Only ten of us were there in 1952 at MawMaw Bertha’s one-cow, one-plow sugar cane farm – MawMaw, Mom and Dad, myself and six (at that time) siblings – but the excitement I felt in my first exposure to electioneering has morphed into the current musical-chairs contest involving the entire citizenry, as we hyper-ventilate in the 2016 “Whack-an-Elephant?” and “Ride-a-Donkey” games.
The first scene in this blog post was intended to be the first entry in a cousins’ blog I started, then stalled on, after a reunion with twenty-five of twenty-nine cousins from my Father’s side of the family, the blog to be focused on memories of Grandparents’ farm three miles down a gravel road past a tiny Louisiana Mississippi River town, White Castle. (Dad said he walked to school barefoot to save his shoes.) That post is to be about my three most compelling memories from summer visits, and one of the three is to be about listening to the political conventions for the 1952 presidential election, as an impressionable and naïve eight-year-old.
As the planet orbits, the topic expands, the excitement builds, and the unknown awaits, in this surreal, unpredictable, and unprecedented maelstrom.
Correction – not totally unprecedented!
I couldn’t remember whether it was the Eisenhower-Taft battle in the Republican convention, or the Stevenson-Kefauver in the Democratic, but I can remember the excitement in the air, palpably electric, enhanced by static from the radio, as the convention went into a second (then third!) ballot in 1952.
Google and Wikipedia to the rescue – it was the Democratic convention – and the campaign had begun with thirteen (maybe more, some decline nominations) nominees. A reluctant Stevenson got the nomination on the third ballot. ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1952_Democratic_National_Convention )
I can’t remember a reoccurrence since then, but I frequently hope for one, especially in this cycle, both for the excitement, but more for the possibility of wiser choices for POTUS-CEO-CIC.
On the second and successive ballots, delegates are released from commitments from the primary results, trade horses, and hopefully present candidates who realize each coin has two sides, a benefit to one is a deficit to the other, and can explain procedural victories with win/win statesmanlike (or stateswomanlike) wisdom.
In vintage years, even beyond 1952, I remember “Favorite Son” candidates – usually state Governors, not aspiring to the Presidency, but wanting to control their delegations on the first ballot, and have bargaining chips for the second round and beyond. Maybe that explains this year’s candidate explosion. Or maybe there are just lots of Vice President wannabees.
As with my earlier posts on local youth sports items, I claim no particular expertise in the political panorama, only the analytical reactions to observing recurring patterns.
Trying to keep this post politically neutral, I will issue my two biggest criticisms of our electoral process:
1) “Who can win an election?” often trumps “Who will be an effective President?”
2) The rigorous, sane-less, and fund-driven primary process eliminates many worthy candidates from the competition – usually the ones I prefer, and usually before my state primary.
(Being a country boy, I cannot favor majority-vote elections, because I believe the math says ten biggest-city landslides could decide the election. Awaiting further review, I probably favor apportioned rather than winner-take-all electoral votes for all states.)
Most unique in this election cycle are the fringes expanding, global warming and polar vortexes “stretching the field” of normalcy into volcanic stage. One fringe erupts, “Things are great (for us!), don’t change.” The second responds, “Let’s create total fairness (now!).”
(I just heard a new term “incrementalist,” which I guess applies to me.)
“Helter/Skelter” or “Topsy/Turvy” currently dominate the scene. The famous Will Rogers statement, “I don’t belong to any organized party – I’m a Democrat,” has been co-opted. The party of the young is headed by very senior citizens; the “old party” has some uncharacteristic youth. Both parties have a major candidate not really part of the party, both speaking American heresy – “socialism” vs. “(almost everything non-PC).”
And, complicit in the turmoil, and not yet aware of comeuppance being hurled their way, is the national media – talking heads and scripting heads – bemoaning the success of the upstarts, itemizing their deficiencies for the highest office in the land, excoriating their attitudes and positions. Result: more popularity for the upstarts. Undaunted, they turn their arrows to the followers of the upstarts, who must be the problem. Result: a snowball effect. Whom do they have left to excoriate? A possible favorable result: record turnouts for the election. (See note on Ecuador in Post Scripts.)
(This just in: The Pope may have played an effective trump card. Up to now, the media has been playing no trump but has yet to win a deal.)
