Archive for the ‘1968 Campaign’ Category

By Rebecca Alt–Party Pandemonium: Hubert Humphrey’s Losing Rhetoric in the 1968 Election

The 1968 election was a chaotic political contest between Richard Nixon (R), sitting Vice President Hubert Humphrey (D), and third-party candidate George Wallace (I). From the moment President Lyndon Baines Johnson announced he wouldn’t pursue another term (March 31, 1968) through election night November 5, 1968, the candidates—specifically Democrat Hubert Humphrey—faced a challenging battle for the top spot in the White House. In the throes of the Vietnam War, which had gotten bloodier on the watch of Lyndon Johnson, and the ongoing Civil Rights struggles (Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in April of this election year), a serious state of political and social chaos and violence became a daily reality in the United States. This was the political context that candidates faced in the election of 1968.

Alt Humphrey 1Like the political and social unrest troubling the nation in the 1960s and especially this presidential election, the Democratic Party suffered from ideological divides, infighting, and general disunity. Whereas Richard Nixon’s nomination to the Republican Party ticket was “smooth and almost mechanical,” Humphrey was nominated in a starkly different situation: party pandemonium. [1] In the Democratic primaries, there were several candidates vying for the nomination—Eugene McCarthy, Robert Kennedy, and Hubert Humphrey—and these initial contests were heated and messy, especially during the primary debates. Democrats were divided among the primary candidates—most were initially drawn away from Hubert Humphrey due to his association with LBJ; Humphrey symbolically represented “the Establishment” and therefore its dangers: the “pro-war, bomb-the-Cong position.” [2]. This rhetorical transfer made Humphrey’s campaign for the White House increasingly difficult. He was often heckled at his rallies with signs reading “How Many Primaries Have You Won?” [3] Although all three of the candidates experienced serious heckling on the campaign trail, Gordon Bennett argues that Humphrey’s hecklers heckled Humphrey the worst. [4] In the time between the primaries and the general election, Eugene McCarthy withdrew and Robert Kennedy—considered to be a real contender—was assassinated. Humphrey had garnered enough delegates, so the Democratic Party nominated him for its presidential ticket to take on Nixon.

Convention Chaos

Humphrey was slated to deliver an acceptance address to a favorable attending party audience that August in Chicago (Text here; Video here). However, the Democrats “were beset by organized plans to disrupt the convention proceedings within the hall and throughout the city. The Coalition for an Open Convention had brought about 1,200 dissenting Democrats to Chicago two months in advance in order to plan challenges to delegate credentials and also a platform repudiating the Democratic administration.” [5] The area outside the convention was overrun with mobs and riots broke out. Perhaps it was Humphrey’s synecdoche problem—his White House administrative connection with LBJ that equated Humphrey with Johnson—or perhaps RFK’s lingering supporters were the main culprits. Regardless, the Democratic Party was truly tumultuous, and Humphrey’s occasion was the opposite of the traditional ritual purpose of the party convention: to celebrate party unity, bolster the party ideology, and celebrate the candidate. Brock argues “The confrontation at the Chicago convention had more symbolic or rhetorical impact than any other event in the 1968 campaign. It served as a climax to the Jonson administration, and it communicated to the nation that the Democratic Party and our society were deeply divided between doves and hawks, blacks and whites, rich and poor, young and old. No one liked nor understood what they saw and heard, so they rejected the entire experience.” [6] Meanwhile, in Miami at the Republican National Convention, all was peaceful on the Nixon front.

Alt Humphrey 2Before turning to the text of Humphrey’s speech, some common features of Nominating Conventions/Partisan rhetoric is worth noting. Scholars Trent and Friedenberg assert that acceptance addresses at National Conventions should satisfy four purposes:

First, the address is the means through which the candidate publicly assumes the role of a candidate/leader of the party;
Second, the address should generate a strong positive response from the immediate audience;
Third, it should serve to unify the party;
Finally, it is a partisan political address, which in some instances may be the most important such address the candidate makes through the campaign. [7]

As Robert Nordvold reminds in his article, Humphrey’s immediate rhetorical constraint was delivering this address “to the dissent and riot-torn convention.” [8] Drawing on Lloyd Bitzer’s term “rhetorical situation,” Nordvold characterizes the final evening of the political convention as such “not just because the nominee’s acceptance speech is scheduled for that time, but, quite the reverse, the nature of the occasion, the character of the audience, and the constraints engendered by the previous days events, structured to produce a climactic moment of victory.” [9] Like Trent and Friedenberg’s purposes for the acceptance speech, the convention speech functions as “a public assumption by the nominee of the leadership of the party; elicits from the delegates concerted, vocal response indicating their support of the nominee; and presents to the wider audience a demonstration of political solidarity and ideological unity.” [10] Traditionally, Nordvold argues, this combination of purposes and functions results in political ritual.

