Thursday, October 30, 2008

The making of the President 1968

Having spent a lot of time watching the Smothers Brothers television show, by 1968 I understood  the political issues of the day which were that Lyndon Johnson was a war mongering baby killer and that I was now two years from draft age with no end in sight to the Vietnam war. Fear has a great impact on political choice and I chose anti-war Democrat Eugene McCarthy as my candidate. McCarthy was being phased out as the anti-war candidate by Robert Kennedy at the time of Kennedy’s assassination in Los Angeles. The truth of the matter was that neither was going to get by Vice President Hubert Humphrey for the nomination, Lyndon Johnson having run off and hidden after his early primary spankings by McCarthy. I saw Humphrey as a logical extension of the Johnson years and chose to support Richard Nixon in the general election who claimed to have a secret plan to end the war. He may have had such a plan, but if he did, it was a four year plan which caused the country to transfer its hate of Johnson over to Nixon after Dick’s election.


The 1968 race was the most dramatic and emotional in my lifetime. This was the first year that baby boomers could vote and as they had always gotten what they wanted, assumed that they would get to choose the President also. When this did not happen, they exploded into a temper tantrum at the Democratic convention and were then unlawfully beaten up by Mayor Daley’s Gestapo. Over on the right, George Calhoun Wallace of Alabama was running an independent candidacy which was nothing in the world but a straight forward appeal to racism. Naturally, he attracted a large following. This raised the passion level among the populace who had suffered through two years of race riots in the nation’s larger cities. It was a scary time to be an American, but also the most interesting time imaginable. My personal support of Nixon was tepid at best, and in retrospect, completely wrong headed as events would prove. Richard Nixon was elected precisely because Democrats like myself were collectively holding their breaths until they were blue in the face over the outcome of the struggle for the nomination.


As Wallace faded down to his core supporters (about 10% of the voters at the time might as well have voted in Klan uniforms), the race began to tighten. In the last few days, following shenanigans by both parties over the war, in which both the President of the United States and the Republican candidate for President deserved to be indicted , Humphrey closed the gap to almost zero.


This set up a wonderful election night which I watched by myself at home, my dad being in the hospital with a back problem, and my mom being at his bedside. All night the lead changed hands in the popular vote. I fell asleep and woke up in the middle of the night with Humphrey still fighting (and still leading in vote total). Finally, early in the morning, mayor Daley was unable to steal enough votes for Humphrey to change the outcome in Illinois and things went Nixon’s way. It was a razor thin victory which I always thought would not have been so close if Wallace had not been a factor, Indeed, four years later would prove that the Wallace faction was pretty close to Nixon’s view of the world. Of course, Nixon spent four years convincing them of just that.


At Bellaire high school, which was predominantly Jewish and had been overwhelmingly for Humphrey, there was terrible gloom. My victory was a totally hollow one and within a couple of months I realized that the secret plan to end the war was not going to do me any good, getting my ass shot off wise. But nothing since that time, not even the Florida debacle in 2000) has ever replaced the frenzy of  the political year of 1968 when bombs were falling, streets were burning, kids were being beaten and candidates were being murdered


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