- Historic Sites
The Republican party ensured a landslide defeat when it nominated Barry Goldwater in 1964, but the Democrats did far more lasting damage to themselves at their convention that year. In fact, they still haven’t recovered.
June/July 2004 | Volume 55, Issue 3
White Southerners, on the other hand, bolted the Democratic party after the 1964 convention, and they’ve hardly looked back since. And though the Democratic party ultimately wooed back the dissidents of 1968, it did so at a steep price. By embracing such controversial ideas as environmentalism, reproductive rights, gay rights, opposition to the Vietnam War, and gun control, the Democrats opened themselves to criticism that their party was aggressively secular and culturally extreme—a charge that still bedevils them.
Some political commentators believe that as the South continues to attract service-sector and information-technology jobs, and as its metropolitan areas swell with university graduates and whitecollar professionals, Democrats will have a new opening in Dixie. Others argue that it’s not the South that needs to change, but the Democrats, that until the party talks less about rights and more about values, it is doomed to keep losing these states. At the same time that Democrats are eager to take back the Presidency, this debate still divides them.
Right or wrong, John Kerry’s lament says much about a party that is still struggling, all these years later, to wrestle down the demons it unleashed in 1964. That year the party stood at a moral crossroads and declined to make a choice. The nation has come a very long way in the 40 years since then. The results of the election in November may show just how far the Democratic party itself has come in the same time.