The Liberal Victory

A Liberal is a person who thought Goldwater “might win,” just as in 1936 a Liberal was a person who thought Alf Landon was a “fascist.” But in fact Goldwater got six states and less than 40 per cent of the vote, just as realists had predicted in July. (Landon got two states, as predicted.)

By closing ranks and muffling criticism, however, the Liberals allowed Johnson and Humphrey to spout through a long campaign without explaining what was meant by the words Peace, Education, Urban Reconstruction, War on Poverty, and so forth. They did not embarrass the candidates, or themselves, by asking whether the Great Society did not mean business as usual, only more so. And incidentally they could urge suspending the Negro demonstrations that had some life in them. Predictably, by the end of four months of the United Front against Goldwater, we had the amazing spectacle of Professors, Scientists, and Engineers, and Fellows of the Institute for Policy Studies hailing the “lesser evil” as if he were Gandhi, Talleyrand, and Lorenzo de’ Medici rolled into one.

The actual poll had one heartening factor. From coast to coast there was an unmistakable, though inarticulate, sentiment against nuclear war. It was evident during the spring primaries, when mention of the Test Ban evoked enthusiasm even at Goldwater rallies. It was clear in July that Goldwater had irrevocably ruined himself by his careless talk about the bombs. And in November the pacifism held strong. It seems that Johnson won not only the Women’s Strike but most of the other women, in spite of “disorder on the streets.”

That is, the only sense in which Johnson’s landslide was a mandate—except for business as usual—is that the Americans, like any people who are not insane, will support steps toward disengagement and disarmament. Goldwater’s accurate complaints about our actions in Vietnam met no response because people are cold about Vietnam altogether. Unfortunately, we do not have a commitment that Johnson and Humphrey or the other elected Democrats will take steps toward disengagement and disarmament. But the hour is very late and the overkill is many hundreds.

The novel and significant element in the vote for Johnson was his sweep of the middle-class suburbs, previous Republican territory, even though they still backlashed, when it was possible, just as they adventurously voted for Wallace in the spring. (E.g. in California, Proposition 14, permitting segregated real estate sales, carried by more than 2 to 1, while Johnson won by 3 to 2. The same thing happened locally in Ohio and New York.) As I predicted in 1961, the middle-class suburbs have joined the hard center of the new Liberalism. These people are immensely satisfied and want more of the same.

Let us spell out their program, as it was not spelled out during the campaign, but as we have gotten it and as we shall get it. “Education” means subsidizing schools to train National Science Foundation grade-getters for higher status and …

This article is available to Online Edition and Print Premium subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
If you already have one of these subscriptions, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account. If you subscribe to the print edition, you may also need to link your web site account to your print subscription. Click here to link your account services.