when pigs fly … expect the unbelievable

Archive for January 2010

The 1964 GOP convention was politically divisive; historians call it the “ugliest” GOP convention since 1912.  Governor Brown of California (a liberal Democrat in the conservative ‘50s and early ‘60s) said that the “smell of fascism was in the air” of the Cow Palace.  Goldwater, the ultimate nominee, was extremely conservative.

“In your heart, you know he’s right” said the Republicans.  “In your guts, you know he’s nuts” said the Democrats.

The sound bite from Goldwater’s acceptance speech that is most remembered today:   “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.  And let me also remind you that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

Other contenders were Governor Scranton and Governor Nelson Rockefeller, and Goldwater was vituperative in his criticism of them and their policies, as he was of his Democratic opponent, the incumbent President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Against that backdrop, it is not difficult to understand why Senator Margaret Chase Smith, a conservative, but a moderate and a “lady”, determined to seek the Republican presidential nomination in 1964.  The hot-headed neo-conservatism of the Goldwater camp did not suit everyone, and the other 6 male candidates were dividing remaining votes.  She would be a long shot, a dark horse, a favorite son (daughter?) but wouldn’t any woman nominee, even today?

Senator Smith’s theme song for the campaign would become Everything’s Coming Up Roses. And indeed, after George Aiken, Senator from Vermont, placed Senator Smith’s name in nomination in July of 1964 on the floor of San Francisco’s Cow Palace, the floor demonstration was accompanied by a band playing Everything’s Coming Up Roses.

As the convention band swung into that tune, the entire Maine delegation (all 14 members) sprang to their feet — each sporting a red rose in their respective lapels.  In addition, a dozen or so high school cheerleaders from Maine danced and pranced through the convention isles waving red roses over their heads.  Smith received 27 votes, a respectable 5th place out of a field of 8.  Goldwater won by a landslide.

Aiken described Smith as “ace-high in integrity, ability, common sense, and courage . . . and one of the most capable persons I have ever known . . . ”  This was all true.  But she had also demonstrated something very important to a 12 year-old Texas girl.  She had demonstrated that I could do anything.  If Senator Smith’s name could be placed in nomination on that hot July evening in 1964, all kinds of opportunities could open up for me.

So in the mid-summer of 1964 I was in Breckenridge, Texas, avidly watching NBC’s coverage of the conventions.  I loved Chet Huntley and David Brinkley! John Chancellor was arrested on the floor of convention that year, for refusing to cede his spot on the floor of the convention to the “Goldwater Girls” – something akin to the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders of the early ‘64s but, of course, less skimpily clad and less graciously endowed – who were making their way to the front of the convention floor to dance for Goldwater.

Security actually came to get Chancellor because of his unwillingness to cede his correspondent’s position to the dancing girls.  He was turned over to the police authorities and “escorted” out of the Cow Palace.  He signed off:  “I’ve been promised bail, ladies and gentlemen, by my office.  This is John Chancellor, somewhere in custody.”  The bad press from this arrest caused Chancellor to resign from NBC News.  He became director of Voice of America, serving from 1965 to 1967.  In 1968 he returned to NBC and became anchor of the “NBC Nightly News” from 1970 to 1982.

To me, the Chancellor arrest was pretty heady stuff!  A real “somebody” getting arrested!  For reporting the truth. For saying he didn’t want to move and he had a right (and press pass) to be there.  Talk about police brutality and abuse of power – of course, I didn’t know those concepts at the time, but I knew that the Chancellor arrest was pretty remarkable.  And I remember being really miffed at NBC for “accepting” (probably demanding) his resignation over this event.

Senator Margaret Chase Smith was one of the 8 individuals whose name was placed in nomination during the 1964 convention.  And that is how I came to know who she was.  She wore a fresh rose pinned to her collar every day.  A red rose.  And most days she also wore pearls.  But the rose was her signature.  She was so famous for her rose that a Margaret Chase Smith rosebush exits today.

Only June 2, 2009 I asked my readers:  Where were you in 1964?

