I fear that we in this glorious country take for granted far too many things. As much as we all despise the endless election process, at least we do not have to face either the intimidation to vote a certain way as in Russia and other “hard-line” countries, or the assassination of opposing candidates as just happened today in Pakistan. We have our own problems to deal with, but at least we still have the liberty to choose whomever we feel best qualified to lead us.
Freedom of choice is not a matter to be taken lightly. Without the freedom to make our own decisions, we must live in a state of subjection to the agenda and personal preferences of the dictator who is in control. I fear that because of the great schism that divides this country, we all fail to understand how privileged we are to live in a place that promotes freedom of choice instead of just “talking about it”.
Biblically, a generation was generally thought to be about 40 years. If we were to apply that rule today, it would mean that the previous generation ended in 1968. In an eerie coincidence, the previous generation DID END in 1968. Just as the stock market crash of 1929 totally changed the course of this country for almost 40 years; so the events of 1968 set in motion the changes that defined this country’s politics and society for the last 40 years.
On January 1st, 1968 Lyndon Johnson was the sitting President and the upcoming election in November 1968 was generating little interest due to Johnson being “unbeatable”. The country was at war in Viet Nam, but it was still viewed in a “patriotic” manner and the anti-war activists were not well organized as of yet. United States planes bombed North Viet Nam on a regular basis and the ground war was being fought in the jungles by an “invisible enemy”.
The first Presidential primary was not until March 12 in New Hampshire. Unlike now, many potential candidates were still mulling over the prospects of running. There was no two year run-up to the election process in 1968. It started in New Hampshire in March and ended in California in June. Then the candidates were selected at the nominating conventions in August to run in the general election in November. The entire process took 8 months and cost a fraction of what it costs today.
The biggest situation brewing in the country dealt with civil rights. Dr. Martin Luther King had become the spokesman for this cause and was uniting millions of people with the common dream of racial equality. President Johnson had launched his “Great Society” approach to dealing with poverty in 1964, and now there was genuine support building to once and forever eliminate the racial walls that prevented blacks from being on equal ground with whites economically.
Between January and August of 1968, the entire history of America was changed through a series of events that rocked this nation and sent it reeling like a boxer on the verge of being knocked out. One huge event after another completely changed the landscape of American politics as well as its social structure. By the time Americans voted in November of 1968, nothing was as it had been in January. The results of the election in 1968 could not have been foreseen by anyone eleven months earlier. What took place in America 40 years ago was earth shattering and historic. I
On January 23rd, 1968, the United States Navy vessel named the Pueblo was captured off the coast of North Korea and the entire crew was captured along with the vessel. The Pueblo was a sophisticated spy vessel and the whole incident was a PR nightmare for both the State and Defense Departments. The crew was not released until December of 1968, so the eleven month ordeal caused major damage to the Johnson Administration both initially and throughout the whole ordeal.
On January 31st, the entire course of the war in Viet Nam changed. On this date, the North Vietnamese launched what became known as the “Tet Offensive” because it corresponded with the start of their New Year (Tet). This huge offensive lasted for many weeks and succeeded in turning the tide of public opinion in America against the war. The “Tet Offensive” took the battle out of the jungles and into the cities in South Viet Nam. Both the South Vietnamese and the United States forces were severely stung by this surprise attack and quickly went from being on the offensive to being on the defensive.
The “Tet Offensive” galvanized the anti-war groups in America and suddenly instead of being a fragmented group of social outcasts and students; they became a huge force united in the common goal of not only ending the war but getting rid of President Johnson. Their biggest political ally was Democratic Senator, Eugene McCarthy, who had long been against the war.
On March 12th, New Hampshire held the nation’s first primary. In a stunning turn of events, the various anti-war groups became united in their support for Sen. McCarthy and he came within 240 votes of winning the primary against a sitting President. On the Republican side, former Vice President Richard Nixon beat Nelson Rockefeller and Ronald Reagan.
The combination of the Pueblo incident, the relentless negative press being given to the “Tet Offensive” and the stunning near defeat in New Hampshire rocked the Johnson Administration to its core. On March 31st, President Johnson appeared on national television to announce he was NOT seeking re-election. This announcement was totally outside the realm of possibility only three months earlier.
Before the nation had a chance to digest the announcement by President Johnson, an event shocked the nation and set in motion one of the most troubling 5 month periods in our nation’s history. On April 4th, of 1968 outside a motel in Memphis, Tennessee; a single shot was fired that totally changed history. One shot from a high powered deer hunting rifle killed Dr. Martin Luther King. In one moment of time, the country was launched into the same disorder currently happening in Pakistan.