With these party convention purposes in mind, I turn to a very brief analysis of the primary text of Humphrey’s Acceptance Speech. Considering the broad political and election context along with the “party pandemonium” framework, I will highlight the ways in which Humphrey’s address either succeeded or failed to satisfy those purposes and venture to answer the question of why Humphrey’s rhetoric failed to deliver a victory in November 1968.

“A New Day for America”: Humphrey’s Rhetoric Miscarries

Humphrey’s acceptance speech was an opportunity to unify the party after a tumultuous primary season, which would hopefully result in a Democratic win in the general election. It was also an opportunity to distinguish himself from the legacy of LBJ and the horrors of the Vietnam War. Humphrey could have proposed specific social and legal policies or made promises to the party. He could have addressed his rhetorical situation with humility, or referenced the angry mob of dissenters outside of the convention hall. He didn’t quite do any of those things in the speech; he even said, prior to the convention that “events are going to have more to do with this election than my rhetoric.” [11] Nordvold goes as far to argue “in short, he solved the problems confronting him by avoiding them.” [12] Throughout the speech, Humphrey speaks very abstractly with platitudes like “At this convention, too, we have recognized the end of an era and the beginning of a new day” without explaining what he means by the former era and what would be new. [13]

Alt Humphrey 3Without any mention of his own stances on the issues of the day or “the new day,” Humphrey appeals to tradition and the “godlike” Democrats that preceded him in office, in the effort to transfer their positive qualities to his candidacy, a common rhetorical technique during campaigns:

In the tradition of Franklin Roosevelt, who knew that America had nothing to fear but fear itself…and it is in the tradition of Harry Truman who let’em have it and told it like it was. And that’s the way we’re going to do it from here on out.

It is in the tradition of that beloved man, Adlai Stevenson, who talked sense to the American people. And, oh, tonight, how we miss that great, good and gentle man of peace in America.

And my fellow Americans, all that we do and all that we ever hope to do, must be in the tradition of John F. Kennedy who said to us: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what can you do for your country.

He continues:

And what we are doing is in the tradition of Lyndon B. Johnson who rallied a grief-stricken nation when our leader was stricken by the assassin’s bullet and said to you and said to me and said to all the world: “Let us continue.”

And in the space of five years since that tragic moment, President Johnson has accomplished more of the unfinished business of America than any of his modern predecessors.

Humphrey channels his predecessors’ successes but presents no “new” policies or ideas. He praises LBJ’s character in the wake of John Kennedy’s assassination, but does not speak of the controversial decisions made regarding Vietnam. He speaks of peace in Vietnam but lays out no plan. In this way, I believe Humphrey is aiming to transcend the divisive party attitude towards LBJ and instead replace it with a quality most would agree is virtuous: his leadership and fortitude during and after JFK was tragically assassinated. It seems as though Humphrey is aiming to bolster this quality while suppressing the controversy.

He channels JFK once again:

Now, let me ask you, do you remember these words, at another time, in a different place: “Peace and freedom do not come cheap. And we are destined — All of us here today — to live out most, if not all of our lives, in uncertainty and challenge and peril.”

The words of a prophet? Yes.

The words of a President? Yes.

The words of the challenge of today? Yes.

And the words of John Kennedy to you and to me and to me and to posterity.

If there were a catalogued rhetorical strategy “Appealing to JFK,” Humphrey surely would fit the bill for employing it liberally (pun intended). Both parties appeal to past “great presidents,” probably in the effort to transfer their qualities to the present candidate at the podium. While it works to pull the heartstrings and bring about glandular responses in the audience, in Humphrey’s particular situation it did not work. Humphrey wasn’t at the center of a usual party convention—the situation called for something else. What Humphrey lacked in savoir-faire, he arguably made up for in empty clichés.

