When Robert Kennedy was assassinated in 1968, Republican New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller turned to Rep. Charles Goodell of Jamestown to fill his seat. Goodell was the father of newly embattled NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and would serve in that position for less than two years. In 1970, Charlie Goodell was ousted, after his sudden, bold and vocal embrace of the anti-war movement put him at odds with the Nixon Administration. And Nixon helped make sure Goodell didn't win a full term.
Grantland's Bryan Curtis wrote up the full story in 2013, including interviews with people that were involved at the time. It outlines how the senior Goodell transformed from a sharp, committed Republican congressman -- "kind of the Paul Ryan of the time," one Times reporter told Curtis -- into a sideburn-wearing, Jane Fonda-befriending senator from the Empire State. We've excerpted part of the Post's coverage of that change to illustrate a remarkable time period and a remarkable -- and brief -- political career.
Shortly after Goodell arrived in the House in 1963, he was an "arch-conspirator," one of the "Young Turks" that helped to elevate then-Rep. Gerald Ford (R-Mich.) to the chairmanship of the House Republican Conference. While the "rebels" told the Post that they weren't after the speaker, their moves helped put Goodell on the map.
By 1965, Goodell was tasked (by Ford) with a new job: Give the Republican Party -- which had been demolished in the 1964 presidential race by Lyndon Johnson -- a positive image. The goal was to develop policy proposals from the right to counter the Democrats that not only controlled the House, but had also gained 37 more seats the previous year.
Then, 46 years ago today, the Post reported that Goodell had accepted Rockefeller's appointment. According to Curtis's research, Goodell had sent a private memo to Rockefeller, making his case for his position at the overlap of the Republican Party and the ability to appeal to young Kennedy supporters -- the sort of thing that was implicit in his 1965 task.
The appointment would last until the 1970 election, at which point Goodell would need to win a full term.
The same day, the Post ran a profile of the rest of Goodell's family: his wife, Jean (who was unnamed in the article), their Great Dane, and the five boys, who were identified. (Roger is the middle one.) The boys were apparently more popular than the dog; one New York neighbor told Goodell (perhaps apocryphally) that he'd vote for him solely to move the dog to Washington.
Goodell didn't waste much time in tweaking expectations.
The evolution on Vietnam
His position on the Vietnam War had already shifted by the time he took office in the Senate, although his advocacy hadn't begun in force. The Grantland article does a nice job walking through the transition, which you should read, if interested. By September 1969, he'd introduced a bill that would have cut off funding for Vietnam, having given Nixon a cursory heads up in advance.
By the end of 1969, Goodell's switch was obvious enough to warrant a feature on the front page of the Post, "Goodell: The Evolution of a Dove." It describes Goodell as "the Senate's newest and most unequivocal dove [and] one of the very few adult heroes to the campus Left." It describes college students wearing buttons riffing on the comic strip Peanuts, declaring, "You're A Good Man, Charlie Goodell." Staffers asked that the buttons be put away, because thy were pink.
When that feature ran, Goodell had already participated in a massive anti-war march in Washington. When the Nixon Justice Department tried to prevent the march from progressing down Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House, Goodell intervened, suggesting that such a move would increase, not decrease the likelihood of violence. Eventually, Goodell and the activists triumphed. He marched arm-in-arm with Coretta Scott King.
The war with Nixon (and Agnew)
As the 1970 election approached, Nixon unleashed his most effective weapon against Goodell: his vice president, Spiro Agnew. Agnew didn't mince words. First he called Goodell a "radical liberal," who'd been supportive of dissident elements.
But Goodell punched back. A few days later, he compared Agnew to the virulent anti-Communist Joseph McCarthy, and challenged Agnew to a debate. (The vice president declined.)
Agnew's most vicious attack borrowed from a name in the day's news: Christine Jorgensen, a transgender woman who served as a GI during World War II but transitioned to being a woman in the 1950s. The change prompted some media attention, so when Agnew called Goodell the "Christine Jorgensen of the Republican Party," it landed hard.
Jorgensen later demanded an apology.
Goodell faced an unusual problem in 1970: he was running not only against a Democrat, Rep. Richard Ottinger, but against a Conservative candidate, James Buckley. (His brother, the better-known William F. Buckley.)
The attention from Agnew bolstered Goodell's image in the public eye for a while. Remember: This was a member of the House from western New York who had been in the Senate seat for only a few months by the time he was seeking reelection. Agnew's ferocity gave Goodell some time in the national spotlight.
But Agnew's attacks on Goodell, tying him closely to the anti-war left, also had a very deliberate political purpose, as Post columnist William White wrote.
"The conclusion, reached after much deliberation, has been that the problem is to stop both Ottinger and Goodell and so to bring in Buckley as the winner. Nobody around the Nixon administration has for sometime doubted that the only possible way to accomplish these results is the channel off toward Goodell some of the ultra-liberal New York vote now turning heavily toward Ottinger — but not enough to risk a Goodell victory in November."
For a while, Goodell apparently toyed with the idea of dropping out of the race, only to announce, during an unusual preemption of the television show "Lassie," that he would not.
But he lost, exactly as White outlined.
Goodell's stand on the Vietnam War lost him a full term in office. He never ran for any position again.