Once upon a time there were two candidates in the general election for an important office and, as happens, feelings ran high. Not just as to between the two general election candidates, but as to how one of them, the Democrat, had prevailed in … what to call it … a difficult primary period. Really difficult. The stakes were high and the competing candidates for the nomination were righteous, all of them. One was nominated by the Party, and the losers felt bad. Really bad. Abused. Unheard.
And so it came to be that the losers, the exhausted hard workers, the managers of the campaigns that did not prevail, had to think about supporting the one that did win. The words ‘bitter pill’ come to mind. As I said, the stakes were high, the issues virtually life and death, and many of those who did not win chose to sit it out.
I was at the meeting, one of those who chose to sit it out. The election in question was Humphrey vs. NIxon for President in 1968. At the meeting were the losers, the three dozen or so people who had organized and managed Gene McCarthy’s and Robert Kennedy’s primary campaigns. It was just weeks after the Chicago Convention catastrophe, just months after RFK’s murder. Feelings were pretty raw. I am still angry about Chicago, about the cheating in the Convention and the beatings outside. But, you know, Politics. Humphrey folks sent an airplane and emissaries to meet with us, including a state governor we all liked. They offered some of us important jobs in their campaign. They pled that it was important to save America from Nixon.
We turned them down.
Humphrey lost by seven-tenths of one percent.
Of course Nixon might have won anyway. But there was a lot of hard political experience and talent at that meeting. It might have made up the tiny difference. It might have put a liberal Democrat in the White House instead of Richard “I am not a crook” Nixon. It might have ended the war in Vietnam in 1969 instead of six years and thousands of lives later. It might have saved our country too.
The issue on which we stood was that war. Vietnam. Humphrey, LBJ’s Vice President, wouldn’t or couldn’t call it wrong. For us — the Kennedy and McCarthy vets — it was the issue, not just ending the war, but denying its legitimacy. We stood on our high moral ground. Nixon won, and the war went on. Also other things happened too.
I’m a lot older now. I’d think about that choice differently than the young man did. I believe I would make a different choice and I’m sorry about the one we made. My moral high ground protected me, but it was bad for my country.
Tom DeVries has made mistakes. This was a bad one. He’s trying to make up for it.