My analysis: as the creep toward “created equal” and “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” millimeters forward, more individuals realize they have dreams, society becomes aware, and political correctness emerges to shield the dis-favored from formerly acceptable social mores that now are identified as demeaning, a.k.a. “bullying.” That has been a continuous process, with innumerable casualties. Now political correctness becomes calcified, the newly-ennobled begin to control the dialogue and sometimes expand definitions beyond the reasonable, and the newly-eroded react about losing influence and being counter-demeaned. The lambs roar, the lions whimper, the examples multiply, then the see-saw tilts… and may crack in the center.
And I’m thinking we ain’t seen nothing yet. We may see both conventions disrupted, one by a second (or third…) ballot; one by a second server. And then… and then… we may see a third party candidate receiving electoral votes, and the final election decided in the Electoral College, with Senators voting among the top three electoral finishers.
Maybe both fringes will split and four vote getters will appear on the ballot, and maybe we’ll go European, with coalitions of strange bedfellows. As a (now) certified “Incrementalist,” I’d like to see the fringes become their own parties, and the majority factions of the existing parties merge into an Incrementalist party, trade all the horses they need to, and come up with one candidate who might balance the rhetoric and calm the nerves, and help the country move forward toward its ideals.
I begin every election cycle by morphing back into my eight-year-old persona, expecting “truth and justice” to be the holy-of-holies criteria which will determine the preferred “Public Servant” to run the country. Experience brings out the cynicism that gamesmanship, power-thirst, and future speakers’ fees dominate the process.
My biggest wish and prayer us to have some election where I can have a difficult time choosing between (or among) candidates I consider worthy of the position. I admit to usually voting against, rather than for, one of the major candidates, and once wrote in my preferred ticket. (Couldn’t find my vote listed in the final tally.) And, since running the country requires a different skill set than winning the election, it would be terrific if that became the criteria for becoming President.
(In 1970, JFK’s former Secretary of HEW formed a citizen’s lobby, Common Cause, hoping to establish “citizens” as special interests, and influence worthy candidates to emerge. Politically neutral, it generated immediate excitement, flourished for a few cycles, then lost momentum. Common Cause still exists – http://www.pbs.org/johngardner/chapters/6.html – flying low under the radar, and seldom headlined. I had to google to discover it does still exist.)
Finally – Why have we had to wait fifty years to hear some version of “Ask not…” re-surface? Can some candidate dare challenge the citizens, large and small, again? Please!
Post Scripts – Off the record – Beyond the fringe – more personal memorabilia, whatever creeps in from my memory bank, rooted in terminal naïveté:
1952 again: All over my hometown, on election day, Boy Scout and Cub Scout troops walked neighborhood streets, ringing hand bells and shouting “Get out and vote!”, and leaving voting cards on doorknobs. I found several leaflets that advised: “Don’t vote for Eisenhower, he’s old and will die in office.” I remember thinking that was very dirty. They really do that stuff?
Electoral trivia: I remember hearing an anecdote about Stevenson, who originally didn’t want the nomination, hearing from a lady after one of his speeches, something like, “That’s the most impressive speech I ever heard; every thinking American will vote for you!” Stevenson responded, “That won’t be enough.”
Third party-ing: While mentally composing this post, my memories of third party candidates and their influence on elections crept into my consciousness. Google and Wikipedia again filled in some blanks, and uselectionatlas.org provided details.
— In 1980 liberal Republican John Anderson took five million votes from the Great Communicator (Reagan), who nonetheless got fifty million votes to the forty-one million for the Malaise President (Carter), and even won Massachusetts. (N.B. “Malaise” may be defined by mortgage rates at 14% and higher.) (Also N.B. This was Reagan’s second attempt at the nomination. In his first attempt in 1968, he came in third and the country re-elected the Great Prevaricator.)
— In 1992 businessman Perot (presumably conservative) took 19% of the vote, mostly draining GHWB’s take down to 39%, gifting WJC with 44% and the election. WJC made history by taking his campaign to MTV, and answering questions about “briefs or boxers,” among other things. GHWB made a major gaffe by visiting a grocery store for the first time in thirty years and commenting that he didn’t realize they used cash registers (or some such foible).
((Back story: Perot started as an IBM salesman in Dallas, making his quota in January every year, whereupon his quota in successive years was doubled and he still made the number in January; whereupon IBM said sit off in this corner and come up with future sources of revenue for the company; whereupon Perot came up with “Facilities Management,” whereby the company would run clients’ computer operations; whereupon IBM said no thanks, Perot bolted and formed Electronic Data Systems doing just that, became a howling success and got the General Motors facilities management contract; whereupon GMC took him on its Board of Directors; whereupon Perot tried to tell GMC how to run its businesses (he was probably correct) and GMC said no thanks and gave him a personal $75 million payout (maybe more) to leave the premises. Nice work if you can get it!))
