by William H. Benson
August 3, 2000
Who do you like–Nixon or Kennedy? In the close 1960 election Kennedy was given the win but only because he won Texas and Illinois. Evidence existed that those electoral votes were fraudulently obtained. And, Kennedy’s 112,803 margin in the popular vote over Nixon’s was, no doubt, a myth. Paul Johnson, the historian, writes that Nixon actually won the popular vote by about 250,000, but that Nixon refused to contest the outcome. So, Kennedy and Jackie moved into the White House. Camelot had begun.
The best bumper sticker in 1964 was “I like AuH2O”, but not enough people did for Lyndon Baines Johnson completely crushed the Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater in a lopsided election.
During the following four years the Democrats slowly divided over what to do about the Viet Nam War. Then, in November of 1967 Eugene McCarthy, the quiet and soft-spoken Minnesota Senator, announced he would run for President, promising that if elected he would end the war. He gathered wide support among students and then won the New Hampshire primary, surprising the other hopeful Democrats. At that point Bobby Kennedy decided to run, and he won in California, only to be assassinated on the eve of that victory in June of 1968.
The Democrats were then in a shambles, and the Chicago Convention turned ugly when Mayor Richard Daley called out the police to club and gas the anti-war demonstrators in Grant Park. Senator Abraham Ribicoff of Connecticut even denounced the mayor from the podium for “Gestapo tactics on the streets of Chicago.” Finally, the Convention selected Hubert Humphrey, Johnson’s Vice-President, but Nixon, this time, won the election.
In 1972 Nixon, the incumbent, won again but was so suspicious of McGovern throughout the campaign, to the point of paranoia, that he committed egregious mistakes culminating in Watergate. Two years later he was forced to resign or face certain impeachment.
The 1976 election ended in a big disappointment. To many Americans it just did not seem possible that a peanut farmer from Georgia would succeed in the White House, and he failed miserably. He bungled the economy, was hung in effigy by shouting Iranians, and then told the American people on national television that they suffered from a “national malaise”.
The Republic Convention in 1980 focused on one theme, “No more Jimmy Carter!” Almost 70-year-old Ronald Reagan burst on the scene, and told Americans that their greatest days were yet ahead of them. He was right. It seemed the right guy won this time.
In 1984 Walter Mondale did not stand a chance. He won his native state, Minnesota, and Reagan quipped, “I want Minnesota too.”
George Bush wanted the White House so badly in 1988 that he resorted to playing dirty tricks on the defenseless Michael Dukakis. The worst was when Bush accused the governor of Massachusetts of being soft on crime and releasing early prisoners who then committed more crimes. The accusation focused upon a face–Willie Horton’s. Dukakis did not stand a chance.
In 1992 Bush tried the same tactics with the Governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton, but Bush had bumped up against someone much smarter and more wily and vastly more determined than Dukakis or even Bush himself. Clinton described his style, “I just won’t ever give up!” He won.
Despite all of his private scandalous behavior, Clinton was easily re-elected in 1996. Bob Dole’s starched white shirts, ties, and suits did very little to excite the younger Americans.