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Friday, November 2, 2012

Remembrances of elections past—the throbbing heart of freedom

Posted By on 11.02.12 at 06:45 AM

The infamous butterfly ballot
  • from the Sun-Sentinel
  • The infamous butterfly ballot
2000: I went to bed thinking Gore had lost, woke up and nobody knew, and then it wound up in the courts. That was a nasty election. It wasn’t just that Gore won the popular vote and Bush won the White House. It was that everyone with half a mind—Republicans included—knew Gore should have carried Florida too and didn’t only because of a half-assed ballot design in Palm Beach County. It’s possible to be magnanimous in victory and the same in defeat, but being handed a prize you don’t deserve brings out the worst in just about everybody. We’re still suffering from 2000.

1988: Michael Dukakis, a death penalty opponent, is asked in a debate, "Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?" Dukakis replies, "No, I don't . . .” and explains why with all the ardor of a tailor reciting suit sizes. His campaign crashes and burns. It was a completely fair unfair question. What would have been wrong with an answer that began “I would want to kill him myself, slowly, over hot coals . . . . But I don’t want this to be a country where justice is the same as vengeance”? Any question is fair that reveals a candidate lacks a presidential range of emotions.

1984: I had a daughter in the first grade at Francis Parker. A mock election was held in her classroom. The results were 23 votes for Mondale and one for Reagan. The teacher telling us this story then added, “And the mother of the little boy who voted for Reagan called me the next day and apologized. She said he’d misunderstood the directions.” It was a telling glimpse at how popular sentiment was trending in Lincoln Park, yet Reagan carried 49 states!

hhh.jpg
1968: You think Obama has it tough this year, trying to get reelected despite the economy? 1968 was one of the worst years in American history. We had endless war, assassinations, urban riots, cities in flames. The Democratic Party was shattered by race, class, and ideology. On the right, George Wallace bolted the party. On the left, senators McCarthy, Kennedy, and McGovern all ran against the White House. LBJ bailed. Yet the surrogate incumbent, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, lost to Richard Nixon by less than 1 percent of the overall vote. Humphrey’s only edge over Nixon was that—as even Democrats who despised him had to admit—he was a nice guy. If Nixon could have been sure he’d hold a niceness edge over whoever ran against him in 1972, maybe there’d have been no Watergate. But Nixon knew that wasn’t going to happen—not in his wildest dreams. So he did what he thought he had to do.

pow.jpg
  • POW Stockdale
1965: War rages. Our carrier is in the thick of it. Somehow or other I catch wind of an essay contest sponsored by the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge on the theme “My Vote, Freedom’s Privilege.” I enter and win some sort of medal, which requires a brief presentation ceremony in the captain’s quarters. I’ve still got the picture—he looks like a man with a war he can't wait to get back to. In a few weeks’ time the commander of the ship’s air wing, James Bond Stockdale, will be shot down and captured. He’ll be on my mind during the next election and the one after that, both of which he spends in Hanoi, and certainly in 1992, when’s he’s Ross Perot’s running mate.

1958: I get a call at home. It's Brad Binnington on the line; he’s running for senior class treasurer and he wants my support. My support! I marvel, but if he thinks I’m a power broker the next move's mine. So I lay out my terms. The senior assembly, a spring comedy show, is a hallowed tradition at our school and I want to be in charge. Brad wins his race and delivers big-time. Not only am I chairman of the senior assembly, but the cochairman is a girl I’ve been nuts about since tenth grade geometry. As I see it, the obvious division of labor is for me to create and her to be responsible for everything else. Alas, the curse of auteurist insufferability exacts its price: the show’s a big success and the next time the cochairman speaks to me is at our 50th class reunion. The lesson here needs to be learned by anyone who gets emotionally invested in an election: divine retribution is likelier than paradise.

Read more from Election Flashback Week, this week's Variations on a Theme:

"Screw this election—let's talk about past elections all week," by Tal Rosenberg
"Johnnie To's Election, which has little in common with the U.S. presidential election," by Ben Sachs
"And in this corner, the Rainbow Coalition!" by Kate Schmidt

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