— In 2000, while the election teetered in the balance and media first anointed one candidate, counting chads took over the extended decision process, then subsequent events gored that candidate, one commentator cried on the anchor network coverage set, and the final tally showed that among Nader the Crusader’s two point eight million votes were the margins of victory in New Hampshire and Florida. It can’t be proven that enough of these would have gone to the candidate who wound up bushwhacked.
De-Pressing the process: Four anecdotals emerge, two involving my favorite at the time…
— 1968, Michigan Republican Governor George Romney, former American Motors Corp. CEO, challenging Nixon’s candidacy, goes to Viet Nam for a briefing, endorses U.S. activities. Later in the contest, he reneges, using the term “brainwashed” for his inspection tour. From then on, in all press encounters, Romney was challenged for using the word “brainwashed” (not his change of position). I was in uniform, and I knew what he meant. Maybe “snow job” would have been kinder and gentler, maybe not. His campaign crashed and burned.
— 1972, Maine Democratic Senator Edmund Muskie was frontrunning when a personal attack from the Manchester Union Leader involving his wife evoked an emotional response at an interview during a snowstorm. Reports said there were tears in Muskie’s eyes. Even if the moisture was melting snowflakcs, it became the primary focus of the faltering campaign.
— 1972, George McGovern’s Democratic Vice Presidential nominee, Thomas Eagleton, was hounded off the ticket on revelations that he had had psychological counseling – a man way ahead of his time, if even Tony Soprano is now comfortable with that new medicine. He was replaced by JFK in-law Sargent Shriver. Nixon soared in that election, then crashed and burned. (I believe the powers that be, not the press in this case, knew the fall was coming, when they replaced Vice President Spiro Agnew with Congressman Gerald Ford to steer the ship of state until he could lose to Jimmy Carter in 1976.)
— 1988, Democratic frontrunner Senator Gary Hart, accused of womanizing (another man ahead of his time), dared the press “follow me,” and they did, to the boat Monkey Business. There went the campaign, no Barbara Walters interview to the rescue.
The Ecuador solution: A business colleague from Ecuador told me in his country, voting is a mandatory condition of citizenship, and one entry on the ballot is “None of the Above.” If “None” wins, the incumbents stay in position until some process finally results in a victor. That sounded advanced and desirable, until my daughter was spending a semester at University of Quito, and I received a call from a young college administrator that, not to worry, El Presidente had been deposed and was under house arrest in the neighborhood my daughter was staying, and the neighborhood was under quarantine. When I later asked my daughter about the quarantine, she used the term, “theoretically.”
Coming soon in next entry: A recounting of a family poll taken in 1960 on the eve of the JFK-RMN election – the family election as close as the national results, voters consisting of two adults and eleven offspring from the ages of eighteen to six months. Content will include a junior year high school theme describing the vote in great detail. It will not include post-election factoids, such as:
— various fringe third party votes were margins of victory in New Jersey and Illinois.
— 15 electors went unpledged into the Electoral College. Mississippi didn’t like either candidate.
— the rumor mill had some gravestone researchers providing votes from no longer eligible voters, maybe in Texas and Illinois.
— when I asked my History teacher if JFK would conciliate given the narrow margin of victory over RMN, he said “No way. He’s in charge. He doesn’t owe anybody anything.” He may have been only partially correct.
Tom Comeaux said:
Excellent writing! I’m trying to remember what things were like when we didn’t know — or believe that we knew — everything instantly.
And I’m enjoying the writer’s moments — gored, bushwhacked…great stuff George!
The picture in the header — where is that?
That’s the Morganza Spillway in Louisiana. (My Mother grew up outside Morganza, about five or ten miles from the Spillway.) The Spillway allows Mississippi River flood waters in the spring to be diverted to lowlands and head west to the Atchafalaya River, and take a shorter path to the Gulf of Mexico at Morgan City, LA. (which may be my Father’s family’s port-of-entry into Louisiana after the deportation.) My Uncle who ran the family farm told me the Mississippi is trying to cut over to the Atchafalaya and leave New Orleans high and dry, but our engineers are preventing the inevitable. (Example: The 7.5 foot levee at Morganza held in the flood of 1850; by the mid-1920’s the levee was 38 feet. Source: “Rising Tide” by John M. Barry, 1997) The Spillway was completed in 1954, and the gates opened only in 1973 and 2011 — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morganza_Spillway .
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