Saturday, July 02, 2011

1971: Eighteen-year-olds get the vote; 1972: Nixon wins in landslide

Marching for the vote in 1971
In 1971, the U.S. Congress ratified the 26th amendment, lowering the voting age to 18.

I was five months shy of 21. New amendment or no new amendment, I as going to be eligible to vote for president in 1972. My politics were rapidly shifting from conservative to somewhat liberal. I had lost my ROTC scholarship in January but still had my college deferment at U of South Carolina. This was a good thing since my draft number was 128, low enough to go if I ever was 1-A. So my politics were this: convince Pres. Nixon to get out of Vietnam before I had to go there. Or elect someone else who would get us out.

Self-serving? Of course, that's what politics is about. If it hits home, it's important at election time. It's the economy, stupid. Or, it's the war, stupid, especially if you're draft-bait.

One word about the draft as practiced by U.S. Selective Service: unfair. If you don't believe me, read the exhaustive and sometimes dense book on the subject: "Chance and Circumstance: The Draft, the War an the Vietnam Generation." The authors, Lawrence M. Baskir and William A. Strauss, were members of Pres. Gerald Ford's clemency board. The book was out of print in 1990 when I read it on microfiche for a writing project at CSU. I was lucky to find the cover art (see photo).

In November of 1972, I found myself voting in an historic church on Boston's Beacon Hill. I voted for George McGovern, a U.S. Senator from South Dakota, a World War II combat veteran, and an odd person to be an anti-war firebrand. McGovern lost, the Vietnam War continued until April 1975. More young Americans died and many more Vietnamese. This is one of the roots of my stubborn Democratic Party voting pattern and my antiwar activism.

I am astonished that everyone doesn't vote. I was astonished by this in 1972, although the polls were darn crowded on that cold Boston night -- I was outside waiting in line. But was less impressed when the results came in, with only Massachusetts and D.C. coming in for Sen. McGovern.

Young voters came out big for Obama in 2008 (read Pres. Obama's proclamation celebrating the 26th amendment anniversary here). They disappeared in 2010. What will they do in 2012, with the the future of America hanging in the balance?

It's good to remember an historic event such as the ratification of the 26th amendment. But when it's 100 years old, it may just be an historical oddity.

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