The Presidency: 1968; The Candidates: Style and Character
If this isn't done other third party phenomenon like a third party let's say what Mr Henry Wallace the third party of Strom Thurmond third party Mr. George Wallace is a major phenomenon of our in some ways may I say far the most interesting phenomenon Boston University radio presents the presidency 1968 a series of four programs taken from lectures by the noted political scientist Max Lerner. Dr. Lerner is a professor of American civilization and world politics at Brandeis University and is the author of several books including America as a civilization the unfinished country an anthology of his best newspaper columns and the age of overkill is syndicated newspaper column is published nationwide and abroad the lecture series is made possible by a grant from the SNH Foundation sponsored by the Sperry and Hutchinson company. In this first program Dr. Lerner discusses
the topic the candidate's style and character. Now here is Dr. Max Lerner on the presidency 1968. I was saying that I was coming up here just a moment ago. They're in a sense side trying still to claim my original innocence. If you define an innocent as one who still believes in possibility I would cling to my innocence I still believe in possibility even in the kind of world we have now. People say to me very often Miss Lerner as you look toward the future are you an optimist or a pessimist. I say what do you think this is Wall Street. You think this is a question of whether I'm bullish or bearish about the gyrations of stocks on the stock market I'm neither an
optimist or a pessimist on a possible list. I believe we are going to be able to survive this election campaign perhaps even survive. A president who's chosen. I think we're going to I think the republic will survive. I think that the experience through which we're going is a shaking plowing up experience not a pleasure. And before I'm through with these talks of mine and our discussions together I think I made it very clear why I think it's a plowing up experience which goes down to the very depths of the very roots of our being as a nation as individuals and turns up often with some lovely things.
But I believe that through this whole process a process of digging down deep and plowing up and even coming up with some lovely things. I think this is the way in which a nation grow is just a way of an individual growth by the life experiences that he has the courage and the strength to face encounter and to transcend that also is how a nation grows. We've had this kind of experience of course for a long time sometimes it's more unpleasant than other times. It's never quite the same as at any previous time and don't let anyone tell you that the 1968 campaign is like some other campaign it isn't. It may have some similarities but each change because of the revolutionary changes that have been happening in our society are happening so fast
that it's a different people a different society which encounters experience. Here we are. Any talk coming toward the end of a kind of an annus mirabilis year of wonder and portent. Think back a year ago. Do you remember when it looked still as if it was LBJ against Romney. Most of those seem archaic know as candidates and so many things happened. Romney was pushed out because he somehow incalculably surprisingly made his way in with the New Hampshire victory that forced LBJ out.
It brought Robert Kennedy in brought Rockefeller wrote Reagan in LBJ exit brought Hubert Humphrey in and the succession of deaths particularly those with traumatic events. Yes Dr. King. Yes of Robert Kennedy the murder of each year. Sasa nation is here. Riots. Your convention is ending up with a Chicago convention Surely there has never been anything in American political history quite like that as a political convention and the things that happened all around it.
So I say the honest problem. It's the year of wonder. And it's a year in which anyone who tried to predict at any point during that year was bound to be proved wrong because again it was a year of possibility because of the very fluid nature of the events that year. Things were never totally impossible they were always possible and where we are now of course seems to many of us and I include myself in that a good deal of an anti-climax after a year of wonders importance with the field presumably narrowed to man each of them I suppose the choice of his party at least of the stalwarts in that party the professionals in the party. Neither of them having shown at least until now haven't shown much strength outside of his
party. A number of people are satisfied with either choice. If you look at the whole country the number of people satisfied with either choice is not a very large number. The number dissatisfied with one or the other is very large and the number dissatisfied with both is very considerable. And this too we haven't quite had at least not recently in the same way so that to many it is an invitation to apathy a plague on both your houses. A plague on both your party's A plague on both your candidates. My own feeling is that if either of the other two Republicans who made the final showing at Miami had been nominated he would be running strongly today.
