An Age of Science - America in the Feynman Era

The First Step Forward: California, 1966 - Chapter 1: the Adventure Begins
The First Step Forward
California, 1966

1. The Adventure Begins

Studying the memoirs left by those who were present at the time, it is curious how the first decision of what would be a meteoric career of one already very accomplished man was taken quite swiftly. More pondered matters were taken down much more quicker than this ultimately rash call would be.

This idea that would become so powerful was brewed over in a quaint place, Boulder Road, Altadena, in California, in a family embrace; it was during Christmas time as well. At that time, however, it was already a familiar rumour, joked around and discussed more seriously depending on whom one spoke with, at what time and after how many drinks.

The real start of this, however, was precisely on the day 22 of November of 1965, as Professor of Theoretical Physics in Caltech, Richard Philips Feynman, finished writing his brief response to a kind letter sent by Vice-President Hubert Humphrey congratulating him on his receiving of the Nobel Prize in Physics, thanking the Vice-President for his words and admitting his great admiration for him. After he signed the short missive, he sat there, looking at the letter, thinking to himself.

He was caught like that by his wife Gweneth, who asked him what was on his mind. Smiling at their three-years-old son on her arms, he said, half-jokingly: “I think I should run for Governor.” She laughed at this, and it soon became a common joke at the household. And then of the extended family. And friends. And neighbours. The entire network involved in those early stages cannot seem to agree on when it was the inside joke stopped being that, when in late January 1966, Professor Feynman gave a speech before a crowd of supporters, mostly admirers of his scientific achievements, and most of them scientists themselves, and university students, announcing his campaign to, surprisingly enough, the Democratic primaries for the gubernatorial election in November.

At the time, nobody would have guessed that the path to one of the greatest men in American history was just starting, and that would only end decades later, in distant shores and in a world that was so marked by this moment that it would be unrecognizable had it not happened.
So, I have to admit I reflected a lot before actually posting this, and I actually wanted to wait some more before posting this, but here we are. Isolation has made me re-read most of my material and I thought 'well, if I want to share something with others, now is the nicest time'. The timelines and conversations in this forum always keep me very well-entertained, especially now, so I thought I could do my part by sharing this.

That being said, I'm quite scared of the reception this will get. There are so many people so knowledgeable here that I'm afraid for every detail I may have gotten wrong or everything I may have failed to consider. We'll see how this goes, shall we? If you have criticism, I do welcome it, though. I need to learn to be better, and I admit I have many faults. For one, writing speeches is a headache for me, who always prefers to improvise when it comes to public speaking. Writing it seems wrong, and this timeline has its fair share of speeches, especially from a very eloquent man, who I always fear I may be doing injustice to whenever I try to write his speech bubbles. I'd advise you to imagine the speeches as a poorly-told recollection of the actual, more eloquent and well-constructed speech, since I am quite bad at it.

Regarding the body of the timeline... Well, so far I have a lot written about it, some sixty pages that should take us with enough chapters to last the year... But we have only reached 1969 in the timeline, with some chapters peeking into 1970. Which means the rythm goes very, very slow, because there's a lot of detail to put into it! I don't know if the other years will be as detailed, but so far we have been taking a long time to get through the story. It is very juicy; if that's your thing, great, if not, I'd ask you to give it a chance, as I'm hoping I've at least kept the story interesting.

As to what will happen in this timeline, a fun thing is that, while it surrounds Feynman and this new path of him (I imagine it's painfully obvious where it will end), a lot of what happens is only slightly because of him, with the butterflies and the events around him being what truly gives rise to the changes to the history of the world. So Feynman does very little and the forces of history do the heavy-lifting once he gets in a collision course with them... And, of course, there's a cookie for whoever discovers the first major career change he will cause in another person that greatly alters History.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the timeline, I'll probably post the next chapter in a bit, just to give you some more juice, and if you're curious, have questions or want to say something, please do leave a comment. I'll be glad to help out, if I feel I can.
Chapter 2: the Speech that Moved the World
2. The Speech that Moved the World

The speech that inaugurated the campaign of Professor Feynman to governorship was not as long as the thirty minute speech his soon-to-be main opponent, the actor Ronald Reagan, would give; although they touched on similar points, Feynman’s speech would have a greater focus on the matter he was most keen on – the education and the development of the people.

