“I’m fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in.”
Occasionally, out of the blue, something happens that causes the ground beneath your feet to shift just a little – not much, not like an earthquake or anything, but you feel it nonetheless. When that happens, it shocks you and in a moment of extreme and very profound clarity, you realize that time is speeding past you like a stoned 16 year old in his old man’s Corvette.
I had such a moment of extreme and very profound clarity couple of years ago, when I suddenly realized that I was older than the current President of the United States. I know, age is just a number, but even the young presidents that I remember, like JFK, were much older than I was, and it seemed like it stayed that way for a long time…then things suddenly shifted. Maybe it was because I was born during the Eisenhower administration, and Ike was an old guy back when I was very young. The ones that came after him, like JFK and LBJ and Nixon and Ford and Carter and Reagan were all – well – old. All of a sudden, when I realized that the Leader of the Free World was younger than I am I felt as if that aforementioned Corvette was speeding head-on toward me as I tottered across Santa Monica Boulevard on my cane.
I had another moment of extreme and profound clarity earlier this week, when I heard the news that George McGovern had passed away in South Dakota at age 90. McGovern was the very first public official that I ever voted for, having just turned 18 only a few months before the 1972 election. Thanks to the 26th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was ratified in July of 1971, I was of legal voting age.
For those of you who do not remember, or for those of you who do not care to remember the election of 1972 – it was a Democratic massacre as Richard “I-am-not-a-Crook” Nixon ran away with 60.7% of the popular vote, receiving almost 18 million more votes than McGovern. Could that many people have been wrong? The answer is of course: “well yeah”. How history would have turned out had McGovern been elected we will never know, but we do know that things went to hell pretty fast after Nixon was re-elected.
Thinking back on my own vote for McGovern, I can’t think of being especially moved by any particular speech, or public appearance he made, or any book, or magazine article he wrote. In fact, I don’t think I knew that much about him, although I read newspapers regularly and watched the evening news daily. My respect for George McGovern would come later as I read interviews and heard about his work in fighting hunger around the world and of his founding an organization to help alcoholics.
Back in 1972, I knew only that he was against the war in Vietnam, and he was running against Nixon, a man for whom I had nothing but disdain and contempt. That was enough for me – me and only 37.5% of my fellow American voters. In the end the Electoral College favored Nixon 520 to 17 and with McGovern winning only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.
In today’s information age, I don’t believe a President will ever again be elected in such a landslide. Those days are over. 1972 was well before talk radio, 24 hour news and the internet – all giant equalizers able to mobilize and marginalize voters in great enough numbers to ensure that we are all at each others’ throats in nearly equal numbers – great enough numbers to ensure that the election will come down to an all night slug-fest in which a half dozen votes cast in a remote precinct in Cairo, Illinois, or Evansville, Indiana will change the course of history.
Or so it seems.
The quote by George McGovern at the beginning of the blog is so simple, it’s elegant. It belongs on the wall of every elected official in Washington.