Barry Goldwater and the South’s Political Realignment

Barry Goldwater, a United States Senator from Arizona, is best known as the Republican Presidential Candidate for the Election of 1964. While this is what most people know him as, the truth of the matter is, his greatest legacy is his contribution to the political realignment of the Democrats and Republicans.

Unfortunately for Goldwater, this was neither the legacy he wanted nor asked for. In his article “He Knew He Was Right,” Louis Menand demonstrated how tragic Goldwater’s run for president was. It was plain to see that Goldwater was doomed to lose from the start. Lyndon Johnson was the clear heir to the presidency after Kennedy’s assassination, as he was both the Democratic nominee and Kennedy’s vice president. In addition, Goldwater was easy to attack due to his stance that tactical nuclear warfare was a viable option during war, but Goldwater’s biggest vulnerability was the fact that he voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

It wouldn’t be hard to point to this as the reason that Goldwater suffered such a catastrophic loss, and a good thing too, right? You wouldn’t want the president to be opposed to civil rights, would you? The only problem with that is that Barry Goldwater was completely for civil rights, even going so far as to be a member of the NAACP and the Urban League. His opposition wasn’t based in discrimination, but rather, in the fact that he believed that I wasn’t up to the federal government to dictate that the states follow the civil rights mandate. Unfortunately for him (and to a greater extent, the Republican Party,) this caused a massive shift in the electorate. “Goldwater’s longest-lasting political legacy was to drive African-Americans out of the party of Lincoln.” As a direct result of Goldwater’s stance against what he believed to be an overreach of federal power, he suffered a major loss against Johnson and made sure that black voters seldom vote for the Republican Party.

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