Fist Of History

Archive for the ‘Get On Your Feet 2016’ Category

George Wallace and the 1968 U.S. Presidential Election – spoiling for a fight

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

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The thing about third party politics in the United States is that often the efforts are wedge issue politics designed to enrage a population, and bring out the vote.  Such is the case in 1968 with the United States Presidential campaign of George Wallace, who ran for the Presidency as the official candidate of the American Independent Party.  The American Independent Party was a conservative party with fairly extreme views, Wallace ran on a platform aimed at addressing the social issues of 1968, with its central theme being a movement against racial integration, social justice, and civil rights expansions taking place throughout the United States.

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Running under the slogan “Stand Up For America” Wallace campaigned throughout the United States but aimed to gather his strongest support in the southern United States.  Wallace had no pretensions he’d actually win the 1968 United States Presidential election, his goal as a third party candidate was instead to run a “spoiling campaign” – gain enough votes to prevent either of the two major candidates getting the necessary votes in the Electoral College and then having the Presidential election be decided in the House of Representatives.  Had his strategy worked Wallace hoped to use the votes of Southern Representatives to sway one of the two candidates political parties – most likely Republicans – to agree to block further racial integration legislation in the United States south.

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Wallace ran with Curtis LeMay, a retired Air Force general who had strong views on foreign policy, Wallace lost supporters as the race advanced due, in part, to LeMay making statements about how Americans should not fear nuclear weapons and that the United States should use nuclear weapons in Vietnam.

Overall Wallace did not achieve his goal of “spoiling” in the 1968 election, but he did poll very well.  His sharply racist rhetoric combined with comments on declining American prosperity resonated with Southern voters in the United States, overall he captured 13.5% of the popular vote and carried five Southern states for a total of 45 solid electoral votes.  Wallace got an additional vote from a “faithless elector” in North Carolina who cast a vote for Wallace despite being sent to vote for Nixon.

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Wallace’s campaign played to racism and the call for law and order in a restless period in the United States.  Some prime quotes:

When asked the biggest domestic issue facing the United States he replied  “It’s people—our fine American people, living their own lives, buying their own homes, educating their children, running their own farms, working the way they like to work, and not having the bureaucrats and intellectual morons trying to manage everything for them. It’s a matter of trusting the people to make their own decisions.”

Wallace also stated that to his eye “What are the Real issues that exist today in these United States? It is the trend of the pseudo-intellectual government, where a select, elite group have written guidelines in bureaus and court decisions, have spoken from some pulpits, some college campuses, some newspaper offices, looking down their noses at the average man on the street.”

Wallace polled most strongly with males, with strong support from Southern males and also lower class Northern white workers, with an odd appeal to unionized labor.

Sources:  Wikipedia articles on the 1968 United States Presidential Election, George Wallace’s 1968 campaign, George Wallace himself, and finally on the American Independent Party

When elected officials kick ass in letters

Friday, September 18th, 2015

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Currently making the rounds for the 2016 United States Presidential Election is this letter from the Governor of California, Jerry Brown, to Dr. Ben Carson on the subject of global warming.  In short it informs Dr. Carson that there is evidence of global warming, and that an example of that evidence is included on the pictured thumb drive for his convenience.  Although polite snark is always fun to see spread around, this reminded me of an earlier moment of snark that took place in 1976 in the state of Alabama, when a staunchly pro-civil rights and human rights Attorney General named Bill Baxley got to play with a supremacist organization.

The incident that sparked the confrontation was Baxley announcing he was reopening a closed investigation into the 1963 16th Street Church bombing – specifically because Baxley was convinced there was more than enough evidence to actually prosecute the individuals responsible for the attack.  In response he got this charming letter:

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The part where he is named “an honorary NIGGER” is an extra level of charming.  This letter came in 1976, when the tumult of the 1970s was winding down but the nation was still struggling with very real internal stability issues from the early 1970s.  Bluntly put, it was not unreasonable for Baxley to fear for his life.  The extremist organization that sent this letter was connected to violent groups, mainly the resurgent Ku Klux Klan, so his response was rather brave and utterly delightful.

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What makes it doubly wonderful for me is the fact that he put it onto the official stationary of the Attorney General’s office and logged it publicly as a formal communication.

Oh and Baxley did successfully complete his prosecution.  I believe on the grounds he was a solid government official and a damn brave one, I’ll close with a period image of him.

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Sources:  Wikipedia entry on Bill Baxley, blog entry on Letters of Note

1964 Presidential Election – Candidate Margaret Chase Smith

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

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1964 was an interesting year in United States Presidential elections, Richard Nixon declined to seek the Republican nomination against the anticipated candidate for the Democratic party, Lyndon Johnson, so the Republican party nomination was considered fairly open.  Many individuals tossed in their hats to run but one candidate in particular was unique, Margaret Chase Smith, who decided in January 1964 to make an attempt at the Republican nomination.  Senator Smith came from an established political career, she had begun serving in the House of Representatives in 1940 and served until 1948, when she successfully won a seat in the United States Senate.  Senator Smith remained in the Senate, as a Republican, from 1948 until 1972.  She represented the state of Maine and is particularly remembered as one of the few Senators who stood against Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s – she gave a famous speech on the Senate floor denouncing McCarthyism and the Communist witch hunts of the ’50s.

