I voted in a presidential election for the first time during my sophomore year in college. It was 1972. Racial integration and the war in Vietnam were the inflammatory topics of the day, but I was expectedly idealistic and mostly uninformed of current events. My high school had been naturally desegregated, and no one I knew had been drafted. We didn’t talk about politics at home much, but I had absorbed my parents’ ideals by osmosis. When my freshman Sociology professor at Friends University asked for a show of hands for all of us who were in favor of capital punishment, I popped my arm up without a second thought. I was truly surprised to see that mine was the only hand in the air.
Because I was a naive, sheltered college student and had a fuzzy notion that the Democrat party was the party “of the people,” I voted for George McGovern in the primary. In the same election, I knew some who voted for George Wallace: a protest vote more against the status quo than it was for Wallace. McGovern won the Democrat nomination and ran against incumbent Richard Nixon in the general election. Nixon won by a record-setting margin.
The passage of time brought changes to the rhetoric of Wallace, McGovern, and Nixon.
George Wallace whose early rallying cry was, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” came to regret that stance. In 1979 after surviving an assassination attempt that left him bound to a wheelchair, Wallace claimed a spiritual renewal and of those earlier comments on segregation said, “I was wrong. Those days are over and they ought to be over.”
George McGovern, a left-leaning leftist, took on a Libertarian tone toward the end of his life. He blamed the demise of his family operated inn on crushing governmental regulations and red tape. He also came to denounce Republican and Democrat attempts to protect adults from the consequences of their own choices—what has come to be known as the nanny state. “Since leaving office I’ve written about public policy from a new perspective: outside looking in. I’ve come to realize that protecting freedom of choice in our everyday lives is essential to maintaining a healthy civil society.” Note that he was not referring to abortion when using the term freedom of choice.
Also speaking about the consequences of our actions, in 1969 Richard Nixon said, “Whether we shape the future in the image of our hopes, is ours to determine by our actions and our choices.” Years later, after the Watergate scandal and his resignation of the presidency, Nixon admitted that he was “wrong in not acting more decisively and more forthrightly in dealing with Watergate.” He said, “I let the American people down.”
By the next presidential election, I had graduated from the insulated atmosphere of Friends University, I was married, working full-time, and “the real world” had arrived. I have never voted for a liberal candidate again. Last week, I ran across these buttons from 1972. They represent a passage of time between then and now. They remind me of my naiveté in those days and the perspective I’ve gained since then. And they are rusty.
“Aside from velcro, time is the most mysterious substance in the universe. You can’t see it or touch it, yet a plumber can charge you upwards of seventy-five dollars per hour for it, without necessarily fixing anything.” ~Dave Barry