TONIGHT at dusk, we walked down the hill to the firehouse to vote. Our neighbors who live closest to the firehouse put huge Trump signs in their windows. Another neighbor stopped to talk. “It’s almost over!” she exalted. As we walked back up the hill, the coyotes in the back field began to ululate in response to several firetruck sirens, and it made me think of the first time I voted in a Presidential election, on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 1972. I walked to the polls that day, too, in another rural firehouse, in central Kansas. I remember that the coyotes howled that night as well.
That night, I voted for George McGovern, who I’d worked for in Kansas. At the time, he was thought of by most voters as too radical and too much of an outsider. Republicans called him the “amnesty, abortion, and acid” candidate. An anti-war candidate, he declined to ever bring up in the campaign the fact that he was a decorated war hero.
McGovern lost to Richard Nixon that day in a historic landslide. He lost every state but one. He even lost in his own state of South Dakota. In Kansas, I think we lost every precinct. It was a complete blow-out. Nixon got 570 electoral votes to McGovern’s 17. Nixon also received 60.7% of the popular vote, beating McGovern by 18 million votes.
We thought that the passage of the 26th Amendment to the Constitution the year before, to change the voting age from 21 to 18, a measure driven by the student activism of the late 60s (if you could be drafted and sent to Vietnam, you should be able to vote, we thought), would benefit McGovern. But in the end, young people went for Nixon.
The extent of McGovern’s loss shocked me, but it made me even more determined to carry his convictions forward.
Less than one year after Nixon was elected, his Vice-President, Spiro Agnew, resigned in disgrace over a bribery scandal, and a year after that, Nixon himself resigned before he could be impeached over the Watergate scandal.
Whatever happens over the next few hours, this is how we choose our political leaders in this country, and it’s better than all the other ways of doing it. It’s worth fighting for. Election Day should be a national holiday, with feasting and celebrations, not a furtive thing, howling on the hill.
David Levi Strauss
Tuesday, November 8, 2016, 7 pm.
[Photograph by Jon Winet. Johnson County Precinct 18 Polling Station, Longfellow Elementary School. Iowa City. Iowa. Tuesday, November 8, 2016, 7:40 a.m.]
LINK to all David Levi Strauss Power 2016 Dispatches