tv Lectures in History 1968 Presidential Election CSPAN July 2, 2018 6:11pm-7:21pm EDT
up next, university of washington professor margaret o'mara teaches a class about the 1968 presidential election. she talks about how the vietnam war eroded political support for president lyndon johnson and helped lead to his decision not to seek reelection. she also describes month by month events leading up to the election such as student protests, the rise of the black power movement and the assassinations of dr. martin luther king jr. and robert f. kennedy. her class is about an hour, ten minutes. >> so, let's get started. so, welcome. today, we're going to be talking about 1968, a year when a heck of a lot happened, including a presidential election. and a year where there were a lot of social, economic, and political parallels that are in some ways familiar to us now because in part some of the
changes that the early 21st century america has experienced, particularly in politics, were set in motion in this late 1960s period. so, let's get started. so, i want to start with an unlikely presidential news conference or address to the american people. march 31st, 1968. lyndon johnson, president lyndon johnson, gave a televised address to the nation and his subject was the vietnam war. by this point, vietnam had escalated into a bloody conflict involving over half a million american soldiers, so a war that had gradually started as a small engagement against communist -- potential communist aggression in southeast asia in the 1950s had escalated into a major conflict that was tearing america apart. so, johnson gives the speech about the war.
he's -- he looks tired. he looks old. the glare of the television lights did not help matters. and at the very end, he lands this bombshell. "because of the importance of resolving the war in vietnam, avietnam," and peace talks were already ongoing with the north vietnamese. he said, "i do not believe that i should devote an hour or day of my time to any personal partisan causes. accordingly, i shall not seek and i will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your president." so, how did we get here? how did lyndon johnson, who had been elected in a land slide victory less than four years earlier, get to the point where he is deciding not to run again for reelection because he doesn't think -- not only does he not think he's going to win, he doesn't think he's going to get his party's nomination. how did this happen? and this was a very hard
scenario to imagine in the -- when johnson was first running for president in 1964. it was also a hard scenario to imagine given johnson's and his administration's role in a broader mainstream liberalism in 20th century america, a liberalism that has its -- that is tied into progressive ideas about progress and technology and progress. ideas that animated things like the 1939 world's fair, the futurama exhibit and some of the other things that we talked about in this class. this idea that big organizations and new technologies, big corporations, big government can bring good things about. that america is getting better and better and that experts are the ones who can give the answers to -- can provide the answers for where america goes
next, that having expertise, whether it be the expert engineers at general motors who are envisioning this city of the future in the futurama exhibit in 1939 or it be the architects of things like the marshall plan, rebuilding europe and japan after world war ii, or the engineers of nasa who are building the rockets to send a man to the moon by the end of the 1960s, this optimism and this faith in big organizations and big technologies is starting to break down. and the thing that breaks down that faith more than anything else is the war in vietnam. but this again was hard to imagine four years earlier. in 1964, johnson's opponent was barry goldwater, republican senator of arizona and someone from the far right of the republican party. so the mainstream of the republican party in the early 1960s and before was not that
far removed from the democrats. certainly there were lots of issues on which they differed, but this general understanding that progress was possible, that expertise was valuable, that you needed big organizations to get things done, even though dwight eisenhower warned the american people in his farewell address about the growing military industrial complex and about the scientists who no longer knew how to innovate because they were on a government paycheck, he nonetheless surrounded himself with scientists and understood the importance of these very large organizations to conduct the business of the united states. right? so, that both democrats and republicans are part of this broader post-war consensus about what the role of the government does, the importance of people having -- with expertise in charge, and goldwater is someone who comes out of -- well, right
field, not left field. although he was a sitting senator, you know, he was a politician who was very experienced, seasoned politician. and someone with a very firm and clear ideology, conservative to libertarian. i think in today's day and age, we would call him more of a libertarian. he was a great believer in freedom of every kind, individual freedom and also freedom from communism. he was the ultimate anti-communism crusader following in the steps of people like richard nixon but someone who seizes the nomination of the republican party from more moderate possibilities and is quite a hardliner, and johnson very successfully runs against him as someone who was out of touch with the mainstream of politics, someone who was way too conservative for america, someone who doesn't have america's interests at heart, someone who should not be
trusted with having their finger on the nuclear button because he might just pop off at any minute. but nonetheless, goldwater, despite the fact that a lot of the experts and a lot of the establishment were very worried about goldwater, he had a lot of grassroots support, particularly among young people, maybe not this young, although i had to show this picture because i love this picture. but he galvanized an incredible grassroots support from teenagers, from house wives, from people who are not part of the political establishment. a lot of people in the sun belt communities, suburban sun belt communities of southern california and arizona and the southwest -- the west and the southwest who believed that america was on the wrong path, were worried about communist influence in public schools and in local governments and were still, you know, the age of mccarthy was over but there were still a lot of people worried