I think Mr. Rockefeller more strongly than Mr Nixon because he had so much strength outside of the party among Democrats and independents. I'm going to say something that may surprise you coming from me I think Mr. Reagan would be running strongly if he had been the nominee and he would be running strongly not because of strength among Democrats and independents he'd be running strongly because he'd be running in the same direction and Mr. Wallace basically. In fact it's quite conceivable that a Reagan candidacy would have meant not much of a Wallace candidacy because they they feed on the same man the man of the law and order issue. Many of the fears that have been generated in the country because of the domestic violence. Yes. So I would say that either of the three Republican candidates was bound to make a
strong race in this year of great discontent with the war and great discontent with the right. Great discontent with demonstrations and great discontent with what's happening on the campuses. Great discontent with LBJ and the Democratic administration. Any of those three Republican candidates I think would have made a very good run of it and probably would be winning as Mr Nixon is winning no. I'll go father. I didn't get either of the other two Democrats who figured so prominently in the primaries before the convention. The convention either of them would probably if he were the nominee be doing better than Mr rejoined. I think if Mr. McCarthy had been the candidate while I did still think he would be
running second I think that would probably be less distance between the candidates than there is now and I have no doubt in my mind that if Robert Kennedy had lived if he had not been cut down. If he had lived I think he would have had an extremely good chance of being the nominee and if he were the nominee today what an exciting race it would be. I say this not in the sense of lamenting what no longer is possible. I say it simply for historical perspective. You know one of the thing when I said a while ago I'm a possible list. One of the things that I find when I write history or read history or teach history I see. History not only is the record of what happened but also as the record of what didn't happen. What didn't happen but what might have happened if things had broken
differently if a different road had been take. Can other people remember Robert Frost poem Two roads diverged in a wood. Two roads diverged in a wood and I took the one less traveled by And that has made all the right. And I think the first lesson in politics if I may suggest to the very first lesson in politics is that politics has no inevitability about it. Sure there are object your forces moving in a certain direction but the question of how fast they move and how they are could be channeled that depends on individual leaders and on the relation between the leader in the people the Marche and the league. And those relations can be very different relations I say again. Not only what happened but what didn't happen but what might have happened if other decisions had been taken if there'd been
other leadership it had been a different kind of relationship between the Diem us and the people. What might have happened. Why is it important to not just study what might have happened. The didn't because the future also has a number of alternatives and we need always to feel and feel very strongly that there is a choice on our part. The choice of roads and if some road doesn't seem to exist it's part of our problem to build it to make it exist so that we can choose it. Now I've spoken of two parties and two candidates obviously. One thing about this campaign which makes it different from any that I recall is that it's a three man affair not a tomb. And this is not just a case of most of us third party which is a kind of appendage to the election campaign. This isn't a nother third party phenomenon
like the third party let's say what Mr. Henry Wallace of the third party of Strom Thurmond. The third party Mr. George Wallace is a major phenomenon of our time. In some ways may I say far the most interesting phenomenon of all. The most unexpected incalculable. You know already has a strength what some 20 percent according to straw polls. Its rate of growth seems to be continuous. It may end up before and by the time of the election which is more than 20 percent. And as you know and have read and have heard it's quite conceivable that it may get the kind of strength which will mean that there will not be any candidate with a majority of the Electoral College.
So then we will have election thrown into the House of Representatives as happened with John Quincy Adams. Jackson and so on Lot hundred and forty or so years ago. The House of Representatives Representatives of the new house. Each group voting by state would then pick the presidential candidate and obviously the difficulty with that. That too means unknown possibilities and somewhat terrifying ones because as soon as you begin to get a haze of doubt cast over a choice it's no longer the majority choice of the people if it becomes a choice in a smaller body like the house. Immediately you get the question that we got way back in the 1820s has there been a corrupt bargain. Has there been a sell out.
