Bobby Kennedy had just been killed in a hallway leading to the kitchen of a Los Angeles hotel. He had won the primary in California and that made it look more and more possible for him to get the Democratic nomination for President at the convention to be held in Illinois. "Now it's on to Chicago and let's win there."
Then it was over and the dream of another capable Presidency seemed to be gone. The Senator Kennedy that many hoped would become another President Kennedy had left an empty place. Nelson Rockefeller was the Republican Governor of New York. Conservatives of that day hated him, but he was much more conservative than is generally recognized, even today. He appointed Representative Charles Goodell to replace the assassinated Kennedy.
Charles Goodell had been a loyal conservative Republican from farm country in the south western part of the state. Many folks don't recognize just how conservative many parts of New York State have been in past generations. Where most of the country is divided between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and moderates and conservatives, the political divide in Charles Goodell's part of New York was between extremely conservative borderline extremist Republicans on the one hand opposed on the other hand by run out at midnight and howl at the moon extreme right wingers. It was all right wing. There was no left wing. There was no middle of the bird.
And Charles Goodell fit perfectly. He was conservative from the tip of his balding head right down to his toenails. Pretty much everyone who was not conservative was appalled. Robert Kennedy had won the seat from moderate Republican Ken Keating. Keating was no flaming liberal. He was not even a Republican in the mold of fairly liberal fellow New Yorker Jacob Javits. But he was no neanderthal. Keating was elected, then Kennedy, and now they were succeeded through gubernatorial appointment by this?
But Goodell toured the state and began to turn. He championed federal help for small farms, then to small towns and rural areas in the form of conservation efforts. He became skeptical of the Vietnam war and soon was one of the most vigorous war critics in the Republican party. The pipe clenching conservative was becoming a pipe clenching liberal. Governor Rockefeller was said to have been furious at the change. He had appointed a conservative and a conservative was what he wanted.
National conservatives were not happy, either. The Vietnam war was changing from Johnson's war to Nixon's war. Vice President Spiro Agnew was an alliterative attacker of all things liberal. He went after Goodell.
At about that time, a low budget movie came out about a sex change. It was called The Christine Jorgensen Story. It was a largely true story of how, in the early 1950s, George Jorgensen had gone to Sweden for sex change surgery and came back as Christine. It was acted with back-of-the-hand-to-the-forehead melodrama backed by matching music. Kind of unintentionally comical in style. It didn't do well, but it did get some headlines.
And it offered Agnew the hook he was looking for. Charles Goodell, he declared, was the "Christine Jorgensen of the Republican Party." I suspect the phrase originated with Pat Buchanan, a Nixon speech writer, who survives to this day as sometime television pundit, newspaper columnist, and constant anti-minority, anti-Jewish bigot. That is not inference, by the way. He believes slavery had a lot of good points, black folks are America's pampered minority, and that Jewish cabals are behind a host of anti-American conspiracies. This was before transgendered people were regarded as ... well ... people. Even with the level of sexual insecurity behind much of the bashing today, there isn't that much in official campaign statements. Not so in the Nixon era. Nobody thought the Agnew line was out of line.
I got to thinking about Agnew and the Jorgensen jibe when I came across a news story about the son of another Vice-President. Ben Quayle, son of Dan Quayle (remember the value of "bondage between a mother and her child"?), became a Congressman from Arizona in 2010. He's been re-districted in with another Republican, Representative David Schweikert.
The contest has had a few sharp elbows on policy grounds. Neither conservative thinks the other conservative is conservative enough for conservative Arizona. It's hard to measure how the race is going. A few polls show Quayle way behind. Frankly, he'd be better off not making any television appearances. He comes across as a clumsy dork affected with an effete sort of priggishness. Not exactly John Fund, but tending toward that sort of persona.
David Schweikert sent out a mailer accusing Quayle of a series of flip-flops, inconsistent with a true blue conservative, natural enough since he is a conservative who is not conservative enough for conservative Arizona. So the Schweikert side wanted to emphasize that Quayle, son of Quayle, is an inconsistent conservative. On one side of the flyer is a list of flips on the left and the associated flops on the right. Inconsistent. On the other side in big bold letters is the proclamation: Ben Quayle Goes BOTH Ways.
Uh oh. Do you see what I see?
So Quayle is demanding an apology for what his campaign calls a sexual undertone. Arizona has a crazed Republican Senator. He's the Senator who is not John McCain. Nope, this is John Kyl, who is so over the top his feet seldom touch the ground. Conservatives love this guy. He has condemned the flier. "It not only misrepresents Ben Quayle’s positions on important issues, it includes what can only be described as the strangest of allusions to sexuality that have no place in a political debate."
The Schweikert campaign is laughing at all the dust this is raising. When Ben Quayle was first running a couple of years ago, there was a bit of a ruckus about his political writing on the internet. Nothing in the content that conservatives object to. But it appeared in a soft porn sort of site. He got elected anyway, but now, two years later, the Schweikert people went there. Again.
"The Quayle campaign should get their minds out of the gutter, but we're not surprised they would think that way. He's more experienced in more risque stuff than we are."
Okay. None of this is as bumper stickerish as the Agnew attack. It isn't as catchy as Romney Hood, which has the virtue of catching an entire policy in a made up word. Not even as concise as Obamaloney which Mitt Romney had to have practiced a lot before going on television with it. Listening to Mitt say Obamalamaloneyoney not only sounds kind of sandlottish, but it's hard to say without trailing off into a mumble. And it can't be safely read from another vehicle on the interstate.
Spiro Agnew avoided prison and served as the figurehead for a fledgeling football league that died in it's sleep, leaving investors to mourn. Charles Goodell divided votes with Democratic candidate Dick Ottinger ("Make Ottinger Senator Ottinger!!") leaving James Buckley, brother of Bill, the minority winner. Nelson Rockefeller died of a heart attack, supposedly while in the intimate embrace of an aide.
There has to be a non-sexual, non-bigoted, bumper way to characterize an abrupt political switch. "Goes both ways" might have seemed a bit mild and clever in the Agnew era. Today it's offensive because it uses real people, socially vulnerable people, as punchline props.
An abbreviated way of describing a candidate with no lasting principles would have its use this year. Automotive bumpers across the nation are lonely for sensible hilarity.
A strong, strong ad, a narration by a widower, described the death of his wife a few years after a Mitt/Bain deal cost him his job and both of them their insurance. The implication was that she may have avoided diagnosis and treatment because of the uninsured cost. It was run and paid for by a group having nothing to do with the Obama campaign. Legally, they can't have a connection. Not even any contact.
The Romney campaign quickly responded through surrogates who decried the over-the-top accusation of Romney bludgeoning the poor victim to death. Fair enough. He didn't swing a hatchet. He didn't murder anyone.
In addition to surrogates, the Romney campaign campaign went direct when a spokesperson made the obvious observation. The poor woman might be alive today if she had lived in Massachusetts where Romneycare was available to all. Too bad she didn't live where a universal healthcare program could have helped her.
Wouldn't it be nice if more folks could live in such a place?
What is the bumper sticker slogan to describe a candidate who exists for no purpose except to win?
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