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Senator Smith was particularly critical in 1964 because she represented not only the first woman making a serious attempt at the nomination from a major political party but she also represented the moderate wing of the Republican party.  In 1964 that wing of the Republican party openly battled with the more conservative faction supporting Senator Goldwater from Arizona.  The actual nomination convention was highly contentious, with both sides resorting to screaming at each other as they battled for control of the Republican party.  Senator Smith had campaigned in only two states, Maine and Illinois, and in her campaign she had worked hard to avoid normal political activities.  She undertook no major political rallies, conducted no fundraising, and paid her expenses out of pocket.  Her goal was to meet with individuals and rely on direct personal connections.

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Senator Smith came in fifth in the Maine primary but came in second in Illinois, which provided her with a total of sixteen delegates for the nomination.  Although her being selected for the candidacy against the Senator Goldwater juggernaut was considered impossible at the Republican convention, Senator Smith attended and stood in the running until Senator Goldwater was nominated successfully.  Senator Smith did break with tradition and refused to release her delegates to vote for Senator Goldwater in the final ballot, so that he would not receive a unanimous nomination from the Republican party.

Despite this she did campaign for him actively during his 1964 run for the Presidency, this period ad has her explaining the Goldwater is not going to chop up Social Security despite rumors to the contrary spreading during the election.

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Had she done the incredible and carried the Republican nomination in 1964, I cannot help but wonder if she might have been able to give Johnson more of a run than Goldwater did.  Goldwater was prone to making off-the-cuff remarks and was overly blunt when dealing with the press, this partially helped to equate Goldwater with extreme (and dangerous) views about United States foreign policy.   Could Smith have overcome popular perceptions of a “woman’s place” in society?  I think she might have been able to do so, when asked in 1948 if it was proper for a woman to run for the Senate, this was her response:

“Women administer the home. They set the rules, enforce them, mete out justice for violations. Thus, like Congress, they legislate; like the Executive, they administer; like the courts, they interpret the rules. It is an ideal experience for politics.”

It may be framed in the words of the period but I like to think Smith might have had a chance in 1964.

Sources:  Wikipedia entry on Margaret Chase Smith, NPR segment on Margaret Chase Smith, Maine history entry on Margaret Chase Smith’s Presidential run

Presidential Election of 1892 and the People’s Party

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

Populist-logoIt is 2015 and with several presidential candidates for the 2016 campaign announcing their intentions already in April, it is time to begin my irregular series of short articles this election season to outline moments in the 19th and 20th century when the United States was rocked by third party and independent candidates.  This is to show people that the modern view of politics in the United States, where two parties dominate the system and independent action cannot have any measurable impact, is inaccurate.  Third party political organizations have dominated local elections and been a presence with force in national politics repeatedly in United States history.  Furthermore history is replete with oddballs, independents, and mavericks that successfully tweaked the system.  My main goal in writing this irregular series is to provide a counter point to the idea that often circulates in social media that “a viable third party is needed but impossible to create/vote for/support because Awful Horrible Thing will happen instead.”  My only point in response to that is your predecessors in the past faced the same problem, often in worse political systems, and yet still managed to kick back.

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Meet James Weaver, third party Presidential Candidate in the 1892 election and nominated by the People’s Party.  The People’s Party was a progressive leftist political party that appeared in the late 1880s from an alliance of southern farmers with midwestern farmers who combined around the idea that gold-backed currency was bad, big business even worse, and tariff protection for industry the devil’s work.  They also rallied behind some other wacky ideas, like:  progressive income tax, the eight hour work day, the direct election of United States Senators, civil service reform, as well as nationalizing the telegraph industry and the railroads, and breaking up large banks.

Some of these crazy ideas you might recognize as now being the law of the land, and others as being concepts being bandied around today by modern leftist progressives.  (Although the idea of nationalizing the transportation industries appears to have fallen in favor in the 21st century, probably due in part to how cheap shipping of goods and personal travel are these days compared to the past.)  Weaver ended up doing surprisingly well in the election, capturing 8.5% of the popular vote, 22 electoral votes, and carrying five states in the election.  He was stomped by the other candidates solidly, but his turnout showed a strong sentiment against the viewpoints of the Democrats who gained an unexpected win in this election cycle.

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In 1896 and 1900 the Democrats quietly began to absorb some of the platform goals of the People’s Party which, in turn, backed the nomination of William Jennings Bryan for President in 1896.  (Pictured above looking sexy mid-speech at 36 years of age.)

The People’s Party faded after the 1896 election but managed to place Representatives into national office successfully until 1902.  A total of 39 Representatives, 6 Senators, and 11 governors during its period of power served under the banner of the People’s Party.

Sources:  Wikipedia entries on the People’s Party, the United States Presidential Election of 1892, and James B. Weaver