August 18, 2012
1968 — the election I wish we had had
Yesterday, I blogged about the “fun” election we missed having in 1968 — Tricky Dick vs. LBJ, with George Wallace still in there, and ideally, the race winding up in the House of Representatives.
Well, now, as I work through a new book about Bobby Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign, let me tell you about the campaign that, as a true progressive, I wish we had had — Bobby Kennedy vs. Tricky Dick.
Let’s throw in an additional twist or two. Let’s say that Reagan actively campaigned earlier than he did in reality, and got enough delegates to, in combination with Nelson Rockefeller, prevent Nixon from a first-ballot nomination.
So, Nixon has to deal. But, with whom? Remembering how conservatives soured on him in 1968 for the “Compact on Fifth Avenue” and tapping the relatively moderate Henry Cabot Lodge as his Veep, he decides it can’t be Rocky. And, so, reluctantly, he turns to Reagan. Reagan and Nancy debate it, and finally decide to accept. Reagan knows that, if he doesn’t, Nixon will either tap Rocky, or else find another, younger conservative than him, and if he gets elected, campaign for that person for the presidency in 1976.
Now, on the other side, let’s say that Bobby Kennedy isn’t shot in L.A., of course. Let’s say that it’s true that Mayor Richard Daley at least promises to turn an open mind to Bobby. Let’s say that he crushes McCarthy in the New York primary, enough to persuade Daley’s mind further.
So, after a first ballot with Humphrey barely ahead, the machines start moving toward Kennedy in the second round. McCarthy is stubborn, but it doesn’t matter. RFK gets the nomination on the third ballot.
Humphrey certainly doesn’t want to be Veep again, and Bobby doesn’t want him, due to his LBJ connections. McCarthy keeps his stubborn grudge, so he’s out of the picture. With almost no black or female politicians of close to prominence, Bobby doesn’t have that angle.
One obvious choice is the man who ran himself in 1972 and who was a strong Bobby supporter — George McGovern. It shores up his support with at least some McCarthy supporters and in the Midwest. Or, trying to appeal to liberals in the South, he names Texas Sen. Ralph Yarborough, a choice sure to piss off LBJ. Yarborough was also a war opponent and a strong supporter of Bobby.
And, let’s have Bobby win the general election.
1. Not neoliberalism of today, or even of Jimmy Carter, but, some next step beyond the New Deal and an affirmation of the better elements of the Great Society get a stronger footing.
2. Richard Nixon really isn’t around to be kicked around any more. Or to try to rehabilitate himself.
3. Mistrust of an executive presidency, etc., never gets started.
4. Reagan takes a ding, too. He would, in this scenario, run himself in 1972, blaming Nixon for not being conservative enough in 1968. He loses, convincingly, after flirting with making a rapproachment to Wallace. (In this scenario, Wallace isn’t shot in 1972, but, does no better in the general election than in 1968.) Reagan tries again in 1976, but moderates coalesce around ... say, Howard Baker.
5. Bobby signs the SALT treaty with the USSR. He does some sort of approach to China, but not the same as Nixon’s.
6. We never help overthrow Salvador Allende in Chile.
7. If not full-blown national health care, Bobby at least expands Medicare and Medicaid.
I'm not saying America would have been "everything," but given Bobby's encouragement to people of different income levels to look beyond the Gross National Product would have definitely worked toward a "more perfect union."