Political pundits across the country at this moment, as 2014 draws to a close, would have us believe that the only contender, only possible person to win the Democratic Nomination for President of the United States in 2016, is former First lady, former US Senator from NY, former Secretary of State of the US, Hillary Clinton.
History, and a certain current US Senator from Vermont would say ….not so fast with that Coronation – umm, excuse me, Nomination.
In 1968, a Democratic Senator from Wisconsin, Eugene McCarthy, threw his political hat into the presidential ring and directly challenged a sitting President of his own political Party, Lyndon Baines Johnson.
Eugene McCarthy announced he was running for President because, he said :
I run because this country is now involved in a deep crisis of leadership – a crisis of national purpose – and a crisis of American ideals. It is time to substitute a leadership of hope for a leadership of fear. This is not simply what I want, or what most of us want. It is, I believe, the deepest hunger of the American soul.
McCarthy made his campaign almost a moral crusade, trying to harness the anti war Vietnam sentiment that was growing, especially among the youth, as well as to re-engage people in the political process.
McCarthy chose to challenge President Johnson in the NH primary and while pundits at that time gave him nearly no chance at victory, McCarthy came within a few hundred votes of winning that primary over President Johnson, setting into motion a decision by President Johnson at the end of March 1968, to announce at the conclusion of a nation wide prime time speech( which was primarily concerned with the ongoing war in Vietnam), the following words:
Through all time to come, I think America will be a stronger nation, a more just society, and a land of greater opportunity and fulfillment because of what we have all done together in these years of unparalleled achievement.
Our reward will come in the life of freedom, peace, and hope that our children will enjoy through ages ahead.
What we won when all of our people united just must not now be lost in suspicion, distrust, selfishness, and politics among any of our people.
Believing this as I do, I have concluded that I should not permit the Presidency to become involved in the partisan divisions that are developing in this political year.
With America’s sons in the fields far away, with America’s future under challenge right here at home, with our hopes and the world’s hopes for peace in the balance every day, I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office–the Presidency of your country.
Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.
1968, as we all know, was seminal year in American history.
It started off with nearly every political sage at that time predicting that LBJ would secure the Democratic Nomination for President of United States.
Yet one Senator challenged that presumption and in doing so, showed the vulnerability of a sitting President; when LBJ took himself out of the race it set into motion another announcement, by another famous politician, to battle Eugene McCarthy for the nomination – Robert F. Kennedy . As well as another, at a later date- Hubert H. Humphrey the then current sitting Vice President.
What does all of this have to do with Senator Bernie Sanders?
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is identified in the US Senate as an Independent and one who caucuses with the Democrats within that legislative body, and who self identifies as a democratic socialist, is seriously considering running as a Democrat to move the political conversation toward economic justice for all. It is a moral discussion he desires, just as Eugene McCarthy desired a moral dialogue dealing with the issues that were front and center in 1968.
Bernie Sanders is speaking to reporters in print, tv, cable,and radio, as well as using every social media tool available to draw attention to the economic injustices that exist in our society, the injustices that permeate our corrupt campaign donation driven government. He speaks a very clear message of what is ill in the body politic and he gives a very clear program of how to deal with the ‘illness’ within our democracy and Republic.
He has traveled to the now seemingly solid Republican South to see if his message of economic populism resonates. According to reports, he has filled the locations in which he has engaged in dialogue with concerned citizens.
He has traveled to the first in the Nation caucus state – Iowa, and again, reports indicate that people are turning out and listening to him and his message and program.
There is a very important point that people should take careful note of – Hillary Clinton came in 3rd in Iowa in 2008, finishing behind Barack Obama and John Edwards.
Most recently Hillary Clinton traveled to Iowa to attend the famous Harkin Steak Fry, an event for which the money raised is to benefit the Iowa Democrats;for her appearance at this event she charge the organizers a $50,000 traveling expense.
Today comes the news that Moveon.org has pledged to spend $1 million dollars to convince US Senator Elizabeth Warren to run in 2016 for the office of President.
Is history is some way repeating itself?
Can Senator Bernie Sanders show the vulnerability of Hillary Clinton as a candidate as Senator Eugene McCarthy did to LBJ?
Let’s not forget that most recent photo of Hillary Clinton speaking to a very empty looking auditorium at Georgetown University.
Is Hillary Clinton stepping into the role of President Johnson in 1968?
If Senator Bernie Sanders does decide to run and he uses a grassroots driven, people to people campaign method that can work in Iowa, and he manages to somehow rock the political world as happened in NH in 1968, will that give Senator Warren a reason to run as it did Senator Robert Kennedy?
History has a funny way of showing things, the ability to absorb ‘lessons learned’ or even ‘lessons to be avoided’.
Eugene McCarthy’s 1968 race for the Presidency is one we should familiarize ourselves with – there are many lessons to be learned there.