about the same things that joe mccarthy had been warning people about a decade before. but the democrats ruled the day. the democrats have a -- johnson and the democrats run a campaign that is successful not just in its -- bringing -- building enthusiasm among the liberal coalition that had been started in the age of franklin roosevelt with white working class voters from the north and midwest and african-american voters, but also to successfully paint goldwater as an extremist, as someone who cannot be trusted and so the electoral map in 1964 was a landslide victory for the democrats. but here's -- what's interesting. goldwater doesn't win very much. he wins his home state of arizona. but he takes states that have
been solidly blue, democratic, for decades and decades. the deep south goes -- the electoral votes in the deep south go if for barry goldwater and why do they do that? because it's after the civil rights act has been signed into law by johnson, something that the deep south, the whites of the deep south find a great -- something that is a great betrayal of their states' rights and their way of life by the federal government. and goldwater is a states' rights guy. he's a believer in freedom and a believer in as little government intrusion as possible, including in the business of the south. and so because of that, you have states going red in the south for the first time but hardly the last time. 1968, fast forward. johnson's electoral victory
is -- enables him to get major pieces of social legislation passed in the wake of 1964 to advance his anti-poverty agenda that he and -- that was his and john f. kennedy's, to pass programs of what he called the great society, including the centerpieces of them, medicare and medicaid, major social programs, health insurance for the elderly and for lower income people. and a whole host of other anti-poverty programs, job creation programs, and a vast enlargement of the domestic side of the government. but what johnson also oversees is this vast enlargement of the military side of the government because of the war in vietnam. he oversees this massive escalation of the conflict. it's ironic because when he comes into office, he is very conflicted about it. this is kennedy's war. this is not something, you know, from the get-go, and we hear
this in the tapes of johnson's phone conversations that he had with friends and colleagues from the oval office, saying, i don't know how we're going get out of this, but we have to -- we can't just pull out. we can't lose. losing is not an option. so, when losing a war is not an option, and remember, look at the 20th century wars, look at world war ii. only, you know, a couple of decades in the rear view mirror, this great american victory. for america to lose a war, to pull out of a conflict in a small, less developed country, to not be able to win that war, that would be a terrible blow and be -- and it would be a cold war blow, because this was a proxy war for, you know, american democracy versus soviet communism, soviet and chinese communism. vietnam is one of those dominos in the middle. so, he escalates, and by 1968, the escalation has been quite
massive. so, one of the things that is propelling it is now that they're -- there is -- men are being drafted so as the war escalates, you need to draft more young men in the military. you need to get more soldiers. the draft is instituted during -- right in the run-up to world war ii by roosevelt so we don't have a -- now we have an all-volunteer military. we did not then. and the escalation of vietnam means the escalation of those being called up in the draft, so during the nearly ten years of heavy american involvement in the war, a total of 11.7 million served in the armed forces. a little over 2 million of those went to vietnam and within that number, 1.6 million saw combat. so, overall, of the entire kind of 18 to 25 population, it's a little over a quarter of the population is drafted up, but the uncertainty of the draft, the fact that every young man
has to register for it, makes it a possibility and a probability for everyone. at the peak of the draft, in 1966, 340,000 americans are drafted. and by 1968, going into 1968, one-third of the 20-year-old men in the u.s. were in the service. so 1 in 3 20-year-old males in the united states were in the military. now, this was not evenly distributed by race. there was a disproportionate number of people of color, men of color who were drafted up. it was something that threads through the anti-war movement and becomes a major rallying cry for and connects the problem of the war overseas with the problems of race relations at home. but it is something that you can not get exempted from -- that no one is exempted from, ultimately. even though some people are more easily able to dodge it than
others. so, the draft increases the anti-war base, and so coming into 1968, there's already incredible ain incredible antipathy about vietnam and a vibrant anti-war movement and in the early days of 1968 towards the end o janua, there is a north vietnamese assault on south vietnamese strongholds, including cities that changes the visibility of the war and amps up pressure and broad based anti-war sentiment, beyond just those who are trying -- who are getting drafted. the -- this is the -- so on the -- the vietnamese holiday of tet, which is in the beginning of -- in early of 1968, there is a -- an attack that the johnson
administration didn't see coming. vietnam's fighting comes to the cities, and it goes from major cities over the next three weeks of this -- with this wave of attacks over 12,000 civilians are killed, million refugees are created. and it has a huge toll on the north vietnamese. many more north vietnamese deaths than south vietnamese soldiers or american soldiers. and ultimately, the american-backed forces prevail. it's not a win. north vietnamese are approximpu back, but this type of attack, this coordinated attack, is something the johnson administration was saying wasn't going to happen, there's no way the north vietnamese have this power, this capacity to do this sort of thing. and they also don't have the -- they also, you know, there's no way they're going to prevail. they were right on the second point. but one of the things that made tet so important and so visible is that because it was fighting
going on in the cities, it was the fighting going on right in the range of television cameras. it's where all the foreign correspondents were located. and so the fighting is beamed from the streets of the cities in vietnam back to the united states, and it becomes much more visible. when it's guerilla warfare in the jungles and the hamlets, it's harder to see. you hear about it afterwards but actually seeing this warfare erupt on the streets of vietnam's major cities changes the dynamic. so, the anti-war movement which has as its core these young college students who are vulnerable to the draft and at institutions where they have time on their hands to protest and a platform to get people to listen to them, starts to expand. it becomes a more broad-based youth movement, and it's
