Summary: Amidst the recollections about the trials and accomplishments of Martin Luther King Jr., let’s remember that at the peak of his success another man’s actions would undo much of his work. Barry Goldwater betrayed the Republican Party and poisoned American politics at what should have been a moment of triumph. Now the Republicans have an opportunity to fix this, and recapture their lost greatness.
In 1964 Martin Luther King Jr. was leading the civil rights movement to its greatest triumph since the Civil War. But one man’s decision had introduced corruption into the Republican Party, which has flowered so greatly in the following five decades.
Reflecting the parties geographical, not ideological, foundations, the 1964 Civil Rights Act passed on 19 June 1964 with strong majorities in both parties — but against determined opposition.
- Democratic Party: 46–21 (69%–31%).
- Republican Party: 27–06 (82%–18%).
The Republican candidate for the Presidency cast one of those “no” votes. Barry Goldwater saw an opportunity to redraw America’s political map and end the Democratic Party’s domination, held since the Great Depression. The price paid: betrayal of the Republican Party’s century-long civil rights legacy, the original foundation of the Party. All for nothing. Goldwater lost by a landslide of 38% to 61% for Johnson. He did not even get 30 pieces of silver.
Here’s the speech Goldwater gave justifying his betrayal, from the website of Brad DeLong (Prof Economics, Berkeley). It has the high-flown rhetoric racists have used since the founding, and use today. The red text highlights the apocalyptic forecasts often used to scare Americans from doing what they know is right. DeLong decodes the key phrases Goldwater used to disguise his betrayal.