Has there been a betrayal in the charges of betrayal will linger a long time as they lingered a long time then. And I believe that is being eroded on the part of many young people today who believe in the basic electoral process and the basic party structure of the country. That belief I think might be eroded even more so when I give you in the first two lectures you say and I want to tripartite contests how to do it. When I speak of the candidates and their character and their personality structure a direction in which they seem to be leaning and moving I'm talking of all three. And that makes it a bit more depressing because the addition of Mr. Wallace if I may be very candid is one of the most depressing things that has happened
in the American experience depressing and this sense that it is a response to social anger primarily and social fears. Now don't let's be namby pamby about it however. All moralistic obviously angers and fears have their role in every campaign. You will notice that I have postponed until my second talking and analysis what we call the issues of the campaign and of starting with the candidates and their character. This gives my own feeling of priority about that too. I do not think this election is going to be settled on issues. I think it's going to be settled on candidates and their character. Because you see the notion that a campaign to settle down issues means
that we are rational beings. I hold with Jonathan Swift who said man is not homoerotic you know knowledge he's not rational man he is only right he only has cut box he's only capable of reason. There is somewhere a glimmer of potential for a reason in some way. You know where. Very much like an iceberg. The human personality is the part that we are conscious about. Communicate with and so on is the one tenth the book The Night chance underneath which is hidden is the one chance which is not rational it is irrational unknown by the way they're not rational and irrational are somewhat different. The rational for example I call love non-rational I call sad isn't irrational. That is the really really destructive drives I call your
rational. But those drives cannot be reduced to rational calculation like love. Take the primary one that is not rational. And human beings are not rational and irrational along with their rationality we are at Jonathan's face which said We are only capable of reason which gives us some hope ultimately for organizing a better society and a better world. You know what has happened is not so much that we have for the first time an election campaign which deals with non-rationals and irrational but we have for the first time and a candidate who is getting very considerable portion of the book. The two top candidates for each of them under 40 percent. Mr Wallace is somewhere around 20 and will probably move beyond it. Candidate who is getting a very considerable portion of the vote has no
notion of foreign policy and only no experience in it but no notion very little knowledge of history very little understanding of the internal dynamics of the society. But he does express very effectively the fears and social angers people and his strength lies and we better recognize. Mr Nixon particularly is no recognizing he had been playing a rather cool campaign up to now holding a lead a pretty considerable lead and feeling that the best thing to do is not to rock the boat when you have that kind of lead. But now he knows that he has to go out and divert the vote to make go to WALLACE Because. And Mr. Louis Harris are perhaps one of our best pollsters says points
out for every vote that Wallace takes from Humphrey he takes two for the next. That means that the growth of Wallace's strength means necessarily the weakening of the advantage that Nixon hands over Humphrey. And if the growth in Wallace's Springs is large enough and if it comes in the big industrial states it's quite conceivable that it may throw those states into something which is something that Mr. Nixon is deeply concerned about that is why he made so sharp a statement about seeing to it personally personally. How else would one see to it I don't know what change would pressure lead that there would be protection for every individual. You see that's the dangerous one. There is an irrational sweet tendency like Dish moving in the country. Once dish is moving and
once it is clear that the motors are flowing in that direction the great danger range that the other candidates will move in the same direction. Let infection the whole campaign and there's no question that the campaign is going to be infected in that way to an extent it already has. I have spoken of the non-rational let me say that it's rather. Interesting to look at these candidates in image terms. Think I've written this somewhere but if you read it I hope you don't mind my repeating it. As you can see it's often very instructive to ask not so much. Where does a candidate's stand on issues. But what is the image that he presents to the country and what kind of an image does he want to present to the country.
For example take Mr. Nixon Mr. Nixon has worked very hard to rebuild and reshape his image because the last image he had he got beaten. Not only did he get beaten in 1960 in the very close race with Mr. Kennedy. But he got beaten very badly in 1062 race in California which was a low point for Mr. Nixon's political fortunes that you remember was the time of the tirade against the press after he had lost the governorship. That's the old Mr. Nixon he has worked very hard in May I say very successfully to reshape the image not the image of what the hatchet man who was sent out 50 to 1 and 56 both times related to the sharp chopping that had to be done they felt.
