Saturday, October 27, 2018

The Whole World Was Watching

Last week, Selective Serviceback Saturday shared cartoons from 150 years ago about the first presidential election held after the 15th Amendment extended the right to vote to African-American citizens of the U.S. Today, against my better judgment, we step ahead 100 years from 1868 to the last presidential election held before the 26th Amendment extended the right to vote to 18- to 20-year-old citizens of the U.S.

Others in the cartoon-rehashing game have a much better recollection of the 1968 presidential election than I, so this won't be a comprehensive retrospective by any means. So much of what I do remember is actually Frank Gorshin's and David Frye's impressions of the candidates. Here goes anyway.
"I Think We Can Start Bringing Them Home Soon" by Pat Oliphant in Denver Post, September, 1968

The #1 issue of interest to those 18- to 20-year-olds had to be the increasingly unpopular war in Vietnam. They couldn't vote for president, but they did have to answer to their draft board.

President Lyndon Johnson's vice president, Hubert Humphrey, had won his party's presidential nomination. His long liberal record, at the 1948 Democratic Convention and as lead author of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, was overshadowed by his association with Johnson and the war. He tried to promise to bring an end to U.S. involvement in Vietnam, only to be publicly contradicted by Johnson and Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford. (Laird in Oliphant's cartoon is Wisconsin Congressman Melvin Laird, who would become Richard Nixon's first Secretary of Defense.)

"Anchored" by Tom "Obadiah" Curtis in National Review, October 22, 1968
An eleventh-hour announcement that the Johnson was halting bombing raids over North Vietnam would fail to give enough lift to the Humphrey campaign. Perhaps today we'd call it Johnson Fatigue; liberals who ought to have agreed with Humphrey on civil rights and other issues remained disenchanted; Michigan's New Democratic Coalition and the California Young Democrats withheld their endorsements, and even Norman Mailer mused that Nixon wouldn't be all that bad.

"Making Like a Dove" by Roy Justus in Minneapolis Star, August, 1968
On the Republican side, Richard Nixon's anti-communist record should have indicated that he would continue the war in Vietnam, but he claimed to have a secret plan to end the war within 90 days. What he didn't tell America was that he meant within 90 days of his re-election to a second term, and that the plan involved spreading the war to Laos, Cambodia, and Kent State.
"The Newer Than New Nixon" by Robert Zschiesche in Greensboro Daily News, October, 1968
On domestic issues, Nixon's promises to bring Law and Order appealed to what he called the "Silent Majority" horrified by political assassinations and by riots in America's inner cities, universities, and at the Democratic National Convention. (Not to mention promiscuous sex and drug use. But there, I mentioned them anyway.) Consistently leading in the polls, Nixon offered mostly pablum, and — still smarting from his experience in 1960 — refused to meet Humphrey in any debates.
"The Fraidycat" by Cy Hungerford in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 24, 1968
Nixon's campaign themes included promises to appoint Supreme Court justices who would reverse the decisions of the Earl Warren court (Johnson would withdraw his filibustered nominations of Abe Fortas and Homer Thornberry in October), to fight inflation, and to replace the draft with an all-volunteer military. Behind the scenes, he urged South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu to refuse peace talks until Nixon could take office.

"Measuring Up" by Ranan Lurie in Life, October, 1968
Henry Luce's Life magazine endorsed Nixon in the election, but its cartoonist Ranan Lurie clearly was more ambivalent about the voters' choices. So were a number of others who put themselves forward as third party candidates. Most notably, Alabama Governor George Wallace ran at the head of the American Independent Party on a segregationist platform, declaring that "There's not a dime's worth of difference between the Republicans and Democrats."

"Foreign and Domestic" by Herblock in Washington Post, October, 1968
He chose as his running mate retired Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay, who had advocated bombing North Vietnam "back to the stone age," using "anything that we could dream up, including nuclear weapons." Yet while LeMay was more hawkish on the war than Wallace, the general stood to the left of him on Wallace's signature issue.
"There Seems to Be More Than a Dime's Worth of Difference..." by Bill Sanders in Milwaukee Journal, October 25, 1968
On the left, the most notable third-party candidates were comedian Dick Gregory and Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver heading rival wings of the Peace and Freedom Party, and the Communist Party USA's Charlene Mitchell. Gregory made a tour of college campuses, where he promised to paint the White House black, then bring the troops home from Vietnam and "send LBJ with nothing but a barbecue gun." His counterfeit dollar bills won him considerable attention, not least from the Secret Service.

Mitchell's running mate wouldn't be old enough to serve as Vice President until 1980, and Cleaver (also not yet 35 years old) fled the country after a shoot-out between police and Black Panthers in Oakland, California. But then, getting elected was never really the point of their candidacies.
"Out of the Running," unsigned (perhaps Ted Shearer), in The Afro American, Baltimore MD, October 19, 1968
The Afro American, in an editorial accompanied by the above cartoon, counseled its readers against casting their vote for any of the three African-American candidates:
"Dick Gregory, Eldridge Cleaver and Mrs. Charlene Mitchell are all doomed to defeat this year, and all of them know it. Their exercises in futility would be more tolerable as means of protests against ills in the society in some other election year. ...
"The danger is that some voters, frustrated with conditions as they are or wishing to make an individual protest also, may throw away valuable votes."
As it was, their campaigns, even lumped in with votes for comedian Pat Paulsen and comic strip characters Pogo and Snoopy, were not enough to throw any state from one of the front runners to another.
"Remind Me to Get That Fixed" by Dan Dowling, Kansas City Star,
Wallace, on the other hand, carried Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia, the last third-party candidate to win electoral votes by getting a plurality of any state's votes. But it was not enough to throw the election into the House of Representatives; even in the unlikely event that Humphrey had won Wallace's five states in a two-candidate race, he would still have fallen well short of a majority in the electoral college.

But since fewer than 500,000 votes separated Humphrey and Nixon, who can say how Wallace's 9.9 million would have divided up without him?

And yet, 50 years later, with one election decided by the Supreme Court, and two awarded to the second-place candidate, we still haven't fixed our cuckoo electoral vote system.

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