There are many more detailed analyses on the text of Hubert Humphrey’s Acceptance Speech and the rhetorical ornament he (unsuccessfully) employed. However, what I hoped to do in this brief analysis was to highlight the relationship between the party and the presidential candidate and the importance of unity. There is a clear relationship between the chaotic Democratic Party of 1968 and the events of the 1968 Democratic Campaign, as well as a possible causal relationship between the health of the party and the outcome of the election. Richard Nixon did not need to worry about unifying a party on top of all the existing work it takes to win an election. Humphrey’s acceptance speech illustrates an attempt to transcend party division—smooth over, bolster past success—rather than an honest attempt to actively unify through rhetorical action.

This was certainly not the first—or last—time a political party would be divided. Is it possible, though, that even given the problems of a two-party system, party unity prevents American political pandemonium?

[1] Robert O. Nordvold, “Rhetoric as Ritual: Hubert H. Humphrey’s Acceptance Address at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.” Today’s Speech 18, no. 1 (1970): 34-38.

[2] Gordon C. Bennett, “The heckler and the heckled in the presidential campaign of 1968.” Communication Quarterly 27, no. 2 (1979): 28-37.

[3] Ibid. Hubert Humphrey was the only candidate not to enter any of the primaries, which was why the signs read as such.

[4] Ibid

[5] Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. 8th ed., s.v. “United States presidential election of 1968.” Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2014.

[6] Bernard Brock, “1968 Democratic Campaign: A Political Upheaval.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 55, no. 1 (1969): 26-35.

[7] Judith S. Trent and Robert V. Friedenbert, Political Campaign Communication: Principles and Practices 2nd Edition. New York: Praeger (1991), 183-189.

[8] Robert O. Nordvold, “Rhetoric as Ritual: Hubert H. Humphrey’s Acceptance Address at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.” Today’s Speech 18, no. 1 (1970): 34-38.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid

[13] Hubert H. Humphrey, “A New Day for America” (Address Accepting the Presidential Nomination at the Democratic National Convention, Chicago, IL, August 29, 1968) The American Presidency Project, Also, YouTube:


Riot photo from Chicago Tribune files.

Heckler cartoon:

Humphrey speaking:

Interesting Reference: 1968 Democratic Party Platform



Categories: 1968 Campaign

1968–Sinatra Ad–Gavin McGuire

Hubert Humphrey was faced with the difficult task of running for president after Lyndon B. Johnson, for whom Humphrey was vice president, decided not to seek a second term. The Johnson/Humphrey administration was not particularly popular in 1968 so from the start Humphrey was not going to be able to run on a “track record” type platform because at that point, the voters did not like the track record Humphrey had. So for the 1968 election the Humphrey campaign focused more on the character of the two candidates, Humphrey the Democrat and Richard M. Nixon, the Republican. So much was Humphrey’s campaign built around issues of character that his campaign slogan was Humphrey-Muskie, two you can trust” which was meant to be in direct conflict with Richard Nixon, who the Humphrey campaign attempted to paint as untrustworthy. It was an ineffective strategy, as Humphrey lost the election, but as far as claiming Nixon was not to be trusted…well, Humphrey was ahead of the game in that regard.

A prime example of Humphrey’s emphasis on character in the 1968 election would be in the time honored political tradition of endorsements of candidates and how highlighting those endorsements is an effective way to prove the character of the candidate receiving the endorsement. What makes the elections of this era interesting with regards to political endorsements was the emergence of television and entertainment and the new generation of “celebrities” that came as a result of more people having access to television and radio across the country. Certainly entertainment celebrities have always existed but by 1968 singers, actors and actresses were now more accessible than ever for people across the country and certain celebrities were well known by everyone. And in 1968 there was no more well known celebrity than Frank Sinatra and that’s exactly who Humphrey used in an ad trying to raise funds for his campaign.

The ad itself is pretty straightforward with Sinatra sitting and talking directly at the camera and his message as an endorser is fairly straight forward as well. Sinatra makes it clear that he knows Humphreys campaign messages and he supports them and that he, Frank Sinatra famous singer and movie star thinks YOU should support Hubert Humphrey and his campaign as well. Even though its not fair to say that the only reason Humphrey decided to use Sinatra in a campaign ad was because it was part of his emphasis on character, having a celebrity that everyone knows and respects endorse you as a candidate is a great way to reinforce your own character. Another aspect of the ad that was useful for Humphrey was that he uses Sinatra to echo his campaign messages which could certainly be received much better from ‘ol blue eyes than Hubert Humphrey. Sinatra rattles off three or four campaign issues at the beginning of the ad and the more the voters are familiar with your messages the better.

