The Presidency: 1968; Behind the Election Results
This seems to me to be on the whole a healthy situation to have candidates that represent real differences. But not of such a sort that when one of them gets defeated in the other you get selected. The country remains deeply split in a consensus situation. The country does not remain deeply split. 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 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. His syndicated newspaper column is published nationwide and abroad. The Presidency 1968 was originally presented at Garland junior college Boston and was made possible by a grant from the Sperry and Hutchinson
foundation. In this third program Dr. Lerner discusses the topic behind the election results. Now here is Dr. Max Lerner on the presidency 1968. I might say that I did have a pretty good idea what my task would be. I had a pretty good notion that it would be to try to explain how Mr Nixon won the presidency and why and how and why Mr Humphrey lost. A difference the only real difference from my original formulation was that the results came out much more closely than I had anticipated. Much more closely and that some of the reasons that I might have used a priori don't fit the actual concrete factual material. And I want to deal with that
I think first you have to start with Chicago. Mr. Humphrey was given a tragically bad start with that bloody confrontation on the streets of Chicago. It's interesting by the way that his campaign really began and ended in Chicago. He started it after that episode on the Chicago streets and at the end the votes that were being counted the longest the greatest anxiety were the votes of Chicago and Illinois. Chicago seemed to stand at both ends of that campaign of Mr. Humphrey as a rather tragic symbol. In my end is my beginning. And that was very much true of Mr. Humphrey. He went off to an extremely bad start. No one quite knows what the campaign his campaign would have been like.
If Chicago had had the same kind of results that Miami had if there had been the same absence of confrontation between the youngsters and the police. At Chicago that there wasn't Miami. My own feeling is that he would have got it started rolling earlier and that. He would have come in either very much closer or perhaps even as a victor. Because the last week the last week of that campaign was a week in which Mr Humphrey was making enormous gains. I think that it was important also that. Mr Humphrey was not able to get any of the Southern states all needed a deep South nor the border states unless you count Maryland a border state. Mr. Nixon did pull the border states it's not
at all clear I think it will be discussed for a long time as to whether it was Mr. Agnew being on the ticket with him that enabled the ticket to pull these southern border states or whether Mr. Nixon would have done it on his own whether the having to take Mr. Agnew on as the price of getting those border states was a necessary price to pay. I think that Mr. Wallace's vote was over calculated at the beginning of the campaign. He turned out to have been not nearly as strong as he had expected and that as others had expected. And to the extent that those votes did not go to Mr. Wallace the chances are that the majority of those votes went to Mr. Nixon. Even given these these considerations Mr. Humphries I say came very very close. If the bombing pause had come what two or three days earlier Mr. Nixon's own
camp now believes believed at the time that if it had come to his read days earlier the results would have been very very different. And in that sense there was a kind of a race between the negotiators for a bombing pause hold triangular negotiators Washington Hanoi Saigon a race between those negotiators and the election in that race. Saigon obviously was not over anxious. To get the bombing post to come early. Hanoi didn't do it very fast either but Hanoi I think felt rather differently about the two candidates and the way the Saigon felt. I think it's clear that the officials at Saigon did not want to come for a victory that they very much wanted a Nixon victory and were not anxious to give their even their qualified approval to the package that was offered
for a bombing pause or not at all anxious if they'd been more anxious it's quite possible that the pause could have come earlier. One thing we're very clear about is that the timing of that pause was not Lyndon Johnson's timing. Not Lyndon Johnson's timing he could not have pulled it out of a hat. I'm sure he tried to hurry it as rapidly as he could and I'm also certain that when he got into an approximation of an agreement from Saigon he went ahead even though that agreement may not have been 100 percent it didn't have all the i's dotted and the T's crossed. He did go ahead but he could not have pulled it out of the hat. It was not his to choose when the timing of the bombing pause was to come. It was up to Hanoi primarily and to some extent it was up to Saigon Hanoi wanted I think to come. Before the election not too long for some reason not too long before the election I think they were holding out for the best
possible terms. But there's very very little question that it was that bombing pause on which ultimately. The sin margin of the election turned one way or another and there was a moment during which Mr. Nixon evidently has confessed that he had some real anxiety as to how it was going to come out. I think of Mr. Humphrey had had been more positive in the attraction that he exerted on voters. The result would have been different. For that matter if Mr. Nixon had been more positive in his attraction he would have won by a very much larger margin than he did. The fact is that neither candidate was a loved candidate. I think I've said of all three candidates that they were relatively unloved men though as in none none of the three of them were charismatic in the sense of of evoking any kind of very deep affection not to speak of love.
