Not a Goldwater Republican

Harry Welty

Political buttons collected by Harry Welty’s father Daniel Marsh Welty.

5th in a series on a visit to Washington DC  

From the day I joined the Grand Old Party I joked that I was a “bad Republican.” Before that happened in 1972 I spent a summer with a harmless, good-natured farmer Republican who had been elected to Congress when I was four years old.  

My first impression of Ancher Nelsen was formed my first night in Washington. His legislative assistant handed me crepe paper rolls to decorate that night’s Minnesota Club fete. We crossed the street from the Rayburn House Office Building to a hotel for lobbyists where state luminaries would gather to admire each other. It was hoped that two Supreme Court Justices would join the party. Not yet of age to drink I had no trouble ordering vodka gimlets at the bar.  

As the party emptied out Ancher sidled up to the piano and the young girls who had sung through the evening. He told them he was going to sing some Danish songs. Unlike other Scandinavians whose names end in “son,” Nelsen was a “sen” like most other Danes.  

The next morning the legislative assistant hunched over a newspaper's society page like a gambler pouring over horse racing results. He gleefully told the office that Ancher had made the paper. The story reported that our Congressman finished the evening by singing “dirty Danish ditties” to the party.   Sweet old Ancher was not popular on college campuses, which is why I was was his summer intern. Being a Republican, students blamed him for the Vietnam War because “Tricky Dick” our Republican President was bombing North Vietnam instead of holding peace talks.  

Traditionally the two college campuses in Nelsen’s Second District took turns sending students to intern in his office each Summer. 1971 had been Gustavus Adolphus’ turn but no one wanted to work with a war monger. So less refined Mankato State provided me. MSC also sent one the following year making it a hat-trick such were the scruples of the Gusties. There was justice behind those scruples. Nixon the 1968 candidate had secretly sabotaged Vietnam peace talks because a peace settlement would have cost him the presidency.  

About the only one who knew this was Lyndon Johnson, who had to keep his mouth shut because his wiretaps of Nixon were illegal. Democrat Johnson was hardly innocent. He’d lied to Congress telling them that North Vietnam’s navy had attacked US ships so that Congress would give him the power to wage war.  

I’m sorry, this is no longer a DC travelogue. It's become time traveling. When I drive my grandsons to school, NPR tells us of the latest cracks in our nation’s unity. Today is not the first, second or third worst such occasion but it could get worse. So let me say a word about my grandfather’s hero, Barry Goldwater.

When Senator Goldwater was a candidate for President in 1964 he suggested dropping a nuke on North Vietnam. Because of this and the issue of Civil Rights my parents did not vote for him that year. It damn near broke my grandfather Robb’s heart. I was not a fan of Barry Goldwater.  

I was a great fan of Illinois Republican Senator and war skeptic Charles Percy. I made sure to attend the question and answer session he gave to the student interns. Percy was too embarrassed to use his hearing aid and when anti-war students thought he was stalling for time they catcalled him and frankly pissed me off. Feeling as I did about Goldwater, I skipped his Q&A with the students but having seen how the liberal Percy was treated I was sure Goldwater would get it worse. News of Goldwater’s treatment was so appalling it spread to Congressmen Nelsen’s staff who were outraged.

As far as I was concerned, the summer interns had flipped the bird at both my grandfather and LBJ cussing Dad. I would become a bad Republican when I returned home. Better than that than a self-righteous twit.  

And at first it wasn’t hard. Minnesota had a very different Republican Party than Goldwater’s in 1964. Our local Republican legislators had joined Democrats to pass the “Minnesota Miracle” which gave poor school districts state financing to match rich suburban school districts. I joined the College Republicans as the summer of '72 approached and was thrilled when the GOP state convention adopted a pro-choice on abortion platform. In the fall I volunteered to defend Richard Nixon in a debate with George McGovern supporters at the Student Union. I was going to vote for McGovern but this was a debate and I figured both sides should have competent counsel. Several close friends told me how disappointed they were with me even though I told the audience I too disagreed with the arguments I was making. Nixon deserved to be heard.  

As for crusty old Barry Goldwater. When Nixon’s treachery was revealed Goldwater took the lead in telling him to pack his bags. Later when Republicans christened God as the head of the Republican Party and started spewing homophobia, Barry publicly derided the haters. His grandson was gay and as far as he was concerned it wasn’t anybody else’s damn business how he lived his life. Republicans excommunicated Barry and have excommunicated many other Republicans over the next 40 years.  

Now it's Pope Trump that does the excommunicating. Another damn twit.  

Harry Welty happily pontificates at