enabled, in part, by the fact that there are so many young people. so another reason that vietnam becomes such a political flash point is demographics. it's the baby boom. it's a young -- a new generation of young people. this is a group that, male and female is termed man of the year by "time" magazine in early 1967. and they are -- start to be understood by their elders as this new generation that is not only large in numbers but cared more about social justice and geopolitical issues than previous generations did. they are intensely engaged in -- many of them in rectifying the injustices of the world and increasingly starting to talk about vietnam alongside civil rights and other injustices at home. they're connecting these problems. and they're -- it's a very different sort of politics than we see in earlier civil rights
movements which are about fighting for a kind of consumer-based citizenship. by withholding your -- using your buying power to get what you want, by using the front of respectability and good behavior as a way to convince people to go along with your cause. this is the way that political protest has been conducted for quite some time in the united states, not just in the '50s and '60s but well before that, and this new generation has different tactics. and very quickly, lyndon johnson, the person who thinks, these people should be my people, they should be my supporters, very soon these young people turn on lbj. lbj as the war criminal. lbj as the person responsible for this debacle in vietnam. lbj is the person who is sending people there. and vietnam gradually starts to take over everything else that johnson is trying to do. it starts taking over fiscally,
because it is -- it is just eating up a giant chunk of the budget so you can't also have the generous anti-poverty programs and welfare programs of the great society and have the big spend of an increasingly expensive war. and it also is eroding political support. and so by the time you come into 1968, it isn't just the kids out on the street. there are other people protesting for peace. there are other people who are either out on the street or they're just sitting in their living room watching tet unfold -- tet offensive unfold on the television and wondering what the heck is going on, that somehow things are going wrong. the scope and scale of the war and the sneak attack, surprise attacks of the tet offensive, again, something where the u.s.-backed troops eventually prevail but it is something that goes against what the leaders in
washington have been telling the american public about how the war is going. it's showing a very different war than what the -- what leaders in washington are saying, oh, everything's going fine. we're working towards peace. we're de-escalating. north vietnam is weak, et cetera. and the -- the moment that really turns the tide politically or maybe is the final straw that breaks the camel's back is when the person who is the arbiter of how americans understand the news of the day, someone who is seen as a trusted source, not fake news, but real, serious news, walter c cronkite, the veteran cbs reporter who had reported extensively from vietnam, now sits at the anchor desk, is the person who told america that john f. kennedy had been shot and killed. he's the person who later informs america of the moon landing. he's the person who is delivering the news, the
momentous news of the day to millions of american households. so how many people -- i'd like a show of hands. how many people have -- watch the network "nightly news" in the last month? okay. there are a few of you. network, not cable. network. yeah. how many people make a point to watch it every day? no hands. one hand. all right. one hand. but you probably know walter cronkite or are more familiar with walter cronkite. so, this is -- this is a -- it's hard -- came from, right? it's not like we've all tuned out from the news. how many people consulted a news source in the last 24 hours? it's not like you're tuning out. you're probably tuning in more. you get more news than you want to get, right? we have too many places to find it. but then walter cronkite or the two other news anchors were the places that you went, the
nightl "nightly news," and so on february 28th, cronkite ends his broadcast with a three-minute speech about the war in vietnam. and he looks at the camera, he reads from a script, looks up, sort of at the viewer sitting in their living room, and says, "for it seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of vietnam is to end in a stalemate. to say that we are closer to victory today is to believe in the face of evidence the optimists who have been wrong in the past. to sigh that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic if unsatisfactory conclusion. on the off chance the military and political analysts are right, in the next few months, we must test the enemies's intentions. but it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate. not as victors but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy
and did the best they could." and so while all this is playing out, there's a presidential election going on. in the summer -- by the summer of 1967, the democrats -- a group of left -- young democrats have started a dump johnson movement that is determined to find someone else to run for the democratic nomination. and they are -- they cast about for a number of potential candidates, landing first on trying to persuade robert kennedy, the brother of the former president, now senator from new york, to run and k kennedy says, no, i'm not interested. i'm not going to do it. by -- after going through, looking at a few -- a short list, they finally come to a -- the senior senator from minnesota, eugene mccarthy.
now, gene mccarthy was an unlikely person to run for president. he was -- he was fond of quoting poetry on the floor of the senate. he didn't have a lot of friends in the senate. he was -- one colleague referred to him as the most intelligent man in the senate, and that wasn't a compliment. he was seen as kind of a cold fish, standoffish, too intellectual for his own good. but he was someone who was increasing -- and he was someone who had a past as a cold war hawk. he was not a soft liberal softy. he was someone who believed in vigorous intervention to stop the spread of communism. he was someone who was on the side of, initially, the house un-american activities committee. he was someone who was not a, you know, he was not an uber liberal guy. but it was increasingly clear to him and particularly as the
escalation increased in 1966, 1967, that the war in vietnam was untenable and needed to end. and so, he becomes -- he joins the race in november of 1967 as the anti-war candidate. and he gains -- gathers a good deal of support, and by early 1968, he's running very strong in the ramp-up to the new hampshire primary, which then was in early march. the new hampshire primary, mccarthy does not win, but he gets over 40% of the vote. and it's the moment when johnson, who gets -- who realizes that this fringe anti-war candidate -- this obscure anti-war candidate is someone who could potentially be a major challenger and also that anti-war sentiment is running so strong that it is not wise for him to run for reelection.
