you knew were out there? The same again. The Beatles, the Supremes, the Free Speech Movement. Any of that? Well it was a year when we started hearing about the Beboot. It was a year when we started hearing about the Beatles and the Supremes and the Free Speech Movement. But really, they didn't make their way into the Republican circles that I was in. So you didn't feel in any way, because Barry Goldwater spoke quite often in the campaign about what he saw as a moral decay in America.
The idea that the culture was in decline. That wasn't something that you felt reflected in your Republican women at Illinois? Well, what you said, it is perfectly true that Go Water was indeed into the social issues. It's simply a falsification of history to say that he didn't talk about those because he did and he was worried about it. I just felt that the National Defense question should have priority in that campaign because the Soviets were building up their missile force at a tremendous rate and they were bad guys who were planning on using them. So Goldwater was really ahead of his time in a lot of ways when you think about social issues and the way he...
Yes, I think he was. Do you remember Margaret Chase Smith? Yes. She's just popped up on the radar and then she's in this year as well. What did you think of her and how did she reflect anything going on in that year? She ran up a president. Well fine, she wasn't coming out of the grassroots movement. She was coming out of the Northeastern establishment part of the party, but as far as it had been a woman, no problem. We had had women in Congress from Illinois ever since I can remember, much admired and respected. So what's the big deal? We had Marguerite Church and there was another one too that were Congressmen about that
time. Right. Another big cultural event was the best-selling book The Feminine Mystique, which had been published the year before and was all over the culture. What was that a symbol of for you? What do you think was going on? What was the reason for that book's popularity and what did it say about that moment in history? Well Betty Friedan was a woman with an unhappy marriage and she basically got her ideas from the French woman, Simone de Beauvoir, who wrote the second sex and it's kind of the American version of that book and Simone de Beauvoir was never married so she didn't know anything about marriage at all and it's a book to make the full-time homemaker unhappy
with her lot. And if you read that book, you will be unhappy. And so Betty Friedan was projecting her unhappiness out to be a societal problem. The book had an enormous sale and made a lot of women unhappy and had a big effect. And then she started an organization to carry on these ideas and the feminist movement has been anti-marriage all along, want to get all the women out of the home into the workforce and it's had a bad effect. What do you think was the reason that the book kind of did make an impact at that moment? It was obviously controversial when it came out.
Well I don't know why anybody would like the book. I looked at it again recently and if you want to feel sorry for yourself, that's a good book to read. But I think it's unfortunate in the way it affected the lives of a lot of women and made them unhappy. How did getting back to the election, how did it all come out where were you on election night? Well, of course I was very disappointed with the election. By the time the election arrived I wasn't surprised. But I think it was 27 million people who voted for Go Water and I never heard one regret it. We were all proud we supported Go Water. It was a big change in American politics.
It established the conservative movement, the modern conservative movement. We're proud to call ourselves conservatives and the fight is still out there. Go Water unfortunately did not have the desire to keep control of the party. The establishment quickly took it over and tried to banish from any party influence anybody who had been for Go Water and they did a pretty good job of that and finally we had to retake the party when Ronald Reagan came along and in 1980 the establishment again was pushing the first George Bush and we grassroots were supporting Reagan. We took the party back and that was a big success and he was the best president of the 20th century in my opinion. Now it has slipped away from the conservatives and the grassroots again and now we have
another job of trying to take back grassroots control of the Republican party. It's interesting that it was yet another westerner in the form of Ronald Reagan who became your standard bearer. First Go Water and then Reagan. Well I don't think it makes any difference to conservatives. Well I guess if you come from New York there's suspicious of that in the first place but it doesn't have to be a westerner. Right. Kind of bug port a little bit of a problem too. Now the grassroots are kind of policy driven and the establishment is they like the big spending. They just want their people to get some of the money and they are mostly internationalists or as we call them now globalists. Remember George W. Bush tried to put us in an open borders North American Union which is just an incredibly bad idea but that's the way they think.
What did the pundits say after the day after the election about Goldwater and about the conservative Walter Lippman and Scotty Restonet and people like that? Well I don't remember specifically but I'm sure they were glad and they felt justified and opposed at Goldwater. I think they basically said that the conservatism was dead that Goldwater. Probably. Yeah. The Goldwater had been a terrible candidate and this was an failed experiment. What did they look? What did what? What did they overlook? Well the 27 million people who voted for Goldwater and never regretted doing that were out there and they were turned on to politics. I was turned on to politics and we kept going. When you look back on 1964, why do you think it's important that we remember it?
I think 1964 was the birth of the modern conservative movement. Prior to 1964, there was no movement that was called, quote, conservative, close quote. We were just plain old Republicans who felt we were being cheated by the Northeastern crowd and was trying to run things. I think that conservative movement was still out there. Now as the years moved along, they had a defeatist mentality. They came to believe as the pundits were telling us that you could never elect a real conservative. That's why we bought into Richard Nixon.
We thought he was the best we could get and of course that was a mistake. But then we realized that was a mistake and we plowed ahead to look for a real conservative and that's when we found Ronald Reagan. Is there, can you look at the world that we live in today, the kind of way in which our culture is now divided, the red state and the blue state world? Did that begin in 1964? What's the tough question? The country is very polarized today. In 1964, a lot of people were polarized but it kind of didn't involve everybody. It only involved the people who were really interested in watching politics.
