I’ve been a political junkie for most of my life. In the 4th grade our class held a mock election in conjunction with the 1960 presidential contest. Candidates were chosen to represent the real life counterparts, and I was Lyndon Johnson. We made speeches, although I couldn’t tell you what any of them were about now. Our Republican adversaries were better organized than we were. Their campaign manager went down to the local GOP headquarters and got enough buttons for everyone in the school, which impressed my classmates enough to win a landslide for Nixon. (I still think it was because Tricky Dick was a native Californian. At that age, most of us couldn’t find Massachusetts on the map.)
By 1968, I was a junior in high school. I followed the civil rights movement on TV, as there wasn’t any such movement in lilywhite Grass Valley. I was as shocked as anyone when Johnson almost lost the New Hampshire primary to the anti-war upstart McCarthy, and was saddened by the murder of Martin Luther King a few months later. America then, like now, was deeply divided.
The one ray of hope was the candidacy of Bobby Kennedy. McCarthy had started the ball rolling for change, but didn’t seem like a strong enough personality to pull the nation together and beat Nixon, who had risen from the grave to be kicked around one more time.
Kennedy, on the other hand, was strong in his convictions, articulate, and benefited from having a martyred brother. Even though I was too young to vote, he was my candidate.
I was thrilled when the staff of The Union asked me to be their go-fer guy on the night of the California primary. I got to hang out in the office (then still on Mill St.) and watch the returns come in with the reporters, and I went around to the different polling places around town to get the totals posted on the door. (My how times have changed!) I stayed there until it was clear that Kennedy had won the primary, and went home knowing that he was well on his way to becoming our next president.
But when I got up the next morning, I heard the awful news. It seemed like the world had gone insane, and the carnage in Chicago later in the summer seemed to confirm it. Being an impressionable teenager, it turned me off to politics for years after. When I was old enough to vote in my first presidential election four years later, I didn’t bother. By that time I had developed a sense of how it would end, and I was right on the money. It was much the same years later when I predicted a Reagan landslide, to the utter disbelief of my Democrat friends.
I eventually became disenchanted with the Dems and Repubbys, and there are times when I feel that it is all quite hopeless. Still, I know from my experiences through the years that life does go on and things do get better, even if they don’t follow the course you might choose.
For one thing, Nixon’s campaign manager from the 4th grade married my childhood sweetie, but screwed it up. She’s now married to me. How’s that for a happy ending?