but mccarthy is -- as his campaign gains steam and a lot of the energy of the mccarthy campaign comes from young people, these young college people who join on the -- who care more about the war in vietnam than any other issue and who have their first experience in organized politics by jumping on the support of the mccarthy campaign, and one of the -- they're encouraged by campaign organizers to get clean for gene, meaning cut your hair, shave your beard, wear tidy clothes, don't look like a, you know, long-haired young hippie. actually make yourself look like a clean scrubbed campaign worker as a way to increase the support -- broaden the support for mccarthy young people in their college dorm rooms.
as the campaign gains steam and it becomes clearer that jo that and his vice president, hubert humphrey, that they are increasingly hobbled by the war in vietnam, robert kennedy reconsiders his ideas about not getting in the race. and so by middle of march, too late to actually get formally on the ballot for wisconsin -- the wisconsin primary, which is coming up, but nonetheless in it so he's a sort of significant write-in candidate and then he's on the ballot for later primaries going forward, kennedy jumps in. now, kennedy was -- by this point, the supporters of gene mccarthy, who might have been inclined to support kennedy the summer before, now have their -- they've plighted themselves to
gene mccarthy and they see kennedy as this johnny come lately, you know, just getting in on the -- jumping on the bandwagon once it gets going and so among the die-hard mccarthy supporters, there was a great,
you know, dislike of bobby kennedy. here's a homemade sign in iowa at a campaign rally in the spring of 1968 supporting mccarthy and then handwritten in marker on the post is, bobby, go home. there's a real sort of -- you were either with gene mccarthy or you were with bobby kennedy. and kennedy and mccarthy did not like each other very much either. and mccarthy, you know, faced with a far more glamorous telegenic, well-financed opponent would sort of say things like, well, he plays touch football but i play football. but kennedy was extremely good
at calibrating himself to the -- these -- the larger cultural zeitgeist, to reaching out, not just to college students, all of whom -- nearly all of whom were white -- but reaching out to a multiracial coalition of democratic voters, of
people who had fond memories of and loyalties to his brother, john, and to these other members of -- working class members of the roosevelt coalition, the new deal coalition, to build support around his candidacy. and so by the end of march, you have johnson realizing that it's just untenable for him to stay in and saying he's getting out. but it just gets more crazy from there. if that had been all that happened in 1968, that would be enough of a story, right? but there is so much more that happens that shapes what the elections outcome is and also where american history goes from
there. including the assassination of martin luther king on april 4, 1968, a moment that transforms the -- that's sort of a moment that rocks all of american society, that becomes, you know, a cover is devoted to on life magazine, the major photo journalistic mass circulation magazine of the day. but also has effects on the broader contours of the civil rights movement, a civil rights movement that as we know is already changing and already has -- consists of many different civil rights movements and ideas about the way to effect racial justice and social justice. but the immediate aftermath of the king campaign is violence. in washington, d.c., civil
disorder, rioting breaks out in african-american neighborhoods. there already have been a number of civil disorders riots in predominantly black neighborhoods in large cities, summers before that, summer of '65, '66, '67, and the economic and political frustration of poor black communities overflows after king's assassination as well. robert kennedy plays -- has an immediate, as a kind of example of his mastery of the political moment and also his keen understanding to the -- to the broader -- that the questions of 1968 extend beyond vietnam, extend beyond the concerns of white college students, quite frankly. and he -- and as the news came through the wire on april 4th,
he was in indianapolis, indiana, campaigning during the indiana primary and he impromptu speech. he breaks the news to the crowd around him, a majority minority crowd. and says this is the time -- i too had a brother. i lost a brother to this sort of violence. this is a time to end the violence. and gives this very eloquent impromptu speech and there was not disorder. there are not fires in indianapolis that evening. whether bobby kennedy gets sole credit for that is a different matter, but nonetheless, it was an example of his mastery of politics and his ability to reach out to a broader coalition, an ability that many people feel that he would have ultimately been successful had he lived to become the nominee and the major party candidate in november 19 68.
but the king assassination also shifts the -- there are other things that dr. king had started to build that continue, including the poor people's campaign, which was another sort of a new focus on the economic justice moving away from voting rights and desegregation of the south and moving towards more broad-based economic justice. so the months after king's assassination, the march on washington, the poor people's march on washington that he had been organizing and planning, that continued, and it was followed in the summer of 1968 by many other marches and other cities and other marches in washington. where the calls for justice have become more multiracial. here you have signs in spanish. you have white people, you have hispanic people, you have african-american people, and it is more focused around economic issues. around the broader injustices that are not just southern problems but are everywhere.
