In the 1968 New Hampshire primary, 40 years ago, Senator Eugene McCarthy got 42% of the vote running against Lyndon Johnson . That was enough to be viewed as a win, since no one thought he'd get anywhere close to those numbers. That victory by the only national politician with the guts to run against the Vietnam War sent a shock through the Democratic Party. McCarthy's effort, often called "The Children's Crusade," was comprised largely of college students (including me) who abandoned their studies to come to New Hampshire and work to help to stop the war. Now, as I watch Barack Obama, and see the the numbers of young people propelling his success, I know just how they feel --- and what awaits them if they fail.
Then too, win or lose, things will be tough for Senator Clinton.
Obama, seen not only as a change agent but also as someone who offers
the hope and optimism of a JFK, has captured the imaginations not only
of young people but also of many journalists, most notorious of whom is
the conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks. That means that anyone who wrests the nomination away from him will be perceived as the breaker of young hearts, standing in the way of idealism and the candidate who brought young people fully in to the system.*
That's exactly what happened in 1968. The New Hampshire victory brought Robert Kennedy into the race - establishing, until his tragic death, a three-way battle - two dissidents against the juggernaut of the Democratic establishment. Then later, Hubert Humphrey, candidate of that establishment and for years, as Vice President, public and energetic supporter of Johnson's war, won the nomination. To all of us, he had stolen the nomination. Many (not me) were so bitter that they refused to vote for him. Remember, for most of us, as for many of Obama's young supporters, this was our first presidential campaign. Hillary Clinton, should she prevail further down the line, will face the same broken-hearted campaigners. Once the anti-establishment, anti-war student and Watergate hearing staffer, in the eyes of these young people she'll be cast as the villain.
For evidence of how long that bitterness lasts, take a look at this quote from the American Journalism Review, from the 1968 Chicago Convention, riot and Hum prey coronation recollections of veteran Washington Post columnist David Broder. It's about me - but it's also about any young American who takes a stand and loses . He recalls coming into the hotel lobby from the park where demonstrations were underway and spotting a woman he had first met during the Eugene McCarthy campaign in New Hampshire. "Her name was Cindy Samuels," Broder still remembers. "She was seated on a bench crying. She had been gassed. I went over and I put my arm around her and I said: 'Cindy. What can I do for you?' She looked up at me with tears on her face and said: 'Change things.'
NOTE: As I searched for links for this post I found a David Corn piece saying much the same thing. I want to take note of it since the ideas came to me independently but I didn't want it to seem that I drew from his.