“Good evening. It is a pleasure to be here before you. Before me, I see some of the brightest minds of this great State of ours. Many who I have had the opportunity to meet, and many others I hope to meet in the future. I see brilliant researchers, the creators of astounding theories, and, most importantly, the most vital link in our scientific system, teachers who extend their knowledge unto their students and help spread the know-how and the abilities of our human race.

I also see students. It is good for me to see students here, for I have dedicated these last years for helping to shape the education of the fine young minds of this State. I have seen what they are taught, and what science is to them, and although I saw a great deal of potential, I also saw the tools to lay it to waste. Our education system is failing our children, and the proof is that they are not interested in science. Our children should adore science, and want to learn how this beautiful world of ours functions. Only through that sheer curiosity has our nation been blessed with such fine minds as Thomas Edison, the Wright brothers and Albert Einstein, among countless others who have been vital in pushing our country to the forefront of the world. If we are to continue strong, then this issue must be addressed. Educational reform is needed for now.

California is a great State, and the finest example perhaps above all of Earth of the sheer power of what science, technology and human curiosity can achieve if invested upon. Almost twenty million people live in this State, almost one in each ten Americans. Just one hundred years ago, it would be less than half a million. That growth, that constant adding of strength and manpower to feed our labour force, our factories and our farms, it is only possible due to technology, due to science. The telegraph, the Transcontinental Railroad, electricity and the creation of water projects, those are all great feats of the Californian people bent on making this land, which had been left untended and was deemed worthless, the Golden State that it is.

In 1841, it took 110 days for news of the death of President Harrison to reach Los Angeles from Washington DC. Today, news from the Capitol can come in a matter of seconds to the televisions of any Californian house, and our people can speak with their representatives by phone and express their grievances. Technology has been an important part of making these United States, and in making California the integral and vital part of the United States that it is. We should be mindful of continuing our forefather’s legacy and invest in our future. The future of California and the future of technology walk hand to hand.

California has a long record of fostering the brilliant minds this nation seems so fruitful with. This century we have seen the rise of the cinematic arts, and California can have the pride of having the place people think of whenever they think of cinema, glamour and filmography – Hollywood. Hollywood began as a refuge of filmmakers being persecuted for patent infringement in the early days of film, which the good people of California took under their wing and treated as their own. Having come to California in my adult life, I can say something about the hospitality of the Californians.

That alliance between California and the rogue filmmakers became the most successful pact in the cultural history of our country. Today, it is the universal capital of cinema and a landmark of all that California has to offer. It is in the interest of all Californians to promote and expand such agreements, and make California the place where young, bright minds want to invest and live in, and where their dreams may come true.

I have come under the public eye since last year, when I was jointly awarded with Doctor Julian Schwinger from Harvard University and Doctor Sin-Itiro Tomonaga from Tokyo University the Nobel Prize for Physics, for our work on quantum electrodynamics. Don’t worry, I won’t try to explain it to you. And, last December, I got to be in Stockholm and thank all my friends and family for the kind notes they had sent me to congratulate me on this great honour.

Among those notes was one sent by our Vice-President, Hubert Humphrey, a man who I admire greatly for his work in the service of this nation. In this letter he hoped that I would continue to make many more notable contributions to Man’s unending quest for knowledge. It was that moment I understood what I must do next.

I reflected about this land I have come to call home. California. I have grown roots here, I have had a son in this beautiful land, and I have made great work in this State and for this State. Besides my work at the University, I represented our scientific community in the atomic peace conference in Geneva, wrote textbooks to teach our students in physics, in a way that will make them more enthusiastic and better at physics and all other sciences they set their minds unto, and I have served in the State Curriculum Commission, where I saw first-hand the sorry state of textbooks used in our education system.

If we are to create science, we must first create scientists. If I am to fulfil what Mr. Humphrey asked of him, I believe it is my duty to, more than pursue my own questions in the closed rooms of the University, to build a better and stronger foundation for the scientific achievements of everybody, out here, in the open skies of our fine State.

With that in mind, I have decided to officially stand as candidate for the Democratic nomination for Governor of California. I have chosen to run for the Democratic Party because I have come to see its work has been paramount for the technological and cultural development of our nation, one in which our State of California has always been a leader.