but there are new voices in the civil rights movement as well. former student nonviolent coordinating committee chair -- snccc, we talked about them in previous lectures -- a southern civil rights organizer, one of the students who's a leader of the student-led civil rights movement of the early 1960s, by the middle of the 1960s, some of these student leaders are shifting their focus and shifting their message, and that includes stokely carmichael, snccc chair in mississippi and by 1966, '67, '68, he is not talking about -- the language of civil rights has not been about, let us sit at your lunch counter, let us participate in the broader -- a broader white society but one that is more strongly separatist and one that is more strongly africanist, pan africanist and is a message of black nationalism, one that
says, we can't wait for white society to get its act together, and so much change is going to be necessary in order for justice to be achieved, that we've got to do it -- we have to do it with more -- this peaceful -- these nonviolent means are not going to be the only way to do it. and so here's an example. and carmichael, i'm bringing up as an example of one of many leaders on the left, part of an emergent black power movement, black nationalist movement in the late 1960s. activists who are coming out of the civil rights movement, in many cases, people who are realizing -- who are articulating a reality that nonviolence has only gotten us so far and voting rights can only get you so many things. but here he is talking in berkeley in early 1968 at a rally that is to support freeing huey newton, who is a leader of the black panther party
from oakland who was imprisoned on murder charges after the killing of a white policeman outside oakland and the jailing -- the conviction, jailing and eventually freeing of huey newton becomes a great cause of the black power movement and also other allies, white and black, on the left. so, here's carmichael. "they took us from frame, they put thousands of miles of water between us but they forgot blood is thicker than water. we are an african people with a african ideology, we are wandering in the united states. we are going to build a concept of peoplehood in this country where there will be no country. there will be no country." so this is a very different type of articulation of african-american civil rights and rights, and it is also accompanied with a more militant stance, both visually militant and politically militant, and the presentation of the black power activist is very, very different than the civil rights protesters of the montgomery bus
boycott or the greensboro sit-ins on the wool worth's lunch counters. there are no more suits and ties. there are no more we are going to make ourselves look like the respectable middle class people we are and that we should be treated as, the customers we deserve to be. we are going to be -- we are going to be militant and we are going to dress to express our power and our difference. our youth, our power, our difference. and so this is a -- an image that, again, think about how these images are transmitted through print media and through television media to an audience in 1968. these sorts of images also were flashed into living rooms, largely white living rooms, along with images of civil disorder in predominantly black neighborhoods in major cities, including in detroit, where some of the -- probably the most
significant rioting occurs and most damaging civil disorders of this period happen in detroit in 1967, where black neighborhoods are up in flames and white residents, particularly white working class residents who are proximate feel themselves somehow in danger by this violence, are increasingly worried about the voils iolence their midst. so for african-americans, many whom are frustrated with the incompleteness of the civil rights victories, the slowness with which white politicians have responded to the deep and enduring inequities, the segregation in poor neighborhoods, the limited economic opportunities, the limits on housing and jobs, this is a -- and can be -- these are empowering images of black people fighting back. to some other african-american
activists, this is disturbing because this is, you know, we got this far because we didn't present such a -- we were nonviolent. we were peaceful. and this type of violence violet going to advance the cause. and to many whites, ordinary people sitting in their living rooms watching television, who are already feeling anxious about all of the changes that are going on around them. they see these images and they think what we need is we need law and order. these images are also coming across at the same time as images of college students growing their hair long and misbehaving. so there's a lot -- it isn't just the violence that they're seeing on city streets, it's also the violence they're seeing in other places as well. and the violence in vietnam. there's very little good news that water cronkite is -- walter
cronkite is delivering in 1968. and politicians with law and order messages are coming out and saying i'm going to clean up the streets, we're going to reduce crime. we're going to create some order out of this chaos. have our increasingly potent and convincing. the person with this messages is ronald reagan who in 1966, in a kind of foreshadowing, is elected governor of california. california happens to be the place where these two types of disorders first break out. first on the campus of berkeley in 1964, the free speech movement, demonstrations, mass demonstrations by students against the berkeley administration. and then on the streets of los angeles, the watts neighborhood going up in flame in 1965 in response to police violence. and in 1966, ronald reagan runs against the incumbent liberal governor, someone who had beaten
richard nixon soundly four years earlier. and when running on this message of law and order and bringing order out of chaos. and that's an important -- and the people who are running in '68 take notes from that. so talking about disorder, let's talk more about disorder on college campuses. so again, you have the men of the year, the men and women of the year, this mass number of young people. young people who are going to college in greater numbers than ever before. young people who are increasingly attuned to broader social issues. they're caring about what's going on in the america around them. they're seeing a deeply unjust nation. and they're seeing an america that is acting -- it is acting with brutality across the world. particularly on nations of -- filled with people of color.
