Memories of another election
It was 1964,
and my dad was on the GOP ticket
By Mary Miller James
For the Salisbury Post
It happens to me every four years during the presidential election season ó this sense of nostalgia that, even now 44 years later, leaves me continuing to reflect on how things can be so different and yet so much the same.
My dad was Bill Miller, who ran for vice president with Barry Goldwater on the Republican ticket in 1964. For those old enough to remember, it was at the time the worst landslide loss in history. With all the folks who’ve told me since that they voted for us, I sometimes think we should still ask for a recount.
How could we have been so wrong? As a kid, you just simply believe, that’s all. You mistake those thousands of screaming, devoted fans for a whole country. You tell yourself, well, the polls were wrong about Truman (who defeated Dewey in 1948), they don’t tell the whole story, and you watch ó we’ll surprise ’em all. It was only years later that Dad confided that he never thought victory was possible: The country would not accept three presidents in three years (Lyndon Johnson taking over after John Kennedy’s assassination), and Barry Goldwater was probably perceived as too conservative for the country at the time. (My dad loved the irony of Ronald Reagan, who espoused similar values, winning by the biggest landslide in history 16 years later.)
But back to ’64. I was a high school senior and the dear nuns at my Catholic school basically allowed me to take the fall off and campaign, even though I know they were all Democrats. I went with my parents, sometimes by myself, often with my older sister Libby, or with Libby and the two handsome Goldwater boys, to several youth jamborees. The media loved that last foursome ó continually trying to make a “match” among us. Speaking of the media, while I always think they pilloried Barry and my dad (How could they? He’s my dad!), they were gentle on us kids back then. I don’t know why, but the big question was: Who did our hair? I had one of those big teased flips. All I have to do is look at my old campaign photos, showing one of those suitcase-sized hair dryers perennially tethered to my hand, to know we did it ourselves, thank you.
Libby, being the smarter and wiser one, always gave the more substantive speech. I provided the “color.” Stories like the time my folks told me I should hop a plane and meet them in Idaho, only to discover they were in Alabama. I tried to forgive them through my tears and fears ó after all, I guess it’s easy to forget where you are when you do six states in a day. And there was the time my mom, of Polish decent, was given a speech to deliver in Polish to a Detroit ladies’ group. We were so proud she did it without a hitch! Until one enthralled fan asked her a lengthy question ó in Polish ó which left my poor mom like a deer in the headlights. Whoops ó no fun being “found out” ó especially when you need every vote you can get.
I loved giving all those autographs! But I’ve always wondered what people do with them. If anyone has one, let me know if it commands a good price on eBay, will you? Even more than that, I loved the Secret Service protection! What a trip for a 17-year-old. They were always camped outside our home and accompanied everyone to our front door to make sure we knew who they were. Once, when my boyfriend of four years arrived to fetch me for a date, I insisted I’d never seen him before. I can still picture him being dragged away, yelling, “But, Mary, you KNOW me, this isn’t funny!”
Oh, I had such a giggle … before I finally retrieved him at the end of the sidewalk. And boy, did I ever get inundated with date requests! I mean, real invitations from real suitors, for weekends at one college or another. I still shake my head at the thought that my parents actually allowed me to accept some of them. From strangers! What were they ó or I ó thinking?! Maybe we figured Republicans were safe. Anyway, I survived, and got a jump on the nature of college weekends, much to the envy of my girlfriends.
Libby and I encountered only one bomb scare, at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. It happened just as she started speaking in a crowded gym. Suddenly, we had to evacuate. I know the GOP ticket was divisive and controversial, but good grief, how threatening were two school girls?
I feel I need to say a little something about my dad, who died way too young at age 69 in 1983. I remember when Goldwater selected him as his running mate, the hue and cry was, “Who the heck is Bill Miller?” He was not a household name, to be sure. But he did come with what, in my view, was a rather substantial resume, having served as an assistant prosecutor at the Nuremburg trials, as a congressman from upstate New York for 14 years, as Republican Congressional Campaign chairman, then Republican National chairman at the time he was chosen. Dad was known for his unblemished integrity (I remember him returning a case of gin once so as not to appear being “bought” by a supporter ó something that must have been tough for someone who loved his martinis!), for his sharp mind, savvy political astuteness and dry wit. But what he possessed above all was a “big tent” philosophy meant to exclude no one but include all who shared certain common values. No one was to be considered more patriotic, more God-fearing, more righteous, more moral than another. We can disagree, he felt, but we should be able to do so with civility and mutual respect.
As his daughter, it’s a legacy of which I remain eternally proud.
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Mary Miller James lives in Salisbury.
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