2016 Will Not Be like 1964

Over the past months, as Ted Cruz has steadily climbed in the polls and national exposure, the far left (and establishment right) have either gloated or fretted that Cruz winning the Republican nomination would leave him playing Barry Goldwater to Hillary Clinton's Lyndon Johnson.  Unsurprisingly, this calculation comes from a woeful misreading of historical context, placing far too much emphasis on the candidates themselves and not the climate in which the 1964 election took place.  Unfortunately for aged Democratic candidates who seem trapped in a time warp of '60s radicalism, the world has not remained stagnant with them, and for scandal-plagued Hilary Clinton, there is no longer a media black hole to cover her tracks.

By referencing 1964, Cruz detractors imply that he is an ideologically extreme candidate who will serve only to alienate a moderate majority straight into the arms of Mrs. Clinton.  However, this analysis entirely omits the unique electoral situation in which Goldwater and Johnson squared off – one that is nearly the opposite of 2016.

Lyndon Johnson assumed the presidency not on merit, but through the assassination of an immensely popular young President Kennedy in the prime of his life.  The shock to the country and the incredible outpouring of national grief cannot be overstated; it is difficult for Americans not present in those days to fully comprehend.  It was in this atmosphere that Lyndon Johnson had less than one year to convince the nation that he was Kennedy's rightful successor and most capable of carrying on his legacy.  Johnson masterfully maneuvered the uncharted territory of assuming the presidency in the nuclear age, simultaneously convincing Democrats and the nation that he was not only fit for the job, but was indeed Kennedy's heir.  By maintaining Kennedy's staff (most of whom loathed him), he projected continuity.  He acted as consoler-in-chief in a way that had never been attempted, soothing the nation in an hour of doubt and grief.  He was no longer a little-known, little-respected Texas buffoon; he was, in a word, presidential.

Contrast this with the atmosphere in which the presumptive nominee will be forced to run.  Clinton is seeking to inherit the office from an immensely unpopular, divisive president, whose policies have left the world in shambles at home and abroad.  What's worse, she was an integral part of that administration, forcing her to walk the fine line of defending an unpopular administration while differentiating herself from it.  While Johnson cloaked himself in the image of Kennedy, Clinton must, to the best of her ability, divert attention from her deep involvement in the disastrous Obama legacy.

Another and arguably more crucial difference between 1964 and 2016 deals with the vast leaps forward made in communication technology with the internet revolution and the modern media.  In 1964, while he was well-known in Washington power circles, Lyndon Johnson was little known in the country at large.  His womanizing, narcissism, racism, and thirst for power were largely unknown, allowing him to meticulously craft a public persona in preparing for a run at the presidency.  Knowledge of his abrasive attitude and the questionable tactics he used to gain his Senate seat in 1948 were unknown outside Washington and Texas.  Had his opponent Coke Stevenson had access to Twitter, history may well be very different today.  Again, Hilary Clinton does not have this luxury.  Her (and her husband's) sordid history is well-known, or being discovered by a new generation with easy access to historical backgrounds and a wide array of opinions.  Sleazy politicians like the Clintons (as we have witnessed time and time again) have no advantage in the light of media scrutiny.  While a lack of alternative media aided Johnson in 1964, and the Clintons in the 1990s, the information age has greatly broadened reporting from stuffy network broadcasting booths and the desks of highbrow New York Times editors.  More than ever, the Clintons' filthy laundry is available for all to see in a way Lyndon Johnson's never was.

In a side-to-side analysis, Hilary Clinton and Lyndon Johnson have much in common.  Both are politically malleable, bending their "convictions" to whatever is personally advantageous at the moment.  For instance, Johnson voted against any and all civil rights legislation (even an anti-lynching bill) until his politically expedient "evolution" in the run-up to the 1964 election.  The list of Hilary Clinton's "evolutions" are legion and will surely continue to mount as her campaign slogs on.  Like Johnson, Clinton masquerades as a woman of the people and champion of the middle class despite possessing an immense fortune of dubious origin.  Her magnanimity for us peasants persists only so long as the cameras roll.

However, Clinton most resembles Johnson in her lifelong quest for power, a desire that supersedes all else, including the national interest.

Johnson was adept at concealing his true nature from the American electorate, aided in no small part through his natural charm and the technological limitations of his day.  Clinton lacks these advantages; her true, vicious nature is apparent to all who care to see it.

A conservative candidate such as Ted Cruz will not suffer the same disadvantages Barry Goldwater faced in 1964.  Rather, righteous ideology will serve as armor when compared to the dark legacy and empty promises offered up by that latter-day Lyndon Johnson, Hillary Clinton.