I went forward to explain….I realize that by asking that question, I am admitting that I am over 50 because I not only remember 64 but lived it large.  I was 12 (well, I lived it as large as a 12 year-old could) and I was living (together with my parents who were children of the depression, born and raised in Stone County, Mississippi — a rural county halfway between Hattiesburg and  Gulfport on Highway 49) in Wichita Falls, Texas, a town in northeast Texas near the eastern edge of the panhandle, about 90 miles north of Dallas.  As you might imagine, my parents were fairly apolitical, extremely conservative and quite conventional.

But my Aunt Ann, who lived in Breckenridge, Texas, about 90 miles south and toward Ft. Worth, for those of you knowledgeable of Texas geography, was not.  I loved her!  She smoked and cussed and was brutally honest and absolutely fascinating.  And she watched TV from daylight to dark.  (Well, its not fair to say she watched TV, because she was one of those small, energetic women who was always moving — usually with a broom or mop or dust rag in her hand… but the TV was on from the time she got up — with the chickens — until the test pattern came on after the Star Spangled Banner had blasted out over the screen filled with a waving American flag — the 60s network “good night”.)  And when I visited, I could do just about anything a 12 year-old might want to do.  Drink lots of Coca Colas, eat lots of bbq brisket and watermelon, pop popcorn every night (Jiffy-pop, no less), read and watch TV any time I wanted to.  So I arranged with her to be able to spend some weeks in the summer with her — specifically the weeks during which the Democratic and Republican National Conventions were televised all day and night long — what a treat!

Living with conservatives, I was fairly conservative at the time.  (When you are young, no matter how wierd your parents are, that is what you know as “normal”.)  So I didn’t think that Goldwater was quite so conservative in some of his positions as I do now.  And I knew that folks who lived in “my” part of Texas, with substantial oil interests, did not share some of LBJ’s liberal points of view.  So while I watched both conventions with interest, I suppose I was a nominal Republican, if, indeed, 12 year-olds are nominal anythings, except kids.

But it was the 1964 political conventions that introduced me to Senator Margaret Chase Smith.  And it was the 1964 political conventions that changed my life.

On June 1, 2009, I posted this:

“Pick any decade or any year that you have been alive and cognizant of things political.  Then pick any state which is at least 1,000 miles from where you were residing at that time.  Then name one of their senators who was serving at that time.  How successful were you?”

Think about it.  Pick a decade or year.  Then pick a state at least 1,000 miles away from your residence during the decade or year you selected.  Name a U. S. Senator serving from that state in that year or decade.  Were you successful?  If you were, it’s probably because you selected a well-known and long-serving Senator, e.g., Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, or Senator Joe Liebermann of Connecticut.  Even though there are only 100 of them, we usually don’t keep up with Senators who serve from areas far away from our own locale.

And yet, when Dr. Wiseman began talking to me about Senator Margaret Chase Smith, who died in 1995 – 11 years before we were having this conversation, I knew precisely who Senator Margaret Chase Smith was.  But why?

Because Senator Margaret Chase Smith created the tipping point for me.

Happy New Year — this the decennial year — the census year — the year which introduces the decade of the “twenty-teens.”  For many of us, the new year is a time for reflection and reassessment.  Some of us make resolutions.  These usually have to do with diets and exercise or other self-help issues.  I’ve made those in the past, and have made some of those this year, too.  But I am trying to realign my thinking — to set goals instead of making resolutions.  And one of those goals is to quit “researching” and start “writing” about Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, her professional relationship with Mississippi’s Senator John C. Stennis, and my spiritual relationship with her.

Have you seen, or better yet read, Julie & Julia?  My relationship with Senator Margaret Chase Smith is similar to Julie Powell’s  relationship with Julia Child.  They didn’t know each other, but Julie Powell came to adore Julia Child.  My spot of luck in this Senator Margaret Chase Smith endeavor is that she is dead, so she can’t be asked:  “What do you think of this Lydia Quarles person who is writing about you?” and be heard to say, as Julia Child told Judith Jones, Senior Editor and Vice President at Alfred A. Knopf:  “I do not approve….”

Last summer I blogged a bit about this project, and throughout this week I am going to provide a slight reprise of the information contained in those blogs.  Monday, January 11th will begin with the “in earnest” reaching of my 2010 goal.


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