Even though the particular ad is a positive Humphrey ad, relatively speaking most of Humphreys ads in the 1968 campaign were attack ads or negative Nixon ads rather than pro-Humphrey ads. So in that regard the Sinatra ad is out of the ordinary but as far as the positive ads Humphrey did use, the Sinatra ad fits right in with the others. Most of the positive ads Humphrey put out emphasized his character and the Greek rhetorical concept of “ethos” explains why having Frank Sinatra endorse you as a candidate is a way to have voters understand you’re a candidate of high character and worthy of their vote. If Frank Sinatra is saying that Hubert Humphrey is the type of man HE would vote for, and the majority of viewers respect Frank Sinatras opinion, then having Sinatra on television endorsing Hubert Humphrey is a very effective strategy.

In a time now where the line between politics and celebrity is often blurred, it’s interesting to take a look back at how the world of celebrity endorsements for political candidates uses to be. Although Hubert Humphrey’s bid to be president fell short its would be hard to blame that on the lack of good endorsements as in 1968, few people were more well know than Frank Sinatra. Although not the first time a celebrity openly endorsed a presidential candidate, the Frank Sinatra ad was part of these types of endorsements becoming more and more prevalent especially with the relatively new medium of television advertising now at presidential candidates disposal.

1968–Wallace Cartoon–Gavin McGuire

Third party or independent candidates are often remembered as inconsequential or having done little to affect the results of the general election and because of this their rhetoric and campaign communication are rarely the topic of research and investigation. That is not the case with the 1968 presidential election that saw George C. Wallace of Alabama win forty-six Electoral College votes and 14% of the popular vote as an Independent candidate running against Republican, Richard Nixon and Democrat, Hubert Humphrey. Most today would characterize Wallace as a racist and ardent segregationist, which may be true, but what is also true is that during his 1968 campaign Wallace certainly couldn’t make those views the most important parts of his campaign if he had any hopes of becoming President or effecting the election in a meaningful way. So while the majority of people today only see Wallace as a “one trick pony”, his one trick being segregation (now, tomorrow and forever), to look at his 1968 campaign would reveal a candidate who didn’t run on one single issue necessarily but it would also show a public that viewed him in much the same way we do today, despite Wallace’s efforts.

Wallace was the least known of the candidates so one of the most important aspects of his campaign, especially early on, was to get his face and messages to the masses. Now, this isn’t to say that no one across the country knew who George Wallace was. George Wallace was at the forefront of one of the most famous Civil Rights standoffs in the country’s history. In June of 1963 Wallace, then the governor of Alabama, attempted to stop the federally mandated integration of the University of Alabama by personally standing in the way of students trying to enter. We all recognize the images of this event and the man that was behind this was none other that George Wallace, who five years later would be running for President. Wallace also gained notoriety for what is now a famous sound byte, saying, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” which became the rallying cry of segregationists across the country. So to say that Wallace was an “unknown” independent candidate would be a stretch, however the majority of the country outside of the Deep South certainly had some preconceived notions of what Wallace stood for based on his time as governor of Alabama.

How Wallace was perceived by the majority of the country is illustrated beautifully in a cartoon by Herb Block, political cartoonist for The Washington Post. This cartoon titled, “We’ll let the overcoat out all the way, and the robe will hardly show at all” was printed on February 11, 1968 in the early stages of Wallaces campaign. In the cartoon, a tailor is fitting Wallace for an overcoat and top hat but underneath the overcoat there is a Ku Klux Klan robe that is clearly visible despite the tailors’ best efforts. What makes this cartoon political is that on the overcoat and hat attempting to cover Wallace’s Ku Klux Klan robe are the campaign terms, “States Rights”, “3rd Party”, and “Law and Order Talk” which were some of the key issues Wallace ran on and as if the symbolism of the Ku Klux Klan robe wasn’t obvious enough, the word racism is printed on the robe. What this cartoon is essentially saying is that all of the things Wallace was saying and campaigning on were an attempt to cover up the fact that he had less than favorable, which may be an understatement, views on race and that during his time as governor of Alabama he made decisions which many viewed as overtly racist in nature. The print date and newspaper that printed the cartoon are important because the fact that the cartoon was printed in the early stages of Wallaces campaign would indicate that the people up North, where the cartoon was printed, were not listening to Wallace’s campaign rhetoric and messages but just saw a racist whose messages were merely a way to cover up his true intentions.

