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The 1964 election, which pitted President Lyndon Johnson against Senator Barry Goldwater, was one of the most consequential in American history. The election took place at a fraught moment in American history, when a grass roots civil rights movement was placing immense pressure on elected officials to move forward with a bold domestic agenda and when a conservative coalition in Congress continued to stifle progress on legislation.
In this lecture, Professor Zelizer will explore the dramatic struggle that took place between the incumbent president — who had only recently taken office following the assassination of John F. Kennedy — and a conservative Senator who demanded that his party embrace a sharp rightward shift. The results of the election were dramatic. As a result of a Democratic landslide that brought a huge influx of liberal Democrats into Washington, and placed conservative Republicans on the defense, voters helped to break the logjam in Washington, establishing a clear pathway toward the Great Society. At the same time, though he lost by a landslide, Goldwater’s campaign set the terms for Republican politics for decades to come.