Make America Beatley Again! Inside the ‘Ringo for President’ Campaign of 1964

With all the absurdity and vitriol in the 2016 US Presidential race, new fantasy candidates are floated every day (come on, you know you have one). Everyone from JK Rowling to Obi Wan Kenobi are the stuff of 2016 presidential dream campaigns. The fact that they’re not politicians, US citizens, or in some cases, human, doesn’t deter our fantasies — especially in a year where many are sure that Lord Voldemort would be a better candidate than the current offerings.

dbac1b582dbc03bc6eed9c70ff80c37bSomething similar happened during the presidential election of 1964; at that time, many teenagers’ chosen candidate was Ringo Starr. Ringo was a breakout star in the US in a way that far surpassed his initial popularity in the UK. His self-deprecating sense of humor (shown to full effect in A Hard Day’s Night) and happy-go-lucky demeanor endeared him to fans across the country. Suddenly, Ringo was getting more attention than ever before — and he loved every second of it.

In the US, the Beatles were always tangentially associated with politics, as American youth saw the launch of Beatlemania as a joyful respite from the national grief of JFK’s assassination in November 1963. By the spring of 1964, American teenagers had their chance to merge the two even further, as former President Lyndon Johnson was campaigning for president only months after assuming office in the wake of JFK’s assassination.

In many ways, the election of 1964 was just as fraught with tension as 2016. Johnson was elected in a landslide over his Republican opponent Barry Goldwater, who was painted as an ultra-conservative extremist who would annihilate Kennedy and Johnson’s Great Society policies and bring the world to nuclear war. Similar to 2016, ads like the one below, encouraging Republicans to abandon their nominee, were commonplace:

In the middle of all this political craziness, Beatles fans had ideas of their own. A group of American fans — many far younger than the then-voting age of 21 — launched a “Ringo for President” campaign. This went well beyond a couple of scheming fans and screaming crowds at a concert. A highly-organized group created signs, shirts, and buttons, and organized rallies at high-profile political events. The movement even inspired a novelty song, Rod Harris’s “We Want Ringo for President.”

The culmination of the “campaign” was a rally outside the July 1964 Republican National Convention at San Francisco’s Cow Palace. Carrying signs and yelling homegrown slogans, the group sought to draw attention away from the GOP’s candidate. Yet that wasn’t the first major rally in support of Ringo. According to the New York Times, over a dozen teenage girls held a Ringo for President rally on July 7, 1964, less than a block away from an anti-Goldwater protest in San Francisco. Of course, the demonstrators took time out from their protest to sing “Happy Birthday” to their favorite candidate, who turned 24 that day.

One party that wasn’t consulted before the campaign’s launch was Ringo himself. But while Ringo admitted he wasn’t terribly political, he got quite a kick over his newfound popularity in the US, and by extension, the “Ringo for President” campaign. The band’s reaction to this unexpected campaign was typically Beatles, as was illustrated in a press conference in Los Angeles on August 18, 1964:

Q: Ringo, how do you feel about the ‘Ringo for President’ campaign?
RINGO: Well, it’s rather… It’s marvelous!

Q: Assuming you were President of the United States, would you make any political promises?
RINGO:I don’t know, you know. I’m not sort of politically minded.
JOHN: Aren’t you?
RINGO: No, John. Believe me.
PAUL: I think you should be President.
JOHN: I saw you dancing with Bessie Braddock.

Q: How do the other guys feel about Ringo being nominated for President?
JOHN: We think he should win, you know.
PAUL: Yes, we think he should.
GEORGE: Definitely in favor.

Q: Ringo, would you nominate the others as part of your cabinet?
RINGO: Well, I’d have to… wouldn’t I?
GEORGE: I could be the door.
RINGO: I’d have George as treasurer.
JOHN: I could be the cupboard!
RINGO: He looks after the money.

Even though Johnson won by a landslide, Ringo did receive a minimal number of write-in votes from the few supporters old enough to vote. But as far as I’m concerned, there’s still time for him to try again in 2016. And I think he has a fighting chance.

Peace and love, my fellow Americans. Peace and love.

About Erika White 63 Articles
Erika White is simply obsessed with music and culture of the '60s and '70s. Her writing focuses on the Beatles and the incredible fandom that has kept their legacy growing for five decades and counting. Erika is also a graphic designer, musical theatre geek, rabid Whovian, and Anglophile who lives in the NYC metro area. Check out her Beatles website and follow her on Twitter.