and post-colonial nations. and they are mad. not all of them, but a lot of them. and another thing that really shocks the older generation is not just the discontent, the marching on the streets, the peaceful participation in nonsilent protests of these -- nonviolent protests of these young people, but the increasing violence and disrespect of authority with which these take on, even in the most elite college campuses in the nation. so in april and may, columbia university is one of many places, many college campuses across the country, that becomes consumed by these sorts of protests. these types of violence. where the administration of the university becomes the target of student discontent. not only in the conduct of the university, columbia happened to be expanding its campus and expanding into predominantly
black neighborhoods and raising homes and building new administrative buildings. that became a flashpoint for student discontent. but also student discontent that is talking about the war in vietnam. talking about how research universities are complicit in the war mon gering machine -- mongering machine of the u.s. government. they are researching agent orange and nay palm being -- napalm being dropped on the vimmages. and so 1968 -- villages. and so 1968 on many campuses, including this one, they are increasing protests and sometimes acts of violence against university properties and violence in which students are caught up in. and an increasingly militant stance of these very privileged young people. these people whose parents are like oh my xosh, you have it --
gosh, you have it so good. you grew up in a time of peace and prosperity. we worked really hard and what are you doing? you're growing wrour hair long and occupying the -- your hair long and occupying the president's office. but this face might have been the face of young america that is the fodder of newspaper headlines, and it's really the face of young america that we remember. we think about the '60s, we think about the counterculture. we think about hippies. we think about the left. the anti-war left. we think about people growing their hair long, dropping acid, dropping out, right? but let's not forget that this was not everybody. and that the 1960s was a time, yes, when the modern left, liberal left, comes together and you have strong leftist movements both within and outside formal politics. a push towards more leftist
solutions. but it is also the moment when the modern right is coming together. because there are also young people on college campuses, young people in high schools, young people who are just post-collegiate, who have very different ideas about what america is and what it should be. who are cammoning conservative values -- championing conservative values. who are not distressing their parents by growing their hair long or doing drugs, but are projecting a more whole someimage, and -- wholesomeimage, and -- wholesome image. from barry goldwater to ronald reagan and on and on, as people who are the answers for -- who have the answers for what's ailing america. it's not more freedom for people to do what they want, but the solution is actually less government. the solution is a return to
traditional values of church and family and community. and so the late 1960s is the beginning of not only modern politics of the left but the modern politics of the right. and so to understand the 1960s is just this crazy, long haired hippy everyone was so liberal type time is to misread all of these other things that were going on and were incredibly powerful. it helps explain how 1968 played out the way it did. so june begins with an event that completely upends not only the democratic political landscape, but the broader political landscape of 1968 america which is the assassination of bobby kennedy the night right after he's won the california primary. the primary that probably would have sent him to the -- secured
him the nomination ultimately, the democratic nomination, got him enough delegates. kennedy surges past mccarthy, becomes the candidate to beat in the late spring and the early summer. and on his evening of triumph he's struck down by an assassin's bullet. and this is something that has a devastating effect not only on the people who were the supporters of robert kennedy, but on a broader public that already had been devastated by other assassinations. hero after hero is slain. john f. kennedy, martin lither king, and now -- luther king, and now robert kennedy. so kennedy's asags nation just like king's a-- assassination just like king's, has a broader warning. it's not clear who, if anyone, can bring the nation together.
but in the meantime, the republican party is -- republicans are debating who is going to be their nominee. and by the early summer it is cloor that the person who is going to -- clear that the person who is going to be the nominee is the most unlikely of candidates. richard nixon. why is he unlikely? well, he's lost a lot. he lost to the kennedy in 1960. narrowly, but he loses. he runs for california governor in 1962 and he's -- he loses to pat brown, the liberal that ronald reagan later defeats four years later. and famously says you're not going to have richard nixon anymore after that. he had a very adversarial relationship with the press. he was -- he saw them as the enemy and is highly adversarial. and as is recorded again and again in the history books,
pivotal, a pivotal moment of the election for richard nixon was the tell vised debites in -- televised debates in which he suffered from sweat and television was not kind to him and was kind to john f. kennedy. was that the reason he lost? no. there are many reasons. there are differing interpretations about the magnitude of the debates, but what was clear from 1960 is the one thing richard nixon was not good at was television. by 1968 television was more important than ever before. to show up well on television to commute kate through advertise -- communicate through advertising was key to gaining political support and convincing people to come on to your side. so -- but nixon is and his allies are watching what's going on, particularly after reagan's victory in 1966. and looking at other potential
contenders for the republican nomination in '68 fall by the wayside. like john romney, father of mitt romney, likely candidates all of a sudden are no longer strong possibilities. and so this gives an opening for richard nixon. but as richard nixon makes his great comeback, he's very mindful of what his public image will be. it's subject of satire on the cover of esquire magazine whachlt does he do? he -- what -- magazine. what does he do? he hires some key aides who are very savvy to the power of television media to deliver a message. chief among them being roger ales, a young aide who found fox news. also among the come pain staff for nixon is a -- campaign staff
for nixon is a young patrick buchanan who becomes a presidential candidate himself and television pundit and is responsible for writing some of the more strongly conservative speeches that nixon gives gurg the '68 -- during the '68 campaign. so he's got a television savvy group around him. and he builds a public image that is very different from the image that he has in the 1960. -- in 1960. he's trying to distance himself from this. one key prong is advertising and using television advertising creatively in a way that actually doesn't foreground him, his voice, or face very much. his voice is there in joyce overs. the -- in voice overs. it's meant to play on emotions instead of a straight policy pitch.
