In the fall of 1964 when I was 15, Maryann Shelhamer was my very good friend and my chief adversary; she was a Democrat and I a Republican.
We were sophomores, enrolled in Mr. Kugle’s American history class at Eastern Lebanon County High School, or Elco as everyone called it.
That was a momentous year in the history of America. The country was still recovering from the shock of a presidential assassination the previous year, the American war in Vietnam was simmering but had not yet been escalated to a full boil, and civil rights for Negroes (as African Americans were still called in those days) was a major issue with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 having been signed by President Johnson in July of that year.
I considered myself a Republican in those days, the local political atmosphere (Lebanon County was and still is strong Republican territory) having rubbed off on me, so I supported Barry Goldwater in his bid to unseat Lyndon Johnson from the Oval Office.
Now Goldwater was considered an extremist on many, maybe most, issues but especially in the areas of military defense (he was for it, in fact he was for a lot of it), civil rights (he voted against the Civil Rights Act), and well, name an issue and he was either on the “wrong” side of it or could be portrayed as such.
I remember my uncle Curtis teasing me with a joke that went something like: “If Barry Goldwater is elected, the troops will be marching the following week.” The punch line, such as it was, was that Veterans’ Day fell on the following week.
Meanwhile, the Johnson campaign unveiled the infamous Daisy Ad that suggested that a vote for Goldwater was a vote for nuclear Armageddon. Goldwater never forgave Bill Moyers for his part in preparing that ad.
That was also the year that the satirical show “That Was The Week That Was” was imported from the BBC to NBC, bringing David Frost along with it, as well as a rich array of Broadway talent like Alan Alda and Phyllis Newman, and featuring sharp-edged songs by Tom Lehrer. I loved that show, as did Maryann, even though a frequent target of its barbs was my hero Barry.
A couple months before the election, the Goldwater campaign bought the entire half hour time slot in which TW3 (as it was usually called) normally aired, in order to present a program with former president Dwight Eisenhower giving a tour of his Gettysburg, Pennsylvania farm to Goldwater. It was supposed to be a campaign ad.
It put me to sleep. Campaigns had not yet learned how to use the medium of television very effectively.
The following week the TW3 cast spent a good part of its time having a lot of fun with that farm tour program, and while it pained me to admit it, their satirical barbs were well-aimed. The show concluded with Nancy Ames, the “TW3 Girl”, singing the closing theme song with the added lines:
The GOP bought three more weeks of our space They could keep us off until after the race So we'll say Merry Christmas right now just in case From That Was The Week That Was.
And yes, I recall those lines from 52 years ago. I can even sing them, if you like.
Barry Goldwater was the first and only presidential candidate that I ever campaigned for. Randy Klopp and I went over to Ray Bollinger’s house (he was the Republican something-or-other for Richland Borough) to pick up some campaign materials, door knockers I think they were called, which we then distributed to as many houses as we could, leaving the materials hanging from the door knobs. Needless to say, my parents, who can best be characterized as yellow dog Democrats, were furious when they found out.
Anyway, back to Mr. Kugle’s history class. Mr. Kugle spent a lot of time going over current events during class, so of course he had us stage a debate on the presidential campaign. I no longer recall, and history does not record, the details of that debate or how many of us were involved, but I do know that Maryann argued for Lyndon Johnson, while I did my best for Barry Goldwater.
I lost the debate.
Because although we lived in a heavily Republican area, the Democrats had done such a good job of convincing a lot of Republicans that Goldwater was an unacceptable extremist, that many Republicans (including the kids in our history class) voted Democratic that year.
Johnson went on to victory, dealing Goldwater a humiliating defeat, winning 61.1% of the popular vote and 486 votes in the Electoral College.
I, too, suffered a little humiliation of my own. Despite my best efforts to get the word out about Barry Goldwater, my little borough of Richland went Democratic for perhaps the only time in its history.
I just found this audio recording of a June 1964 episode of That Was The Week That Was. Commercials and everything. What a different era that was.