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The 1968 Presidential Election


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The 1968 Presidential Election


"...I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office — the Presidency of your country. Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President." -President Lyndon Baines Johnson, March 31, 1968

Hate. Anger. Death. Nineteen Sixty-Eight raged on as an all-consuming fire that ate up what was left of the American consensus which had elected President Johnson four years earlier and spat it out on the side of the road like so much trash. The Democratic Party? At war with itself over race, over left versus center, and most importantly over Vietnam as history's favorite what if, Robert F. Kennedy, lay dead. The Republicans? A smoking cinder upon which Richard Nixon sat as king of the ashes while his allies, chief among them Ronald Reagan, both clamored for attention and sought to surpass him at every turn. The sons of bitches always had, but the old Orthogonian had finally come out on top.

Blood ran riot in American cities, in what seemed like a never-ending stream since Watts shortly after LBJ's election. In Chicago, Democratic Mayor Daley called in the police to beat other Democrats and pleaded with President Johnson to run for President. He refused. Humphrey promised change and more of a world of tomorrow, the same which ever paper in the press, every program on the television, every intellectual in the country had seen sure of a bare 48 months ago. Nixon promised to stop ghoulish procession on every living room television night after night that caused white families to hold their children close in fear. Caused white suburbs to erect walls around themselves. No busing, no integration, none of your kind here.

When the ideologies met, thrown together in a pot with the intense racism and hate of Alabama Governor George Wallace, a corrosive toadfucker whose very presence on this website rottens and poisons it even as he burns in hell to this very day, it brought the country to a boil. It was an environment in which only Richard Milhous Nixon could prosper. His strength hammered the Democratic coalition and broke through the South where Barry Goldwater had weakened it: he understood how to speak to the white men of the working classes and middle classes both to break through.

The election was tough. Too often obscured by history, Hubert. H. Humphrey almost equaled Nixon's vote as great masses of Americans chose to vote against Nixon's promises and showmanship--honed working a carnival as a youngster--and for change, but as I bet a lot of you found out in November of 2016, it doesn't really matter how close the popular vote total is when it comes to choosing Presidents. Richard Nixon pounded his message home in enough states to scrape by and win a large electoral vote victory and crown himself King, for that's what it would be to a man committing treason on the campaign trail and repeatedly in office until forced out for an entirely different set of crimes.

But that's history for you. Nineteen Sixty-Eight realigned the country politically and we've felt it ever since. Nixon cut the Gordian Knot of the Democratic Party's war between northern liberals and Dixiecrats by giving southerners an out and getting them to start voting Republican; which they've been doing with only a little exception since at the Presidential level. Humphrey, as well as the primary campaigns of Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy, helped cement a more leftward faction of the party which has continued to grow since. 

Ultimately, LBJ's Great Society programs would survive, but not without repeated threats down the line as race-based politics only continued as dreams of a great societal integration were never quite carried out. Nixon united his silent majority for a time, but swells of protests and daily bombings, not even to mention strings of robberies and increases of murders around the nation, do little to sway future historians towards the idea that Nixon's election solved the crises he was elected to fix. Even the appointment of very pro-integration George Romney to the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development saw few of his ideas fully implemented, and Romney left shortly after Nixon's reelection. 

And that, perhaps, is the ultimate legacy of Nineteen Sixty-Eight: a year of unrealized potential and unfulfilled promises built on the back of hate and anger the likes of which we may only pray we do not see again.

Citations


Jeffrey B. Lewis, Brandon DeVine, Lincoln Pitcher, and Kenneth C. Martis. (2013) Digital Boundary Definitions of United States Congressional Districts, 1789-2012. Retrieved from http://cdmaps.polisci.ucla.edu on 16 March, 2019.

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