Goodell, RFK’s Senate Successor An R,But on Vietnam, Carried His Torch

Charles Goodell (1926-1987) Photo from McClurg

Charles Goodell’s name is even more obscure than Kenneth Keatings. But upon Kennedy’s assassination, Governor Nelson Rockefeller appointed him to fill Kennedy’s seat.

Tragically, Kennedy’s assassination changed the political dynamics not only nationally but in New York State. For starters, Governor Rockefeller was a Republican, which meant that the Senate seat would shift back to a GOP occupant. But ironically, Goodell, who before his appointment had been a fairly conventional Republican, may have given a whole generation of Americans the hope and idealism they had expected of Bobby.

Rockefeller’s pick of Goodell came in 1968, three months after Kennedy had been assassinated. Under New York’s quixotic election laws, a seat is not technically vacant until the Governor declares it so, and that was drawn out to prevent a special election from having to occur earlier in the year. Due to the timing, he did not have to stand for election to the seat until 1970, at which time the term would have expired. That may have ultimately eluded his chances.

A lawsuit that sought to force an earlier election but it failed.

For nine years (he had won a 1959 special election) Goodell, a Yale Law graduate and a father of five, had represented a western New York district in Congress. With Democrats controlling 2/3 of the chamber, any Republicans influence was pre-ordained to be vastly limited. But not to Republicans. He and a young colleague named Donald Rumsfeld organized a coup to make Gerald Ford Minority Leader. They helped Ford round up the votes and he dislodged incumbent Charlie Halleck of Indiana by six votes.

Goodell’s voting record was hard to classify but it did lean toward the conservative spectrum. According to, Richard Reeves of the New York Times called Goodell “kind of the Paul Ryan of the time,” which Rumsfeld validates by saying they “put forth what were called Constructive Republican Alternative Proposals.” But he did back Medicare and the Appalachian Aid package (he did oppose the Elementary and Secondary Aid plan).

But Civil Rights was a different matter. Goodell was unambiguously in favor. And once he got to the Senate, that pretty soon became the case on Vietnam, which he had supported. But he’d soon cite the administration’s “failure to face the immorality of this war.”

Much had to do with his staff, whom Grantland says he polled on what should be done. Legislative aide Michael Edwards said, “this wasn’t, where do you want to stand on aid to Turkey? We had people in the office every day who were making decisions on whether they were going to Canada or not.”

And boy did Goodell respond. He didn’t just advocate withdrawal, he sponsored it. Under his measure, funding for the operation would cease entirely by a certain date. The date would be December 1, 1970 and the bill number would be S3000.

Goodell took part in many anti-war marches, including one with Coretta Scott King. At one he asked incredulously, “We are told that a United States pullout would result in a bloodbath in South Vietnam. What in the world has been going on for the last six and a half years if not a bloodbath?” That enabled Spiro Agnew to call Goodell, who had since become friendly with Jane Fonda, a “radical liberal” and the “Christine Jorgensen of the Republican Party” (she had a sex change).
This made him popular — among Democrats. It was called the Goodell Shift. Grantland says Mo Udall invented a special play at Congressional Baseball games. Historian Tom Sullivan said, “the congressmen gathered on the right side of the court. Then someone would yell, “Senate!” And just like Charlie Goodell, a player ran to the left.”

Goodell’s conversion was not confined to Vietnam. He backed Johnson’s nomination of Abe Fortas but opposed Nixon’s picks of Carswell and Haynesworth and sponsored legislation improving the sewage system for upstate communities. When Nixon’s nomination of Warren Berger and Abe Fortas were made, Goodell, who by that time was out of office said “it says something about this administration that we have to seventh and eight choices before we got people of competence. Maybe if he had to settle for his 25th choice, he’d have gotten someone really great.”

Republicans were not amused. Conservatives felt so much disdain for Goodell that they nominated James Buckley on their line. The Nixon White House clearly wanted him to win.

And Goodell learned that to live by the sword is to die by the sword. And in the election of 1970, Rockefeller was the sword. Concerned about his own prospects that fall, he “stopped mentioning Goodell’s name.” But he also started holding back crucial funds, which Goodell’s people purposely leaked to the New York Times Times. That basically sunk his chances and he had to run a spot pre-election stating that he was not bowing out.

Plus, Grantland mentions a secret taping system, not from Nixon’s office but from Kissinger’s. Kissinger was furious over Goodell’s attempts to stop the war, and made it clear he’d maneuver behind the scenes.

Ottinger meanwhile called Goodell a “Johnny-Come-Lately” on the war.
Goodell attacked Ottinger’s effectiveness in the House and said Buckley’s economic plan was “for the 19th century.”

Buckley nipped Ottinger 39-37%, with Goodell getting just 23%. In his concession, he said,” “sometimes, for great causes, there have to be sacrifices,” Goodell told the crowd. “And I’m very proud to stand with you as a sacrifice.” Had it been Ottinger vs. Goodell, he may have prevailed. But conservatives had a place to go. And Buckley was that place.

In his later years, it became clear that Goodell’s conversion was not just for political expediency. His prognostication was not great. A Google article year after his defeat, Goodell said Democrats would “unite and defeat Nixon” and called the chances of his retaining Agnew were “very slim.” McGovern was one “who could unite” them. At this point, I still feel I can embarrass the administration by acting as a voice for those Republicans who do not agree with Spiro Agnew, John Mitchell, or Martha (Mitchell),”whom he called “a bond lawyer who has no sensitivity to the issue of criminal or civil rights.”

He represented Daniel Ellsberg in the Pentagon Papers case but was said by Elizabeth Kaye in “A Case to Remember” to be “more a phantom than a presence.” His main contribution to the case seemed to be the donation of his name to the letterhead of the Committee for the Defense.

Incidentally, while Charlie Goodell was the politician in the family, his son Roger has clearly exceeded his father’s stardom. He has been Commissioner of Baseball. He has fond memories of his father’s political days.

Goodell and family, including future baseball commissioner Roger (Wiki photo, taken from


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