Back in 1972, when I was a sophomore in highschool, I first became acquainted with presidential campaigns and candidates by helping to run the student-led campaign for the anti-war Republican congressman, Pete McCloskey. McCloskey's run for the Republican nomination was doomed to failure. He was facing the still incredibly popular President Richard Nixon who had managed to push Watergate questions temporarily into the background.
But it was fun and it piqued an interest in politics I didn't know I had. Soon, with McCloskey in the background I became aware of the Democratic candidate for president, George McGovern. McGovern's campaign was making a huge effort to get the youth vote out and I was swept along in the enthusiasm generated by his quixotic campaign. Unfortunately, the Tom Eagleton affair blew up his bid and that enthusiasm faded and failed to turn out the vote.
Four years later it was Gerald Ford vs. Jimmy Carter for president. I was now old enough to vote, but neither choice did much for me. So, my first vote for the presidency wound up being a write-in as I voted for George McGovern.
Fourteen years later (I spent the intervening years travelling the US, Europe and working) ... I'm working part-time at the Kenwood Inn at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee. I had just gotten to work and I peeked out into the dining room. I was stunned to see George McGovern enter, escorted by a couple of professors I recognized.
Anyway, I was excited. George McGovern! I had always wanted to meet him and here was my chance. I walked over, excused myself and asked the Senator if I could shake his hand. He smiled and as we shook hands I told him that I was honored to finally meet him and that, additionally, I had voted for him in 1976.
The professors sitting at the table exchanged smirky looks. McGovern, though, was all courtesy and he gently told me that I must have meant 1972 because that was the year he ran for president. I smiled and said no. I explained I hadn't been old enough to vote in 1972 so had waited until the next election to write his name in.
With that he smiled again, thanked me and squeezed my hand a bit extra. I'll never forget our meeting.
It's a shame that McGovern never got the chance to lead our nation. We as a people would have been better off -- by far.
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