I embark on a great quest, one that goes beyond my usual tasks. I face many challenges, but I have hope that, through sheer determination, I may come to face them all. I believe in the people of California and ask that, if you believe in me, if you believe in science and in the progress of the United States, that you support this quest to have it be so. I think we live in an Age of Science, an age in which each man is challenged to overcome barriers that once stood on his way and in which we, as a nation, advance beyond all odds to create something grander than ourselves. I believe that, if we put our minds to it, we, the people of California, can accomplish anything. I hope you too can believe in the Age of Science. Let us then see this age fulfilled.

Thank you.”

The full speech took around ten minutes to be said, with a few intervals for laughter and clapping. Although somewhat short, the point was set across – Professor Feynman intended to become Governor of California. His approach, based on his experience with the education policies of the State, and in his hopeful view of the future as ultimately scientific, was odd but very well received, not only by the audience in the room, but by the many Californians witnessing it through their televisions.

So near the climax of the Space Race that had the United States in uproar around building increasingly better spacecrafts to accomplish late President Kennedy’s goals of landing a man on the Moon, the ideals that Feynman took as his own, of technological progress and of being leaders in innovation, resonated with the people, especially among the younger generations, who saw in Feynman’s call for education reform a gateway for the grievances of the university students, whose protests at Berkeley had sparked a debate that would have paramount importance during the campaign.
Chapter 3: the Race to June
the Race to June

The first challenge ahead of both Richard Feynman and Ronald Reagan, the two great outsider surprises, one running for the Democratic nomination and the other for the Republican one, were getting those nominations, as each had to face enshrined and revered politicians that stood as strong candidates for the position they sought.

The Democratic primaries had a surprising number of candidates, considering how the incumbent, Pat Brown, had apparently decided to go back on his promise of not seeking a third term and placed his name for a new campaign; it was customary for the incumbent to be only nominally challenged during the primaries. Despite this custom, there was a surprisingly hard-fought race beginning for the primaries; his main opponent was the Mayor of Los Angeles, Sam Yorty, a populist conservative with many ties with the Republican Party and who had been an avid critic of Brown’s response to the Watts riots in Los Angeles and a supporter of the discriminatory Proposal 14, which Brown opposed vehemently, and had collaborated with the California Supreme Court to see repealed as unconstitutional. Yorty posed a real threat to Brown, threatening to take much of the vote and have him weakened or even refused in the primaries. There were at least five other candidates of lesser note contending, including Richard Feynman, whose support was difficult to gauge at first but didn’t seem concerning to either Brown nor Yorty, who believed an outsider would not be nominated.

On the Republican side, the respectable establishment candidate was none other than the former Mayor of San Francisco, George Cristopher, a Greek-American moderate Republican with strong ties to Civil Rights. However, the polls seemed to give the outsider Ronald Reagan, who spearheaded the conservative faction of the Republicans, and who was supported by many of the Party’s establishment, wanting a new image for the Party in California.

Reagan tailored his speeches towards capturing the moderate vote of the Republicans, understanding the conservative base was with him and that he had to focus on taking the carpet out of the feet of Cristopher. Clamouring for Party unity, the Reagan campaign carried an image of unifying the until then faction-ridden Republican Party. A smear campaign against Cristopher also brought terrible wounds upon his campaign, bringing greater strength to Reagan and his conservatives. Even great personalities such as Richard Nixon and William Knowland worked behind the scenes to promote Reagan’s campaign; both men had been defeated by Brown in previous bids for governorship.

As the polls continued, showing a fierce competition on the Democratic side between Brown and Yorty and then Feynman as a distant third, and, in contrast, a great margin for victory of Reagan over any other opponent for the Republican nomination. This in itself spelled bad news for the actual campaign in the second half of the year. For Brown, what was supposed to have been an easy victory against an unexperienced Republican was turning into a tough struggle against a conservative wave washing over both parties.
Chapter 4: a Surprising Twist
a Surprising Twist

Pat Brown was seeing himself in a sinking ship. His broken promise of not seeking a third term did not help his popularity. That combined with the stress of dealing with the rising popularity of both Yorty and Reagan made it increasingly difficult for him to fulfil his new promise of running a low-key campaign while focusing on governing the State as he had elected to do.

