Tuesday, February 09, 2016

McGovern Would Have Been a Good President

Don't remember the first time I thought that my baby boomer generation connected to the thinking of its grandparents more than the thinking of its parents. That must have been some time in the late-'60s. No doubt, I was looking at the similarities between that generation's ways and times and those of my own. 

A cultural explosion followed the end of World War I. A lot of young men came home from the war much less na├»ve than their parents in many ways. A popular song, "How Ya Gonna Keep 'em Down on the Farm (After They've Seen Paree?)," ushered in The Roaring 20s. 

The 1920s in the USA were marked by an explosion of modern art, which leaked into the fresh products being cranked out by filmmakers and magazine publishers. Women were voting and taking jobs outside of their homes. The popularity of speakeasies underlined the defiance in the air. And, speaking of air, radio contributed plenty to the minting of a national popular culture. 

As I became more aware of all that history, I saw that my own time's way of challenging establishment customs was similar in some respects to an attitude that seemed to have skipped a generation. The handiest example of that was how they stood on the Vietnam War. My parents' generation seemed much more pro-war than were their parents.

Maybe I also noticed all that because, to no small extent, I was raised by my mother's parents. Anyway, now I'm noticing that a lot of young people are supporting Bernie Sanders -- who sounds like an old hippie at times. Their current support of Sanders reminds me of how thoroughly I was all for Eugene McCarthy at this time of the year, 48 years ago. In February of 1968 I was an anti-war sailor, who was too outspoken about it for his own good. 

Four years later, when George McGovern got the Democratic nomination, I was more passionate in my support of him than I've ever been for any presidential candidate. By this time I was the manager of the Biograph Theatre, so I helped to stage an event there to benefit McGovern. My bosses in Washington D.C. supported it without reservation. (The button I designed for the McGovern campaign is pictured below.)

Now my granddaughter, Emily, is a Sanders supporter. Since she's away at school (JMU), she's voting by way of an absentee ballot. I wonder how many of her peers will push through whatever it takes to make sure they vote this year. A lot of people in their parents' generation are expecting them to lose interest in the election as the weather warms up.

Therefore, I sure hope Emily's generation does more to support Sanders than mine did for McGovern. One of the biggest misconceptions about the hippies and young liberals of my salad days is how many of us there really were. While the most visible of us seemed caught up in the so-called "revolution," in truth, it was way less than half of the baby boomers. 

Most people my age stayed on the sidelines during the cultural upheaval that is so fondly remembered by movies and television programs looking back on that time. They were spectators who were only too happy when the culture shifted into reverse gear with the election of Ronald Reagan as president in 1980. 

Then came a steady drift to the right, politically, that continued for decades. The Democrats of the 1990s bore little resemblance to their counterparts of the previous generation. The drift ended during George W. Bush's presidency. Bush left the White House with "conservatism" in shambles. It's hard for me to see anyone on the GOP landscape who can fix that any time soon. 

So, in my view, the Democratic nominee should have an advantage in November. Consequently, barring catastrophic game-changing events, I think either of the Democratic contenders would win the general election. But I think Bernie would beat the Republican nominee by a wider margin than Hillary would. And, I think he would be more help to down-ballot Democrats. 

However, for Sanders to win the Democratic nomination it's going to take a huge turnout of young volunteers and voters. Clinton is still the more likely betting favorite to be at the top of the ticket. It's going to take unprecedented turnouts in the upcoming primaries to change that. It may even take a last-stand turnout of every old hippie who remembers what a great president George McGovern would have made. 


-- Words and art by F.T. Rea

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