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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Dale Bumpers, June 17, 1974. Interview A-0026. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Deconstructing political myths about the Democratic Party

Bumpers discusses how his senatorial campaign of 1974 helped to deconstruct several political myths about the Democratic Party, particularly those related to organization, funding, and recognition of campaign strategies. In so doing, he emphasizes that constituents are more concerned with the acts one performs while in office than they are with a politician's reputation for having certain leanings. Additionally, Bumpers argues that southern voters, by the early 1970s, were in line with voters nationally. He cites national reactions to school busing as evidence for this.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Dale Bumpers, June 17, 1974. Interview A-0026. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

WALTER DE VRIES:
What about your impact in the Democratic party?
GOV. DALE BUMPERS:
You're going into politics now.
WALTER DE VRIES:
I'm just trying to get an assessment, looking back.
GOV. DALE BUMPERS:
I don't know how to evaluate that and I don't know what impact I have had on the Democratic party. I do believe this. I believe there have been many. . . . I think there are probably more myths that surround the profession of politics by far than any other profession. Since I've been in office I have heard and I've watched the commentators wax eloquently about all kinds of things and party politics and about politicians that are pure myths.
WALTER DE VRIES:
Such as?
GOV. DALE BUMPERS:
Well, for example. . . . Let's take the election I just completed. I was interested for example in saying Senator Fulbright has all the money tied up. That if the governor decides to run for the Senate, he'll find raising money very difficult because, you know, all the big money in the state's tied up. That's a myth. Nobody ever ties up all the money. Another myth is, you know, that you have to have this name and face recognition, that you'd have to run once to learn how. And secondly, this business about organization in politics. I remember hearing that. All the commentators said well, if the governor decides to run for the Senate he'd be way behind organizationally. And they write for weeks on end about this very sophisticated organization Sen Fulbright had. He didn't have any organization. Just one of those myths that float around. For that matter, one of the- well, I don't want to get into this. But there're a lot more. The truth of the matter is, there are so many commentators writing about what's on people's minds and they miss the mark by such a wide margin that. . . . Those are the things I consider myths. For example. . . .
JACK BASS:
You think you shattered some of those myths?
GOV. DALE BUMPERS:
I hope so. I like to think I have. I think that the more of those myths that are shattered. . . . It seems to me though. . . . The funniest thing is, they continue to crop up. In 1976 and 1978 you're going to hear all these same things said again because it's just been done for so many years. But for example, some people said well, the governor's too liberal for the people of Arkansas. This doesn't mean anything, the people of this state. You can say I'm too conservative or I'm too liberal or I'm indecisive or you can make all those subjective judgments which are made by people who, incidentally, indulge themselves in the luxury of an attitude of moral and intellictual superiority. The truth of the matter is, the people will base their judgments on specific acts of specific conduct while you're in office. They aren't looking at you, and they're not going to base their judgment of you, based on whether they think you're too liberal or too conservative or moderate or anything else. They're going to judge you based on your day to day activities. And at election time they're not going to go back and say I'm against him because of this or I'm for him because of this. It's the overall picture. And this is the reason politicians should always, in each individual case, do what he thinks is right. Even though it may be intensely unpopular and particularly unpopular with some very vocal minority group or some very vocal vested interest group. Because if he's concerned about being elected next time he'll be admired and respected more because he did what he thought was right than he would by succumbing to small pressures. Those are some of the myths. This last one in particular, I think is important, because in southern politics right now there probably isn't 5% difference in the thinking of the people of this state and the thinking of the people in any state in the nation. I think probably Frank Sargent, the governor of Massachusetts, could come to Arkansas and be elected essentially on what he has tried to do in Massachusetts. And I think I could go to Massachusetts and be elected on the same things I talked about and did in Arkansas.
WALTER DE VRIES:
So the voters in Arkansas aren't that different from other voters in the South?
GOV. DALE BUMPERS:
They're not. There are some things that. . . . Well, you've seen. . . . Busing for example. You've seen a lot of the people in the North who had no feelings one way or the other about busing, right. It was unique in the South simply because the Supreme Court had made a distinction between those states that had had segregation in the past and those that had not. And for a while the South bore the brunt of that and everything was lovely in the rest of the country. But the minute the courts began to extend their orders to Michigan, for example, you heard that same hue and cry that you heard in the South. The point I'm trying to make is people are very much the same all over the nation.
WALTER DE VRIES:
Is another one of the myths that if you have the backing of the county court house and the so-called organization Democrats that you automatically win in the primary?
GOV. DALE BUMPERS:
There was a time, not very long ago, during the days of the poll tax, when that was not a myth. That was fact. If you had the backing of the court house crew back during the old poll tax days, you know, you were a serious candidate.
WALTER DE VRIES:
But in neither of the campaigns, the three you've been in-
GOV. DALE BUMPERS:
No. No, as you've said, I've never had any significant backing. As a matter of fact, in 1970, I had little or no backing.
WALTER DE VRIES:
Didn't you prove in 1970 and 1974 that you could take the nomination away and quote that group?
GOV. DALE BUMPERS:
Yes.
WALTER DE VRIES:
So you shattered that myth.
GOV. DALE BUMPERS:
Absolutely. Absolutely.