1968 – now that was a year. The first-wave baby boomers were coming of age and, along with the old-line lefties, and, sparked by the Tet Offensive, joined in protests against the war or, more often, the draft. Black was beautiful. Politics was in the music, in the streets, in the air. We had the VOTE, man, and we were going to use it.
Spring came along and Dr. King was murdered. While we still reeled from the shock, summer came and Bobby Kennedy was murdered. Eugene McCarthy challenged LBJ and, around the country, hippies cut their hair and went clean for Gene. From the demonstrations and police riots of the Chicago convention, Hubert Humphrey emerged the nominee.
The left collectively groaned. Humphrey (as far as I remember) was a good man and probably would have made a decent President. But, you know, he wasn’t exciting. He had no spark, just a proven record as a moderate liberal. Not good enough.
So, you know the rest. We marched into polling places brandishing our right to vote – to vote for the person we wanted, the person who spoke to us, who stirred our hearts. The Democratic vote split in many directions and Richard Nixon and his jack-booted thugs marched to victory. And things went downhill from there. Kent State happened and a host of less publicized murders – and of course all those little brown people who didn’t count. And America’s young men who didn’t count much either.
I, by the way, voted for Bobby Kennedy, who had been dead for several months. A blow for – Right? Freedom? Truth? No, just for a narcissistic young radical. As young radicals tend to be.
And on we marched, through the miserable Nixon years, as openly corrupt and contemptible as any in my lifetime. Jimmy Carter was a ray of light, and finally the Clintons brought us some sanity. And then it was 2000. I had learned my lesson and voted for the solid but unexciting Al Gore. Then Ralph Nader stuck his face in (my respect for him has dwindled steadily) and a lot of folks who “just couldn’t” vote for Gore voted for him instead. Voted their conscience, by god.
There’s a lot to be said for having a conscience: we see what happens when people with none rise to positions of power. But a Presidential election is not the place to indulge it with meaningless self-indulgent gestures. I don’t condemn the Nader fans or the Bernie fans. I really can’t. At least their candidates were breathing.