This cartoon highlights the fact that sometimes no matter how well conceived or well delivered a campaign message might be, it may not always be enough to overcome a candidates past. When watching Wallace campaign ads or reading a brochure, Wallace doesn’t appear to be a racist monster hell bent on destroying the Civil Rights Movement. He comes across as a somewhat viable candidate with a clear, albeit out of the ordinary, campaign message. However, the timing and location of the printing of this cartoon would seem to indicate that none of the campaigning Wallace did was ever going to be enough to erase the stigma attached to his past as the governor of Alabama.

1968–“Nixon’s Life”–Gavin McGuire

Richard Nixon’s bid for the presidency in 1968 was his second in eight years and that brought with it many advantages, but also some notable disadvantages. With his loss in the 1960 presidential election to John F. Kennedy, and to a lesser extent his loss in the 1962 California gubernatorial election, Nixon began to gain the reputation in the media as “un-electable” and the notion that he could never be elected president became more and more prevalent. This problem of image in the media came to a head when Nixon blamed, in part, his loss in the 1962 California gubernatorial election on how the media portrayed him negatively, remarking to reporters after the election, “You won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore because, gentleman, this is my last press conference.” Of course, it was not his last press conference. While on one had, the countries familiarity with Nixon was a positive, on the other it was a negative because that familiarity was with Nixon as the candidate who lost the last two elections in which he ran.

It was because of this that one of the main goals of the Nixon campaign was to reinvent, or repackage Nixon as a viable, legitimate presidential candidate that people knew and could trust to run their country.  Nixon and his advisors sought to put Nixon in controlled situations to deliver his campaign messages and communicate with voters and stayed away from debates and spontaneous situations. One of the most effective ways Nixon did this was by appearing in a serious of hour long programs and extended interviews in which Nixon not only discussed policy issues, but also gave the voters a better sense of who he was as a man and how his upbringing, views on life, etc. made him the right choice to be president. One of these interviews titled, “Nixon’s Life” is available online here: and is a very good example of how Nixon focused on communicating in controlled situations and attempted to avoid public appearances with the media. This extended ad is also a fine example of Nixon’s attempts to repackage himself and create a new image for voters to see as a large part of this particular ad is focused on Nixon’s personal life and less on policy, campaign messages, etc. While presidential candidates had been using biographies or a revealing of their personal lives as a part of their campaign communications for many years prior, this particular Nixon ad is interesting because despite being forty-three years old it has the same look and feel of many current presidential campaigns similar types of ads.

Nixon’s efforts to repackage himself proved to be effective because he won the election fairly handedly, but that was due in large part Lyndon B. Johnson not seeking a second term and George Wallace doing incredibly well as a third party candidate and winning a few states in the south that were typically democratic. This, along with other ads like it were a large part of Nixons repackaging effort because it provided a forum where Nixon could focus on presenting his presidential qualities as well as focus, or not focus, on those policy issues that he perceived to be important or not important to his campaign. This falls right in line with the theme of keeping Nixon only in controlled situations, which based on the election results appeared to be an effective strategy. Nixon chose to communicate with the voters through ads like these and declined to engage in debates with the democratic candidate, Hubert Humphrey which could be attributed to the fact that Nixon did not fare well in his 1960 debate with John F. Kennedy.

Repackaging himself as a viable presidential candidate was arguably the most important mission of Richard Nixons 1968 presidential campaign. With the help of Roger Ailes, who produced the ads like the one linked about, Nixon was able clean his slate in a sense and come at the 1968 campaign in a different way, as a different candidate. All things considered it’s hard to say whether Nixons efforts to repackage himself are what won him the election. Lyndon Johnson not seeking a second term, the tumultuous Democratic National Convention, and the presence of George Wallace were all arguably more influential in Richard Nixon winning the 1968 election. However, watching ads like this one, its not difficult to see that Nixon did place a large emphasis on creating a new image, or reinventing himself as a viable presidential candidate.