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October 30, 2012

My two votes for McGovern weren't nearly enough

The Daily Star

---- — William Masters has decided to retire from writing his bi-weekly column. Beginning today, Cary Brunswick takes his place.

Back in the 1960s, a verse in a folk song by Barry McGuire proclaimed, “you’re old enough to kill, but not for votin’.’’ That’s because the voting age was 21, while you could join or be drafted into the military at 18.

We figured the high voting age had a lot to do with Richard Nixon being elected president in 1968 over Democrat Hubert Humphrey, and thus a guaranteed continuation of the Vietnam War.

But it was the draft for the Vietnam War that led to mounting pressure for lowering the voting age to 18, and the 26th Amendment to the Constitution doing just that was finally ratified in 1971.

As a result, many other baby-boomers and I were able to vote for the first time in a presidential election 40 years ago, in the 1972 race between Nixon and Democratic challenger Sen. George McGovern, who died at 90 on Oct. 21. Apparently the “youth vote’’ didn’t hurt Nixon, however, as he was re-elected in the biggest landslide in U.S. history.

After learning of McGovern’s recent death, I couldn’t help recalling the privilege I had of voting for him twice, though he would have needed millions more voters to cast two ballots to turn the outcome around.

My first job after earning my bachelor’s degree in August 1972 was on a New Hampshire apple farm, living in a bunkhouse with several other young people seeking a variety of life experiences. Knowing I would be out-of-state, I arranged to vote through absentee ballot in my hometown, and gladly filed my ballot by mail with a vote for McGovern.

Then came Election Day, and after a gray day in the orchards and another dinner of rice and steamed vegetables, we were sitting around talking and wondering whether we would be able to vote if we drove down to the polling place at the town hall. Since not one of us had ever voted before, we decided to give it a shot.

It was cold with wet snow falling as our van pulled up in front of the town hall in a hamlet about 15 miles northwest of Concord. Only two cars were in the lot and no other voters appeared to be coming or going.

We entered the building, and a woman, a polling place worker, asked if she could help us.

“We work at Sawyer’s Orchards and were wondering if we could vote even though we’re not registered,’’ our spokesman said.

Given the prevalence of long hair and beards in our group, it had to be clear to the woman where our candidate sympathies resided.

“Sure, you can vote. Come this way,’’ she stated without hesitation. She calmly led us, one-by-one, through the voting procedure, and before long we all had cast our ballots.

But my two votes for George McGovern, one in New York and one in New Hampshire, did not help his cause. In the landslide result, he won only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.

As a first-time voter, I was shocked and disillusioned by the result. After all, McGovern was against the war. In a commentary written in 2009, he recalled that in 1972, “speaking across the nation, I told audiences that the only upside of the tragedy in Vietnam was that its enormous cost in lives and dollars would keep any future administration from going down that road again.

“I was wrong,’’ he added.

McGovern supported economic justice. He called for an economy that supported jobs rather than a system “in which labor is depressed but prices and corporate profits run sky high.’’

He also favored national health insurance and “a fair and just tax system.’’

Unfortunately, the full ramifications of the Watergate break-in during the summer before the election had not come to light, so voters had no way of knowing that a disgraced Nixon would be forced out of office less than two years after the election.

I would not vote in a presidential election again until 1992.


Though you may not be able to vote twice, and an Obama victory in the presidential race in New York is assured, there are several other reasons to vote in the Oneonta area.

In Otsego and Delaware counties, there are contests for U.S. senator, the representative in the 19th Congressional District, state Senate and Assembly seats, and numerous county and town positions.

Don’t waste your vote by not casting one.

Cary Brunswick, of Oneonta, is a freelance writer and editor. He can be reached at brunswick@