I think. The result might have been. Much a much larger margin also for Mr. Nixon if he'd had a different vice president running with him. I mean one of the reasons why Mr. Humphrey toward the end picked up the steam that he picked up. Was the recall that set in against Mr. Agnew. As a vice presidential running mate now here too. This is nothing that can be proved. And there are two schools on this. One is the school that it says that Mr. Agnew actually won the election for Mr. Nixon. Because A. 70 odd electoral votes that he that the ticket drew in the southern border states where the difference between a victory and having it go into the House of Representatives. But there's another school of thought and that is that it was not
necessarily the southern border states that counted that Mr. Nixon might very easily have gotten those southern border states and lost some of the very big states particularly California and Illinois and Missouri the ones that were so doubtful at the end. And it was in these states that Mr. Agnew was not an advantage but a drag. My own feeling while I recognize the some of the strengths in the first position my own feeling goes on the whole toward the second position. In every presidential election there are things you're sorry for things you're rather glad about. There are two things that I am happiest about in this election perhaps three. One is the. The real psychological and moral defeat that Mr. Wallace suffered. It was a psychological and moral defeat despite 13 and a half percent
of the popular vote. There had been a point when he had something like 20 percent and it looked as if he were rolling on even higher you'll recall that I talked about that. It started to roll back with his choice of General M-A as a vice presidential running mate which threw some consternation into the hearts of many because of general amazing views about the Vietnam War and about nuclear weapons. And yet that wasn't the whole story. Why Mr Wallace failed. For one thing I think he had maybe made it all too clear what his basic strategy was and the basic strategy of course was to throw the election into the House of Representatives by denying to either of the major candidates a majority of the Electoral College vote. And having thrown it into the House of Representatives then to be the arbiter
of the presidential destinies of the nation. And you know some made it fairly clear he did not conceal this that in being the operator of these destinies his his calculated policy would be to try to strike some kind of a deal with the Nixon camp even before the vote was opened on January even before that time. I think a number of people who might otherwise have voted for him recoiled from this basic strategy from the openness of it from the cynicism of it and from the possible chaos that it might bring with it Mr. Wallace. Constantly as a candidate talked against chaos as if chaos were his chosen opponent. And yet the same candidate who talked against chaos who said in effect chaos belongs to the other side I'm against it.
The same candidate was was in effect inviting a degree of chaos in this home and the inevitable you negative tension and friction and division and cleavage that would result both from having it thrown into the elections thrown into the Electoral College and that the discussion that would follow the kind of deal that I've just talked about. So that's one thing I'm happy about. Along with that. There's another aspect of Mr. Wallace's failure to get a real vote. And that is that evidently a number of people who thought of themselves as voting in a backlash way. When the final decision came felt that that was not as crucial as other matters. Considering the kind of fears we had about our country and about the psychology of
a large number of the voters particularly of those whom we call the what the age an aged white collar workers blue collar workers lower middle class. Considering the feeling we had about them I think their failure to go along with him is a pretty good sign of health. No one can blame people after they have had some kind of contact with street violence. With the instability that has come from all riots and demonstrations no one can blame them for feeling deeply about this and no one can blame them I suppose for having it enter their heads that the way to resolve this problem is by crackdown. But the really interesting thing is that having thought of that as a many many of them must have thought of them who thought of it that didn't find the vote for Wallace. Having thought of that they did not allow this to be decisive. Which brings me to the second aspect of the vote that I regard as that I'm pretty
happy about and that is that it was a consensus vote. A consensus vote in the sense that if you put the voters for Mr. Nixon and the voters for Mr. Humphrey together whatever their differences whatever the differences between the two men and between the two groups of voters what they had in common is more important than their differences. Consensus in that sense and we are it has been a consensus nation. We have been in the point I'm making is that we still are. Now there are a number a number of my own colleagues A. Number of my students who disagree with me on this they say that America has been a consensus nation but that this is not a desirable aspect of American political life. The consensus means to much of Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee and that actually the choice between Mr Nixon and Mr Humphrey was a choice between Tweedle Dum and