We now have, as the people of Rush Limbaugh calls, the low-info people and they end up being polarized but it's not so much an ideological thing with them. Did you feel, could you look back and think that 1964 was a year where you have to make dark choices? You wrote a book called A Choice, Not an Echo, Clifton White created a film which Barry Goldwater refused to have shown called Choice. It just feels like there were so many forks in the road. Were you for Vietnam or against it? Were you part of a, did you believe in the feminine mystique or did you reject it?
Did you believe in Goldwater or Johnson? These are fundamental choices, it seems to me, did you feel that? We certainly felt it was a fundamental choice between Goldwater and Rockefeller, that's clear. I'm not sure that the others who were clear choices like that. When you look back at the 1964 that you lived through, with riots and Harlem, the freedom of summer, the murders of the three civil rights workers, the election, what were the lessons that you thought 1964 offered for this country?
There was a certain defeatism in the conservative movement and conservatives, after that, really didn't believe in their heart that they could elect a real conservative like Barry Goldwater. That's why they began to accept people who were second best or not wholly conservative, but at least they didn't want people who were chosen by the Rockefeller crowd. That led us into a lot of dead-end roads. Conservatives were even defeated about policy fights. For example, when I took on the fight against the Equal Rights Amendment, absolutely nobody thought I could win.
The whole world thought it was – ERA was a done deal in the Constitution, and nobody thought I could win. One of the big effects of that 10-year battle is that I proved that conservatives can win. This was a big revelation to them. It had that good effect, as well as other good effects. I think you have to believe you're going to win, and certainly when we nominated Goldwater, we did believe, at least at the beginning, the campaign deteriorated toward the end, but then that shining star appeared at the end for our Reagan and gave us some hope. Was there a consensus that had been at least – if not ruling the country, at least holding the country together up until 1964 – that Barry Goldwater and other forces helped begin
to break apart? Because I think you could argue that if there was a consensus, it was a consensus ruled by the elites. The Kingmakers, as you would have spoken. Well I don't really know what you're hitting at, but I think the mainstay of the American experience was the respect for the traditional family, and that is what is the big change that has happened in the last few years. Work was built on, and we had good jobs, where a blue collar guy could make enough money that he could support a full-time homemaker by a house, by a car, and become part of the middle class, and that's what's been taken away from us by the elites who want to ship
our jobs to low-wage countries. I think we're done. This has been fantastic. Is there anything else that you feel like we haven't touched on? You didn't want me to show up to the book? I do want you to show the book. That's a good point. Can you hand me both of us? Tell me about the moment you wanted a time. Tell me about the moment when that book really popped into your head. Well I had been giving speeches for the Republican Party all over Illinois. In fact, they gave me some award for traveling 100,000 miles, mostly in non-air-conditioned cars, to speak in non-air-conditioned halls, in behalf of the Republican Party. I had one scheduled just a couple of weeks after the Kennedy assassination. It just didn't seem good taste to give my Republican speech on that occasion.
That's when I developed the whole first layout of the little gang of people who had been putting their candidates in control of the Republican Party. It developed through a couple more speeches, and then by April it was a book, a choice not an echo, and I plunged with putting up my money for 25,000 copies, thinking that would take care of all the delegates to the Republican Convention, and ended up selling three million copies. Wow. Can you just get, well, she's holding it, can you just get a cutaway out of it? I don't think we see, well, we'll see in upgrades, but they'll be out of focus, so maybe tighter. That's about it taking up this moment, yeah, that's fine. Great. Okay.
Back to you. Yeah, that's exactly how it happened. And what was this book? And then Admiral Chester Ward, who's a great scholar, a nuclear strategist, lived in Hawaii, and he called up one day, and he said, well, your book, a choice not an echo, is everywhere, how about doing one with me? So this is about the Soviet missile threat, which I felt was the biggest issue, and it remained, if my concern, the biggest issue until Reagan ended the evil empire without firing a shot, as Margaret Thatcher said. Great. I guess shot of that, did you want her to hold him up? Okay. Good. Let's get, we need what's called room tone, we need 30 seconds of silence. This is going to be silence for 30 seconds for room tone, ready, for Phyllis Schlafly right now, starting now.
And room tone.
American Experience
Raw Footage
Interview with Phyllis Schlafly, Conservative Leader
Contributing Organization
WGBH (Boston, Massachusetts)
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It was the year of the Beatles and the Civil Rights Act; of the Gulf of Tonkin and Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign; the year that cities across the country erupted in violence and Americans tried to make sense of the Kennedy assassination. Based on The Last Innocent Year: America in 1964 by award-winning journalist Jon Margolis, this film follows some of the most prominent figures of the time -- Lyndon B. Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Barry Goldwater, Betty Friedan -- and brings out from the shadows the actions of ordinary Americans whose frustrations, ambitions and anxieties began to turn the country onto a new and different course.
Social Issues
Politics and Government
American history, African Americans, civil rights, politics, Vietnam War, 1960s, counterculture
(c) 2014-2017 WGBH Educational Foundation
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: WGBH Educational Foundation
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Duration: 1:04:49
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Chicago: “American Experience; 1964; Interview with Phyllis Schlafly, Conservative Leader,” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed November 28, 2023,
MLA: “American Experience; 1964; Interview with Phyllis Schlafly, Conservative Leader.” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. November 28, 2023. <>.
APA: American Experience; 1964; Interview with Phyllis Schlafly, Conservative Leader. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from