he's very cutting edge in his use of media in a way that's the complete opposite of what he does in 1960. he also is -- his team makes sure that he's in very carefully controlled media environments. where if there's a town hall meeting, all the people who are asking him questions have been prescreened and preselected so he's not going to get anything too out of the side. so but he also is keying into the broader anxieties that a public, the public has about all of the changes that are going on. he's looking at what happened, what reagan did in 1966. and what other republican candidates are doing elsewhere in '66 and in '68 to play up to this concern about crime and law and order. he says in may a great many quiet americans have become committed to answer social problems that preserve personal
freedom. so this group of quiet americans he then famously labels the silent majority. this is the -- these are the people that he is speaking to. and it's a very powerful message. but his message is in some he has a challenger of the silent majority of more conservative americans. and the major challenger is george wallace. george wallace is someone who has gotten a lot of attention of late in part because he is a strongly -- with a strongly populist voice as a candidate in 1968 and afterwards, and had mess angs about personal -- messaging about personal freedom and an anti-elite mess ang that's reminiscent of -- message that's reminiscent of the message that trump used in 2016. trump and wallace have different personal histories, but
wallace's campaign like trump's appealed to this populist interest and this notion of the people versus the powerful. that these experts, these pointy head people, who got us into this mess in vietnam and tell us that, you know, all these things are good for us. they don't know better. they don't know best. why do these college professors and washington bureaucrats know what's what? we should not have these people messing in our lives. so wallace, of course, is a southerner, he was a former governor of alabama. he first ran for alabama governor in 1958 actually and lost. he ran as a racial moderate. h he learned his -- he learned his lesson that he needed to be more strident on race and the preservation of segregation. in 1962 he ran for alabama governor and won and became a staunch vocal and nationally prominent defender of
segregation. and in his -- in his prominence he was not just speaking to alabamians being concerned about how racial segregation were being infringed upon, but he also, and you can listen to some of his speeches, even as.gov new york city even his inaugural a-- as governor, even his inaugural address, he's seeing these changes in the racial order around them. that's not something they're pleased about. so by 1968 he has transitioned this message to not talking about racial change but social disorder and crime and law and order concerns. he isn't talking about race, but he kind of he is. so both national parties have kowtowed to every anarchist that has roamed the streets. i'm not talking about race.
the overwhelming of all races in this country are against the breakdown of law and order. i'm not talking about race. but he's talking about low taxes. he's talking about keeping your community the way it is. he's talking about state rights. and he's speaking against the measures used by the federal government to try and implement and institute a better, a fairer, racial order in the south and elsewhere. and he has a -- garners a great deal of support not just in the south but in the north as well. this type of message is a kind of harsher and undie luted -- undy luted version of the silent majority -- undiluted version of the silent majority. by august you get to the national convention. you rarely ever hear about the republican convention that happens at the beginning of
august because it really didn't make much news compared to what happened at the end of august with the democrats in chicago. so the republicans came in to their convention with richard nixon pretty clear where they were going to go. the democrats come into their convention, it's not clear whether the establishment forces now led by and personified by hubert humphrey, johnson's vice president now running for the nomination. had not ran in any primaries, mind you. we'll talk later about how the nomination system has changed so much since then. but he -- chicago also becomes the destination for the anti-war left. he would have a group in new york that's sponsoring buses to go to convention. and is talking about how the tens of thousands will be there to demand an immediate end to the war in vietnam.
and an end to the war against black america. so these two causes, racial justice at home, and end of war abroad are twins. they're being linked together by the leftist, by the protesters. and so chicago becomes as the democratic establishment converges on chicago, so do these many protesters. and violence ensues. and so what is -- now, why is this such a meaningful and important event? again, television. no more -- you can't think of a place with more television cameras than a national political convention. everyone's descended on chicago. when all of these protesters who are camped out across the city of chicago, protesting that democrats conducted the war
protracting injustices, when they are set upon by the chicago police department, at the orders of a democratic mayor, richard daly, here on the floor of the senate, the floor of the convention. then this becomes must see television. and the rifts in the democratic party become visibly displayed at the convention at the end of august. that you have a -- you have both within the hall, you have strife within the democratic party, and you have violence outside of it. and then coming bruised and battered out of the fray is a nominee that nobody really wanted except the establishment types. and this whole, for you know, since the beginning of the johnson movement, more than a year before, so many democrats have been trying to displace the establishment, displace the men that had gotten the u.s. so deep
into the war. and humphrey's eventual nomination is a great defeat for that democratic left. and it causes broader rifts and fractures in the democratic party that require much -- a lot of work to heal. so coming in to the last days of the campaign, it is a very close race. there's nixon, wallace is still in, but nixon and johnson, nixon and humphrey, it's not clear, the polls are neck and neck. it's not very clear who's going to win. it's not clear to internal observers, and it's not clear to people who are looking at it from elsewhere either. so while all of this discord is going on at home, in paris over the course of 1968 there have been a series of talks attempting to negotiate a peace in vietnam. and the johnson administration