Tweedle Dee. It was in the sense in which I discussed it a while ago. That is neither of them was a charismatic leader or leader neither of them evoked strong attraction or for that matter every strong Republican some Republican. Certainly not a strong attraction. Neither of them was love. And it's true also in the sense that. There was more that held them together than that separated them not only on Vietnam but on basic policies including basic racial attitudes. But having said this I don't think it follows that there were no crucial important differences between them which would be the Corella du of a Tweedle Dum tweedle dee situation. I tried to say in my second talk particularly in this series that there was a very strong difference in the tradition of the two parties a very strong difference in the experience of the two men and a very strong difference in their orientation and stance
particularly on the crucial problems of the poor urban negro and the other poverty groups and of the young and on social legislation and on what federal aid and expenditures for crucial programs and foreign aid and for that matter on foreign policy including negotiations at Paris I think there were very real differences. And this seems to me to be on the whole a healthy situation to have candidates that represent real differences but not of such a sort that when one of them gets defeated in the other you get selected the country remains deeply split. In a consensus situation the country does not remain deeply split. This leads me to the third aspect of what I like and that is that we have not entered yet the period of ideological politics which is related to the
second that I just mentioned and you will recall again that in my second talk I've spent some considerable time talking of the danger of ideological politics. If we needed any confirmatory evidence of that I need only point to a situation in my own city in New York where we had not a political election but a strike a teacher strike in the public schools and a supervisor strike but where the result was pretty much the kind of result you have when you have two ideological parties confronting each other each of them with sharp ideological hate send suspicions. That happened that developed in New York not only did it develop between the teachers union on the one hand and the Central Board of the ocean Hill School on the other but it developed between the two groups of teachers to develop between the black
trade unions and the rest of the trade union movement. And it developed in racial and religious terms between a number of rather militant negroes and a number of very sensitive and self-conscious Jews. Talk about the price of ideological splits. You don't have to be. You don't have to go to the kind of historical parallels that I've gone to before when I spoke of the bloody history of Europe on ideological politics and again may I say I'm happy that there was no ideological politics here. There were a number of paradoxes interesting paradoxes in the election results as we study them. What it's interesting for example that in the cities the big cities the vote was very heavily for Mr. Humphrey. Despite the fact that you would have expected a strong backlash vote in the big cities because it was in the big cities
where people had direct personal experience with violence on the streets. I suppose what this means is that it doesn't have to be direct and immediate personal experience that induces a crackdown mood that very often the crack down mood comes from watching it on television and hearing somebody talk about it not from the direct personal experience. And actually the direct personal experience may give you not only the people you dislike in the other racial or religious group and may give you the people you'd like to trust. It's interesting that the greatest amount of support for the crackdown policy came in the south which didn't have on the whole the bigger been riots of the northern cities have and which on the whole doesn't have the same urban concentration that the northern cities have came in the south when it came in the small town areas of the Middle West. It's a paradox which I think that
social scientists social psychologists need to cut out for themselves as a problem for study an explanation because we need to know about these things in the future. There's another rather interesting paradox we had thought that the middle class vote would be almost entirely for Mr. Nixon that isn't the way it turned out. He got the affluent vote yes very decidedly. He did not get the middle class vote. It was split in some states it went toward him and other states went toward Mr. Humphrey. Here Again. Speaking now as a as someone that has dealt with the social sciences for a number of years as a cabbie at that I want to throw out it toward my fellow social scientists. We have assumed for a number of years in the United States we have sume that the big thing about the middle class was its status panic as we have put it this terrible sense of insecurity in a sensitive way in which it reacts to threats toward its status its standing in the community.
