- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 27, 2005

He was featured in a 1974 television ad: “Do you know me? I ran for vice president of the United States in 1964, so I shouldn’t have trouble charging a meal, should I? Well, I do. That’s why I carry an American Express card.”

The story of Bill Miller, the congressman from New York who was Sen. Barry Goldwater’s running mate on the Republican presidential ticket, is told in “Bill Miller: Do You Know Me? A Daughter Remembers” by Libby Miller Fitzgerald.

A writer and former TV news broadcaster, Mrs. Fitzgerald is a mother and grandmother who now lives in Lynchburg, Va., with her husband, Dr. Paul Fitzgerald. The following are excerpts of a telephone interview with her.

Question: A lot has been written about the Republican Party’s 40-year rise to power since the 1964 campaign. Do you think your father’s role in that history has been overlooked?

Answer: I think it was. That’s probably one of the main reasons I wrote the book. He was associated with Goldwater, because of running on the ticket, which he was proud to do. Prior to that, he had been national chairman of the Republican Party for three years, and during that time, he instituted many programs to build and strengthen the party in areas of the country where they had not been strong.

His philosophy was: “We’re not going to concede anything: Not the big city vote, the South, black or ethnic voters.” … He closely surveyed every congressional district and determined whether they were winnable. He ran candidates in districts where there had never been Republican candidates before. He did a great many things, in terms of grass-roots building of the party. Those things paid off … and have reached into the present.

In particular [with] the South, he figured there was no reason that [it] should be a one-party region. … That became controversial in ways he never intended because, particularly, the media portrayed that as an effort to pursue the white racist vote, which was not what he intended at all.

Southerners realized the Republican Party’s more conservative philosophy was more in tune with their own values. Racism had nothing to do with it at all. … In the South, young professionals were tired of a one-party system.

My father used to get so upset by the accusation of going after the segregationist vote. He’d say, “These people were Democrats for years, and no one ever accused the Democrats of that.” …

Q: Candidates’ children now are sometimes the subject of intrusive press coverage. Did you ever experience anything like that with your father and his political career?

A: I get such a kick out of watching today the candidates’ children and the role they play and comparing it to our day. … My sister and I [as well as the children of Mr. Goldwater and President Lyndon B. Johnson] were … totally involved in a national campaign, because we were the perfect age. We were all between 20 and 30. …

There is much more critical press, no doubt about it. … People wrote differently then about children and families than they do now. It was all glowing. We were “beautiful,” we were “eloquent,” we were “poised.” … It’s certainly not like it used to be. They’re fair game.

Q: Barry Goldwater has been seen seen as the pioneer for a new, more conservative Republican Party, while your father was more identified with the GOP’s so-called “Eastern establishment.” Were there tensions as a result of that?

A: He was thought of to be part of the Eastern establishment because he was from New York state, but in reality, he was from western New York state … which is a more conservative area. …

But my father could really work with a lot of different people. That’s why he was picked for the ticket. He’d been such a unifier. His whole effort had been to keep the party together. …

Q: Given the situation Democrats find themselves in now, do you see parallels to what Republicans faced after 1964?

A: I think there are many parallels that can be drawn between the way he conducted party affairs and today. … I think he would say, we all need to live together in the party. …

Two of the big stresses of my father’s chairmanship was [first] finding strong candidates — he found bright, articulate young candidates all over the country. The other thing you hear about as if it were something new … that he began as chairman, was seeking small donations, the $10 sustaining membership program. That became the lifeblood of the party. … The whole concept began in my father’s national chairmanship. …

Q: Is there any aspect of the Republican Party today that you think your father would have been uncomfortable with?

A: I think he would have been uncomfortable … with the religious right. Not because he wasn’t a very religious man. He was in fact deeply religious. He was Catholic. …

During the Kennedy campaign [in 1960], he accused them of reverse bigotry. … What he felt they were saying was that if you don’t vote for Kennedy, you’re a bigot. … He found that, as a Catholic, offensive. …

The issues are different. … All these things were not issues when he was in the political arena. … I don’t think he felt, even though religion was such a part of his life, he didn’t think he could use it to cast aspersions on anyone else.

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