Almost immediately, riots broke out all across America. From Baltimore to Los Angeles, downtrodden blacks rushed into the streets to take out their frustration at losing their leader to a white man’s bullet. The race riots would flare on and off for years, but the catalyst was no doubt the horrible and cowardly assassination of Dr. King. The man with “The Dream” was eliminated from being an influence in America in one moment of time. No man since has come close to rallying the hearts and causes of so many people as Dr. King. His sudden loss totally changed the social landscape in America.
After the assassination of Dr. King, the political climate changed in America. Suddenly the candidacy of Robert F. Kennedy took off. Instead of simply being JFK’s younger brother, his views and stands on racial equality and social issues filled the void left by Dr. King’s death. On June 4th, in a stunning victory, Robert Kennedy won the California primary. The Democratic Party was now in total disarray with the Kennedy, McCarthy and Humphrey camps dividing the base. To make matters worse, George Wallace was mounting a third party run capitalizing on his popular segregation views in the South.
Before anyone could take in the significance of Kennedy’s victory in California he was shot. After giving his victory speech at a hotel in California he was shot in the chest as he was leaving the hotel by a Jordanian man who supposedly was upset with his backing of Israel. On June 6th, Mr. Kennedy died from the wounds inflicted upon him by either a deranged madman or someone paid to eliminate the competition.
For the second time in five years, the country went into deep mourning over the tragic sudden loss of a Kennedy. For the second time in two months, the country had to search its heart and soul as an assassin’s bullet silenced a champion of the common people. Once again, Americans had to attempt to make sense of senseless violence. Once again, this country had to prove it could rebound and move on after a bullet defeated a candidate instead of an election.
Four United States Presidents have been assassinated and died in office: Lincoln in 1865, Garfield in 1881, and McKinley in 1901 and of course Kennedy in 1963. Six other United States Presidents had assassination attempts made on their lives: Andrew Jackson in 1835, Theodore Roosevelt in 1912, Franklin Roosevelt in 1933, Harry Truman in 1950, Gerald Ford in (twice) in 1975 and Ronald Reagan in 1981.
The summer of 1968 was one full of riots, frustration and anger throughout the United States. By the time the Democrats held their convention in Chicago in late August, their fragmented party had reached the boiling point. The convention was marred by constant protests inside and out. Finally on August 28th, the Chicago police took matters into their own hands and brutally broke up the demonstrations going on outside the convention. Hundreds were injured and hundreds more were arrested. Controversy quickly swirled as accusations of unprovoked police brutality were made and basically substantiated.
When the fateful election was finally held in November and the votes were counted, the United States had a new President, but not the one anyone expected at the beginning of the year. Historians agree that if Robert Kennedy would not have been assassinated, his momentum would have led to him being the Democratic candidate, or at least the Vice-Presidential candidate. Due to his untimely death, the nomination went to Hubert Humphrey by default. Mr. Humphrey would no doubt have won the general election except for the all the votes George Wallace siphoned off.
In a situation eerily similar to what happened in 1992 with the Ross Perot candidacy, a President was elected who did not even receive 45% of the popular vote. The final results show Nixon with 43.4%, Humphrey with 42.7% and Wallace with 13.5% of the popular vote. Since Mr. Wallace was a Democrat, it is to be assumed he succeeded in getting Nixon elected much as Perot succeeded in getting Mr. Clinton elected in 1992. In January of 1969, Richard Nixon was inaugurated President of these United States and of course the rest is history.
I pray that the election tranquility we have enjoyed in this country for many years can continue. Our secret service personnel protect every candidate and the odds of what took place in 1968 happening now are very slim. But, there is always the chance someone or some group will resort to the bullet instead of the vote to gain or keep power. I pray the events unfolding in Pakistan serve as a wakeup call to Americans to never take for granted the freedom and peace we have in this country when it comes to electing who serves us. I also pray for Pakistan that it does not sink into a civil war and terrorists get their hands on the nuclear weapons stockpiled there.
Much can change in this country before the November 2008 elections. We have no clue at present who will be the candidates. If history is as good a teacher as we know it is; then we need to learn from the election year one generation ago and see how quickly and dramatically everything can change in a matter of months. Please America, never take your rights and responsibilities for granted.