And I suppose this is one of the aspects of middle class. Certainly this was true of the middle class in Weimar Germany and a deep status insecurity of the middle class made them very vulnerable to the inflation and made them very vulnerable to the fears of socialism communism and so on. Put them into a panic made them vote for extremist programs and measures and ideologies. But there is another aspect of it in me to the American middle class that we need to think about and that is that what the aspect of the whole Puritan tradition. The very thing that gives this small town middle class some of its some of its its characteristics of narrowness in terms of moral traditions gives them also a feeling of commitment toward those less fortunate than themselves less privileged than themselves. And so I suggest a double aspect of the American middle class that we need to think about in the future not just
when we're thinking about their behavior as voters but when we're thinking about their behavior in general. They are the aspect of status insecurity on the one hand and on the other hand the aspect or some kind of moral decency and moral commitment. And I suspect that if we ever build there a real structure of national commitment in America to what I've talked about earlier toward trying to get more equal access to equal life chances for all Americans that it will have to be very largely the middle class that carries this out. Without them it cannot be done. One final observation on the election results. You'll recall that I spent some time in one of my earlier talks I've forgotten which one I spent some time talking about the great coalition which Franklin Roosevelt had built up in the 1932 election in which he had used in
36 and 40 and 44 and which Mr. Truman did use in 48 which Mr. Stevenson have tried to use in 52 and 56 and which Mr. Kennedy had used with great effect in 16 Mr. Johnson and 64 the great coalition that is say the coalition of the what the Southern states and the Northern big cities the Labor vote of the Negro vote of the Jewish vote of the farm vote. So on the great coalition this doesn't mean by the way that each of these groups ever voted as a whole doesn't mean that at all. It means that it had certain a certain sense of its group interest. Each of these groups and the architects the political architects of this coalition notably Mr. Roosevelt but after him the others as well showed great skill in welding these group interests together. And giving them a feeling of common identity cummin interests come in
direction. And you will recall that I said that one of the notable things about the present situation was that the great coalition has come up. Well I have to take a part of that back. And most of us have to take part of that back because most of us said it most of us said it the fact is that with some exceptions the coalition stood up for Mr. Trump. He couldn't have gotten the kind of vote that he got without that coalition. The South did not stand up the South seceded from the coalition. That's the only group that succeeded completely the farmers next to the south the farmers were rather unsympathetic to Mr. Humphrey which is curious considering his his whole farm in the small town background his middle west but was Middle West background. But the rest of them stayed. The big northern cities stayed the Negro vote stayed the other ethnic votes stayed the Jewish vote as an ethnic
vote stage the want the young intellectual vote to the extent that they voted I think largely they stayed this thing held together. Mr Nixon is a minority president. He is a minority president very largely because well because Mr Humphrey gets so well in the closing phase of the campaign and because of the bombing pause and what it did but also because the coalition held together reasonably well as a minority president and without a Senate Kandahar's to support him he's going to have real headaches. The question arises. A question that has been put to me by a number of my friends and my students. What they said to me two things one what do you think about Mr. Nixon you think it's going to be a disaster from your viewpoint or not but secondly are you going to support him. Do you think we should support him. My answer to that is quite clear.
I do not believe as I said before that once the election is over I do not believe that the man who is elected should get only the support of the party that ran him and of those who voted for him. I think he should get national support because this is not as I say ideological party politics. I would certainly not want to put any obstacle in Mr. Nixon's past deliberately. I would not want to put any obstacles there. I would want to help him wherever possible particularly because so much is at stake. In his being able to run the country. The one thing I would add is that I will give him no uncritical acceptance on any score at all. I hope I am open minded and I hope that nothing that I've said in my past talks. Would indicate that I'm not I hope I'm open minded. But I want to be shown I want to see what Mr. Nixon does and in his
appointments to the cabinet his other appointments and he has what a couple thousand perhaps to make in his other appointments as well in in his initial policy. These are all going to count very much. Now the problem obviously is the problem with which I started in my first book problem of can he run the country. Cause there's another problem beyond that which I mention Can any man at this point when the country can any leadership really run the country. But that is the question for Mr. Nixon and I think he needs to be judged in terms of what he shows about his capacity to run the country and all the crucial aspects where it's hard to run the country now or. You might say if you know there's always a school of history the sort of if school of history if if certain things that happened had not happened if they had happened differently. If Mr. Humphrey had
had been elected I've already indicated what I think might have been the difference if Mr. McCarthy had been the presidential candidate instead of Mr. Humphrey. What kind of a regime if he had one too. If he had one which is another big hurdle what kind of regime would we have. Mr. Schlesinger in this article that I referred to pointed out to Mr. Nixon doesn't tend to be an activist candidate. I mean President I mean this is definitely one of the pluses things about him. It is what differentiates him from his mentor quite Eisenhower who was not an activist president who was on the whole no less a fair President and Empire president.
- The Presidency: 1968
- Behind the Election Results
- Producing Organization
- WBUR (Radio station : Boston, Mass.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Producer: Boston University
Producing Organization: WBUR (Radio station : Boston, Mass.)
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-Sp.3-3 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “The Presidency: 1968; Behind the Election Results,” 1968-12-12, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed October 4, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-xp6v2s75.
- MLA: “The Presidency: 1968; Behind the Election Results.” 1968-12-12. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. October 4, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-xp6v2s75>.
- APA: The Presidency: 1968; Behind the Election Results. 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-xp6v2s75