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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily

Bloggings on Immigration Law

Roger Algase

Obama v. Romney in 2012; Johnson v. Goldwater in 1964: Any Similarities?

In my July 11 post, I took a look back some 2,700 years, to the 8th century BC, when many scholars believe that the ancient Greek poet (or poets) who went under the name Homer wrote the Odyssey. This epic, among many other legends which have had such a great influence on the world's cultural heritage, contains the story of Scylla and Charybdis.

In today's comment, I will go back only 48 years, to the 1964 presidential election between Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater. Of course, I was not around to witness Odysseus' men being eaten by a six-headed sea monster, just as we can expect hundreds of thousands of minority immigrants to continue being caught up for each of the next four years in the jaws of Barack Obama's monstrous deportation system, if America steers in the direction of re-electing the president this fall, in order to avoid having most or all of our immigration system swallowed up in Mitt Romney's whirlpool.

But I was around to see the 1964 presidential election, and to vote in it. There are some comparisons with this year's coming election which are worth noting. To begin with, Goldwater, who represented the extreme right wing of the Republican party, and opposed not only the entire New Deal, but also civil rights laws which would have relieved people of color from discrimination and oppression, won in Arizona (his home state) and all the states of the deep South. 

These included the states which have enacted the harshest anti-immigrant laws today - Arizona, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. However, this is also a sign of how much America has veered off to the even more extreme right since Goldwater's time. Goldwater won only 10 states. The rest of the country voted for Johnson, partly in reaction against Goldwater's famous statement: "Extremism in support of liberty is no vice."

It is unthinkable that this year's election could turn out to be so one-sided, even though today's Republican party is so extreme on some issues compared to 1964 that even Goldwater himself disowned some of its current positions before his death. For example, Goldwater supported abortion, gay rights, and non-interference by religious groups in political issues. What chance would he have of being nominated for any office by today's Republicans?

However, the important point is that the Democrats did not win such an overwhelming victory that year because of any great affection for president Lyndon Johnson, who was running for his first full term after succeeding the assassinated John F. Kennedy, one of the most beloved presidents in American history (after his death). Instead, the Democratic landslide was a reaction to fear of what would happen to America under Goldwater. 

This fear was based in large part on his identification with the right wing nut cases, such as the two middle aged ladies whom I walked past one day on a lower Manhattan street corner, while they were shouting: "The Reds are for Johnson! The Reds are for Johnson! How Red are you?" But even more so, the fear of Goldwater had everything to do with America's most emotional and divisive issue of that time - comparable to the unauthorized immigration issue today - namely the Vietnam war.

Goldwater wanted to escalate the war, famously suggesting that we should "defoliate" the leaves of that country's trees (which of course Johnson and Nixon did anyway). But scariest of all, he also said that using nuclear weapons in Vietnam should be considered. For a country which was still traumatized by the Cuban Missile Crisis which had brought the world to the brink of nuclear disaster only two years before, this was too much.

(On a personal note, my first marriage took place during the weekend that the Cuban Missile Crisis reached its peak near the end of October, 1962. My wife and I spent a good deal of time seriously trying to choose a place for our honeymoon that would be less likely to be blown up - Neither of us voted for Goldwater in 1964, needless to say. Nor did millions of Americans who saw the Democrats' "Daisy" campaign ad against Goldwater, still the most famous campaign ad of all time, vote for him either.)

The point of all the above trips down political memory lane is that the Johnson 1964 landslide did not take place because of widespread affection for LBJ. To the contrary, there was great mistrust and resentment against him, especially because he was beginning to escalate the Vietnam war. Of course, few people could imagine how much he actually would escalate it after being elected to a full term in office. But under Goldwater, things would have been even worse, or so Goldwater himself led everyone to believe.

On immigration, there is no affection for Barack Obama. Nor should there be. But, based on everything we have heard from Mitt Romney and his supporters, he would be far worse. In many important ways, Romney is a far less attractive candidate than Goldwater was, and for immigration and minority rights in general, Romney would be even more dangerous. Besides, which president, however much liberals may have distrusted him on many issues, nevertheless signed the great immigration reform act of 1965? More about this in my next comment.


About The Author

Roger Algase is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He has been practicing business immigration law in New York City for more than 20 years.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) alone and should not be imputed to ILW.COM.


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