The State was not exactly going through a time when it could allow its Governor to take leave of absence to focus on his own re-election rather than actually doing its job, and that was becoming ever clearer. The election was rising the tempers of the people, as the conservatives became ever more vocal and the liberal reaction to this, especially among minorities and college students, which Reagan seemed to be keen on portraying as the enemy of the conservatives, was as just as fierce. The walls were beginning to shake, and many feared the whole building could crumble down.

He began to realise that the various concerns and the stress was making him commit several gaffes, and often had him think less rationally than he would have liked. That was inadmissible by his own standards, and he understood that, should the trend continue, it would become noticeable and harm more than his campaign, his entire legacy.

It was for these reasons that, in late April 1966, Governor Pat Brown announced he was, after all, renouncing from seeking a third term and pulling his name from the ballots of the Democratic primaries. This had many think that the victory of Yorty was assured, but only for around thirty seconds, when the Governor surprised everyone by fully endorsing for the primaries no other than Professor Richard Feynman. He stated he believed that he would be an able man to continue his legacy on infrastructure and water management, considering his ties with the scientific community, and that would be capable of solving the “educational crisis” the State had been going through, a euphemism to the Berkeley protests. He pointed out how he had witnessed the work of Feynman in the State Curriculum Commission and that he believed California should be proud of and honour this fruitful son.

Privately, the main goal of Brown’s endorsement was to give anyone a fighting chance against Sam Yorty, whose politics he disagreed with and whose demeanour during the last year, weakening his government and the Party for the sake of personal gain, he utterly despised. Feynman seemed to be a progressive, infrastructure-oriented if overall clueless man, who also stood to take away Reagan’s trump card of being an ‘outsider’. Besides, it would be sensible to think the professor would need some advice in governorship, and he stood quite qualified for that.

If Nixon wanted to have a puppet contest, he would be glad to show him two could play at that game.
These starting chapters are quite short, so I decided that, until we start getting larger chapters, I should be posting two of them rather than just one. And I feel this is a better cliffhanger than the chapter end before it. I hope you like it as the game heats up and things start shaking
I love that you're dropping the new politician right into the era of Nixon and Reagan. great stuff, and watching for more.
I love that you're dropping the new politician right into the era of Nixon and Reagan. great stuff, and watching for more.
Oh, I'm dropping him directly into conflict with Nixon and Reagan. Thanks for the compliment and I hope not to disappoint!

Great premise for a timeline! I like the part about his family taking his candidacy as a joke, and then gradually realize that he was serious.
Thank you! It's not just his family taking it as a joke. He himself takes it somewhat as a joke, but slowly starts taking it seriously. This timeline was inspired by an actual interest Feynman once had of running for Governor, but I didn't find how exactly he expressed it, only knowing it originated from the Humphrey letter. But, taking his personality into account, I imagine it was something like that
Space wank when?
Or just science wank--not all great science involves going places very fast, but it can...
I don't much care what kind of wank it is be it space or a science wank just so long as the speed of which things take place makes sense I'm game for whatever. Having read the first two chapters when making this post I can say it is a nice story thus far. A bit of an odd POD but so are many a fine story. So far so good my man. No need to worry about the story.
Like everyone else, yeah this seems to be an unusual premise. To be honest, Feynman is just that science guy who played the bongos to me, so I wonder how he's going to handle having to make more serious decisions. I like stories that aren't just copies of reality so having a lot of divergences early on sounds great to me.
Chapter 5: more Help
more Help

With the withdrawal of Brown and his endorsement of Feynman, his campaign took a swift rise up the pools, putting him around fifteen percent below Yorty by most accounts, a sizeable difference but one that could still be overcome if his rising popularity continued to rise.

This meteoric rise was caught by a faraway radar, one that had deep ties with the election taking place, having contended in one himself, but having been dislodged and taken to Washington DC, where he was serving as Chief Justice of the United States. This radar was none other than Earl Warren, who had been Governor of California for a decade from 1943 to 1953 and, despite being a Republican, Warren was a proud leader of the Progressive Republicans, who had held great sway in California in his days, and were now virtually overrun by Reagan’s conservatives.

