OPINION: My favorite election year -- 1972
The 40th anniversary of President Richard Nixon's resignation brings me back to the 1972 presidential campaign.
During that contest I watched as the adults around me chose between character and fear.
I was 13 and living in New York, when Nixon ran for re-election against Sen. George McGovern, of South Dakota. I largely saw politics through my parents' eyes.
"McGovern's a radical," my mother told me. "He'll ruin the country."
My father -- trusting my mother's political judgement -- also supported Nixon. Voting Republican would be a switch for my parents. They were against Nixon in 1968, my father telling me that the future president -- nicknamed Tricky Dick -- was dishonest.
During Nixon's first term the Vietnam War raged, as did student protests. The president demanded law and order, while drug use surged and racial tensions flared. The predictable
world in which my parents hoped to raise a family seemed about to unravel.
As the 1972 election approached, Nixon successfully portrayed McGovern -- a World War II pilot -- as a pacifist, who was sympathetic to the so-called counterculture. My parents saw President Nixon as a force for stability.
My parents' view of the candidates was challenged by my best friend, Richard. We had met in the third grade, and he always impressed me with his encyclopedic knowledge of history and current events.
"McGovern is going to be president!" he said, gleefully.
Richard's take on the election no doubt extended from his father, Miles Rubin. A successful businessman, Rubin was the single biggest donor to the McGovern campaign, as well as
one of the candidate's top operatives.
Rubin frequently took Richard and me on weekend outings. He was thin with a wry smile, and was the only adult who laughed at my jokes. I was awed by his immense energy and self-confidence.
"Miles Rubin" he'd say when introducing himself, with the unmistakable pride of someone who rose from poverty to great wealth. Richard's father would tell us how principled and honest McGovern was, while making barbs about Nixon's lack of integrity. His involvement with McGovern made him a celebrity to me.
Caught between Rubin's advocacy for McGovern and my parents' assertion that Nixon was the last line of defense against disaster, I was unable to make up my mind about the election. When I was with Richard and his dad, I wanted McGovern to win; when I was with my parents, I wanted Nixon to remain president.
The tension I felt from my indecision was short-lived. As I began following the race, it became obvious that McGovern stood little chance. Nixon ended up winning 49 of the 50 states.
Despite the national cynicism that followed President Nixon's resignation, I became active in politics, enthusiastically volunteering on several campaigns. But after seeing many elected officials I've supported fall to corruption, I lost my zeal for electoral politics. As Watergate proved character matters in politics, although it is often difficult to see behind a candidate's public face. Still, Rubin saw through Nixon and, as it turned out, so did my father.
On Election Day, my mother and father spoke on the telephone. "How could you? I don't understand you," I heard her saying.
"Your father voted for McGovern," my mother told me after the call.
That evening, I asked my father what happened.
"I intended to vote for Nixon," my father said. "But when I walked into the voting booth, I couldn't bring myself to pull the lever next to his name."
-- Ben Krull lives in New York City.