Marge and I were newlyweds at time of the election in 1968. Those Americans who fancied themselves the grownups at that time felt moved again and again to show us kids that they’d had enough of the likes of us. As President, the nation’s voters chose Dick Nixon, a man who pretty much hated everyone. I was a first-time voter in that election.
We were living in the town of Gorham, Maine. I recall that when I went to register to vote, the clerk in the town office simply passed me the form to register as a Republican. When I said I wanted to register as a Democrat, the clerk looked surprised, then stumped. “Just a minute,” she said. “Those forms are around here somewhere.” Eventually, I was able to register the way I wanted to.
Things were tougher for other young Democrats that year. I remember how, in the flickering black and white of our old TV, Marge and I saw Mayor Daley’s thug police club our people in Grant Park during the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. Last night, as I watched Barack Obama deliver his victory speech from that same park, all I saw were thoughtful and hopeful faces. Security was tight for Obama’s speech, but there were no club-wielding goons.
After eight years of bullying cynicism from the current regime, however, I feel hopeful again with some trepidation. Obama won by a comfortable margin, but any observer who calls his victory a mandate is far more partisan than I. Those who support our Fortress America of surveillance, interrogation and secret prosecutions are still among us and still in positions of authority and responsibility. They won’t all be rendered harmless on the day Dubya leaves office.
Still, it was nice to see those shining faces in Grant Park, even if 40 years was a long time to wait.