Having paid keen attention to the somehow strange events of the election for Governor of his native State, Warren was aware that the real contenders were two outspoken conservatives, one in each party, and a somewhat wild card but probably leaning progressive Democrat.

Obliged to remain in Washington to fulfil his duties in the Supreme Court, Warren took the time to write an open letter fully endorsing the campaign of Professor Feynman, which gave him a great deal of respect among the population, and that struck the intended blow against both conservative candidates. For the primaries, many Democrats were emboldened that Feynman was a viable candidate that could continue the Democratic hold over the State, taking away a good portion of the support given to Yorty as the “serious” candidate, while the first polls in the main election to show Feynman as winning over Reagan appeared, even if in minority, reflecting the loss of a number of moderate and progressive Republicans alienated by the outspoken conservative faction Reagan led.

This sudden rise in Feynman’s numbers wasn’t left unnoticed; after all, he was not the only candidate with great ties with beloved political characters living outside of California. Reagan, besides the counsel of Nixon, who, despite being a native Californian, resided in New York City, there came a surprising new development as President Eisenhower, barely enjoying retirement in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania without getting his nose into politics,, came forward to endorse Ronald Reagan for Governor of California.

The conclusion most took by this involvement of bigshots from the East Coast into the gubernatorial elections was that, by this point, the primaries were a formality more than anything, as Feynman and Reagan surprisingly became the stars of the election, while their opponents, Yorty and Cristopher, were side-lined by the media.
Chapter 6: the campaign of Sam Yorty
the Campaign of Sam Yorty

The campaign of Sam Yorty for the Democratic nomination would manage to become something more than a footnote in History by virtue not of the man himself, but his rival – he stood as the first rival to any elected political position Richard Feynman campaigned for.

The campaign cannot be dismissed, however, as being wholly uninteresting. If anything, it set the precedence for some of the accusations that Feynman would have to bear throughout most of this new career of his, starting soon enough with Reagan’s own attacks, who would repeat much of what Yorty had stated already.

Sam Yorty was caught as surprised as anyone else with Feynman’s sudden rise to leader in the Democratic primaries. Even Feynman was caught surprised. The withdrawal of Pat Brown and the appearance of this new outsider of whom he knew very little about made him stutter as his campaign personnel set together a biography of the Physics Professor at Caltech.

Unfortunately, it was during that same period that Warren and Eisenhower began to demonstrate their interest in the election, tanking his numbers in the process; when Yorty was ready to begin his attacks, May was already on its way and the primaries approached with Sam Yorty almost forgot by the media.

While lacking both the will, the history and the energy to prosecute the vindictive campaign he had set out against Brown, especially as it would have been inadequate to lead with this Professor who had virtually been a non-personality in politics before and with whom he carried no feud whatsoever, Yorty made a point of his campaign of bringing to light old accusations that had haunted Feynman years before, and brought him to California in the first place – his issues with the FBI around the possibility he was a Soviet spy that had collaborated to give the Reds nuclear secrets.

As communistic accusations were being thrown at the student protesters at Berkeley, with whom Yorty had the greatest antipathy, and who Feynman was seemingly cordial with, this new link created a scandal, as sensationalist newspapers made guesses about the outcome of the so-called investigations.

However, the accusations didn’t provide the punch Yorty had hoped. To the press, this only made Feynman a more interesting candidate, spreading his name more widely without doing anything help Yorty’s own, giving some reason to the old adage of there being no such thing as bad publicity. Besides, having Yorty call someone communist wasn’t exactly an original idea, and in the minds of the Democrats, it was mostly diluted with his previous use of the ‘red card’ against Pat Brown.

Feynman, when questioned, vehemently denied any connections to any Communist movement whatsoever, and was able to stand firm in his ground regarding his sabbatical in Brazil; this was helped by referring to his friendship with Oppenheimer, who had faced severe persecution around the same time and had been rehabilitated by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. This was enough to sate the electorate for the time being, but keen eyes knew that more exhausting work would be needed later on.

As dreaded June came, the primary polls were already decided for both parties. Feynman’s and Reagan’s lead pointed that those two, incredibly enough, would be the ones facing each other in November.