is, you now, this is what -- know, this is what johnson set out to do. he was going to focus on bringing an end to the war. and by the end of october he's quite close to getting there. he is -- there's a willingness, the north vietnamese are recognizing that the election is close. it looks like nixon might win. and if nixon wins, then he's going to have a more hard line and less willingness to immediately stop the american bombing of north vietnam which was the main thing the north vietnamese wanted. it was in the north vietnamese interest to negotiate with the south vietnamese and the americans. but then strangely at the last minute, the south vietnamese walk away from the negotiations, step away from the table, say no, we're not going to negotiate anymore. these are talks that had been ongoing. they had been moving toward
conclusion, concessions, getting closer. johnson and humphrey were hopeful something would be resolved before the election because that would have been useful for them politically. and south vietnam steps away and negotiations fall apart. and so for a long time there's been speculation that the nixon campaign had something to do with it. and there was no proof. and so i want to end with this one peesz, you know -- one piece, you know, here you are taking history class. we've been talking about the past. and one of the things that we need to remember is that the past and the intrerpation of the past is never -- interpretation of the past is never static. history is always an argument over what happened and why people did it. and oftentimes our understanding can be changed with the introduction of new evidence. so just a few weeks ago a new -- a biographer of nixon, john
farrell, who's biography of nixon is coming out in a month or two, revealed that he had in the course of his research had incovered some notes that nixon 's chief of staff, chief -- nixon's chief of staff, chief aide in the campaign, had scribbled during a phone call with nixon in october of 1968. he's not president, not president-elect. talks are going on. and among those scribbled notes he essentially says he's transcribing saying is there anything we can do to monkey rich this, anything -- wrench this, anything we can do to stop these talks. so that johnson and humphrey don't get a pr victory. they don't gept credit for ending the war -- get credit for ending the war. and then the talks can resume when i'm president and we can make something happen. so a powerful example of how our
understanding of the past is always changing. how new evidence can also introduce new interpretations. and how, perhaps, some of the things we thought were true about what a president did and why he did it can change many decades after his death. so november. november 5, 1968. election day. nixon wins. george wallace gets the south. and even though this looks like a very red map, it was not as close as one might think. yes, nixon gets an electoral majority. and there's a yes of who wall -- and there's a question of who wallace took votes from, probably a few more than nixon.
but even at this moment, this high t water-- this high water mark of liberalism, are about resistance to the establishment. and ends up electing a former vice president, two-term vice president, a republican, someone who campaigns on conservative law and order messages, and rejects some of the more -- and the fear of incredible radical possibilities, why did it turn out this way? >> well, i think it becomes more obvious when we think about the 1960s as a broader revolt against establishment constitutions that continues today -- institutions that continues today. where people both on the right and on the left got fed up with the way things were going because keep in mind the establishment in the 1960s was a liberal establishment. it was an establishment dedicated to big government. it was an establishment
dedicated to the war in vietnam. it was an establishment that had betrayed the right and left. it was an blib nment the eyes of -- an establishment in the eyes of some white southerners. in the eyes of college students protesting the vietnam war and worried about whether they were going to be drafted. it was an establishment that had lied to them about vietnam. it was an establishment that had fallen short of its promises of progress, of everything getting better and better and better. and the skepticism-infused politics. and then, of course, with the end of the nixon administration, with nixon's resignation in august 1974, watergate becomes another blow to that trust in institutions and faith in the people ruling us. and a breakdown on both the right and left. i'll leave it there.
thanks for coming. american history tv is in primetime this week. starting tonight at 8:00 eastern historians discuss philadelphia in 1968, look at how protests over the vietnam war impacted the city. tuesday, a symposium on world war i and future u.s. leaders, including a talk on dwight eisenhower's training of world war i troops and his extensive work with tanks. wednesday, a discussion on the decoration of independence -- deck ralation of independence. -- declaration of independence. thursday, former photographer talk about the reagan, bush, and obama administrations. and on friday, programs in the life and legacy of robert f. kennedy with a ceremony
acknowledging the 50th anniversary of his assassination. watch american history tv in primetime on cspan3. as part of our 50 capitals tour and with the help of gci cable, the cspan bus visited alaska, with anchorage the final stop on the. >>. >> make sure -- the tour. >> make sure that it provides a window into washington, d.c. that those of us who are a far distance away can see what's occurring. >> we really believe that it's important to offer these things to our customers, because we believe in the network's mission to be an unfiltered and trusted media source. we proudly support their effort to inform and educate the nation on policies, politics, history, and current events. >> be sure to join us july 21st
and 22nd when we'll feature our visit to alaska. watch on cspan.org or listen on the cspan radio app. up next on american history trv tv, president lyndon johnson's -- tv, lyndon johnson's speech to the nation announcing steps to limit the war in vietnam. and his decision not to run for re-election. this is courtesy of the lbj library. >> good evening my fellow americans. tonight i want to speak to you of peace in vietnam and southeast asia. no other question so preoccupies our people. no other dream so absorbs the 250 million human human beings who live in that part of the world.