Since Rick Perlstein's book on Barry Goldwater seems to be such a hot topic
these days, it's probably worth pointing out this
long Perlstein essay on what he
thinks the Democrats should do to win in the long-term. Rather unsurprisingly, he thinks they need a Goldwater moment of their own, built around economic populism. Ho hum, yeah, but some of the responses
and critiques he got were a bit more provocative.
Not being a student of the period—and not having read the book!—I don't have a whole lot to add, except to lament the fact that LBJ had to get bogged down in the Vietnam War. The Democrats had crushed—crushed!—the conservative movement after 1964, and presumably they could have gone on for ages. People like to note that Richard Nixon proved to be a pretty liberal fellow, but his appointments to the Court (Burger, Blackmun, Powell, Rehnquist) certainly set back the growing liberal consensus on guaranteeing economic rights. Humphrey or a second-term LBJ or even Robert F. Kennedy would have pushed much further, and odds are the Goldwater movement would have had to wander around in the wilderness for a lot longer. So even their 16-year "exile" from American politics (from Goldwater's defeat to Reagan's election), during which America became a lot
more progressive, was less progressive than it might have been. They were lucky, and the Democrats unlucky for imploding, but the price of exile could have been much, much worse
By the way, John Kenneth Galbraith seems to think
that JFK would have pulled the U.S. out of the Vietnam. Oh how fun alternate history might have looked.