(Note to all those old fogeys out there who, like me, still believe in the value of the local newspaper: please clip out this column and share it with your voting-age children or grandchildren.)
A short history lesson for those who were not around at the time.
Back in early 1968, a courageous white-haired man from a state in the far north rose up against the Democratic Party establishment and ran for president. Eugene McCarthy had been an early and consistent opponent of the great folly of the Vietnam War, and he quickly captured the enthusiasm and commitment of the college-age students of the era.
McCarthy was running against the quintessential Democratic Party establishment candidate, Hubert Humphrey, who had the unfortunate bad luck, as vice president, to be joined at the hip to the Johnson administration, and therefore, the Vietnam War.
The great irony is that Humphrey was a decent guy, who despite personal misgivings, felt that he had no choice but to support his administration’s war efforts. But once he began his campaign, he made his position against the war quite clear. He was also a committed civil rights advocate dating back to the 1940s, long before it had become fashionable.
Humphrey’s campaign got off to a terrible start when huge protests, as well as a police riot, broke out at the Democratic convention in Chicago. Although he narrowed the gap significantly in the final weeks, Humphrey’s campaign never quite recovered.
Understandably, McCarthy’s supporters were deeply disappointed and resentful for how things turned out. Many of them decided to sit on their hands and stay home in November.
The result: in one of the closest elections up to that point, the United States narrowly elected a racist, war-mongering, paranoid “crook” — who, by the way, had a “secret plan for peace.” (Does any of this sound familiar?) And, by the way, more than 20,000 American soldiers died in Vietnam in the four years after the 1968 election.
What’s the lesson? One, elections have consequences. Two, if you’re holding out for the “perfect” candidate, you’re going to be waiting a long time. Since most candidates are human, there’s just no getting around the fact that every one of them is going to be “flawed” in some respect. And third, if you resent always having to choose between two imperfect candidates, the solution is to vote for the one who is “less flawed” — and consider how you could get involved, yourself. That’s the only way to get better choices in the future.
Let’s not repeat 1968.
David Hutchinson is a resident of State College and is old enough to know better.