I can recall Mr. Nixon's attack on at least Stevenson repeatedly and being soft on communism. When Mr. Agnew by the way tried that on Mr. Humphrey the other day there was general shock because we've moved beyond that. At least we have with the two major parties behind them. Beyond that I'm not sure we have with the other candidates. But this was the early image of Mr. Nixon. He has just changed that very much. It's been an amazing lesson in the proposition that if you work hard enough and if you're intelligent enough and skillful enough you can remake your public image. Mr. Nixon's image knowing is that of the cool and calm statesman like person working for unity within his party working for unity
in the nation. Along with that image of course is the comeback image man who was down almost out who swore in 1962 that he was through with politics and he made his comeback. Americans by the way I like to be identified with someone who has made a comeback. Question of how he did it is interesting the way he he puts it is that he did it in terms of withdrawal and return. It's going to be in concept if you read it on your 20s best what 15 volume study of history you will find several volumes in that sequence. The concept of withdrawal and return the leader who finds himself. At all odds with his political situation and withdraws
but he withdraws in order to meditate in order to reflect and he comes back refreshed and strengthened by the meditation. And the image that Mr. Nixon would have us believe in is that of withdrawal and return within the six years that have intervened since the California episode there has been this medication and reflectiveness. Perhaps so but it's been also a very busy six years particularly the last four years in 164 in 66 and 68 and in those other years 64 66 he traveled throughout the country speaking for a candidate supporting Mr. Goldwater loyally staunchly in 64 speaking for other candidates getting a lot of what do bills political bills which in 68 he was able to collect on showing himself to be loyal party work. But
also what he has managed to do has been with great skill to move into a vacuum that was left by the other candidates. Here again one should ask what might have happened if Mr. Romney had not succumb to that curious foot in mouth disease that he did succumb to. We should never quite know what might have happened had Mr. Rockefeller I had not suddenly gotten confused exactly at the point when he should have that that you been valiant and had courage and decisiveness and moved into the campaign. I think if any would have carried the thing what would have happened if Rockefeller had not done that. The two major blunders by the two major opponents were there and Mr Nixon moved and moved in fast. And he has shown enormous skill in maintaining that lead. I will yield to no one in my admiration of his tactical political
skill and his capacity to make you believe he is a new person. But that is not the whole problem is it with a candidate. The trouble with Nixon lies not so much in the question of whether he used the old Nixon or the new Nixon. But to me if I may be very candid and you expect me to. To me it lives in the fact that he has never displayed the qualities that prepare him for the presidential tasks and burdens in a deeply split American society. He may have these qualities. Certainly he has them more than his running mate. May I say it is quite possible that I should be praying for Mr. Nixon's health and life. After November praying very hard praying very hard indeed it may well be that he
has these qualities but we cannot help asking questions. How will he end the war that he speaks of ending with an honorable peace. By the way talk about sleight of hand. This is really remarkable from the start Mr. Nixon who has been a hawk ever since the Indochinese war and the Eisenhower administration it is he who proposed the sending of American intervention troops into the Indochinese war.
- The Presidency: 1968
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- WBUR (Radio station : Boston, Mass.)
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- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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- Lectures on the 1968 U.S. Presidential campaign by political scientist Max Lerner of Brandeis U. Presented in late 1968 at Garland Junior College in Boston. This prog.: The Candidates: Style and Character
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Producing Organization: WBUR (Radio station : Boston, Mass.)
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University of Maryland
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- Chicago: “The Presidency: 1968; The Candidates: Style and Character,” 1968-10-11, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 29, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-js9h895k.
- MLA: “The Presidency: 1968; The Candidates: Style and Character.” 1968-10-11. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. May 29, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-js9h895k>.
- APA: The Presidency: 1968; The Candidates: Style and Character. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-js9h895k