Friday, January 11, 2008

Absit omen

Presidential Election Year brings it all back.

So Malcolm cranked up the iPod and found the John Stewart playlist and went back forty years. Somewhere in there, perhaps from the Camden Roundhouse concert of 26 April 1974, will be:
It more than Indiana,
It was more than South Dakota,
It was more than California,
It was more than Oregon,

It was a race against time,
It was always on our mind:

And he died on the road ...

Stewart had been there: the most successful "folk" group of the early 1960s; Selma, Alabama; working with NASA for a publicity film on the Apollo project; the 1968 RFK campaign trail; and his California Bloodlines one of Rolling Stone's Top 200 albums.

So, first, Malcolm insists on a brief aside about Stewart.

Here's the brief bio from his own website:
John Stewart's 40-plus-year career began in 1960 with The Cumberland Three. In 1961, Stewart joined The Kingston Trio, which had captured the folk world with hits like "Tom Dooley" and "Greenback Dollar." When Stewart was at the end of his stint with The Kingstons, he wrote a song called "Daydream Believer," which was a huge number one hit for the Monkees, followed by the hit "Gold" for Fleetwood Mac. Stewart's songs have been covered by artists from Pat Boone and The Four Tops to Joan Baez. 1999 found Stewart with another number one with "Runway Train," for Rosanne Cash.
And he's still banging on.

But 1968 was not so long ago, or so far away.

It was the year of the Magical Mystery Tour, of Khe Sanh and the Tet Offensive, of the My Lai massacre, of Martin Luther King's "mountain-top" speech and his assassination the next day; the Civil Rights Act; college occupations in the US and French riots; the Poor People's March ... and it's still only the start of June.

The big issue of 1968 was Vietnam. Eugene McCarthy, until then a crotchety, Catholic liberal Senator from Minnesota, was recruited as the anti-War candidate in November 1967. In New Hampshire's Primary (then held in March) he ran 42% to 49%, head-to-head against the President. It was then clear that the Democratic Party was totally split, and there would be an anti-War campaign. Kennedy (who had already gone on record against the War), now declared as a candidate himself. Within days, President Johnson ruled himself put of a second term, and the race for the nomination was on: Kennedy, McCarthy and Hubert Humphrey (the sitting Vice-President).

McCarthy, rationally, should have stood aside, in favour of Kennedy; but he was a stubborn man and there were those around him who resented the "come-lately".

In effect the three elements in the Democratic Party were going separate ways: the Party managers and old-time Union bosses were solid for Humphrey (Kennedy's treatment of the Teamsters, while he was Attorney-General, still rankled) ; McCarthy had the (white) radical students; and RFK's constituency was the blue-collar vote and progressive Union leaders (and in California, particularly Cesar Chavez of the Farm-Workers).

The campaign went all the way to the final, winner-take-all California Primary, which Kennedy took 46-42, and claimed victory, and the right to challenge Humphrey at the Chicago Convention.

On the greasy floor was a huddle of clothes ...

Malcolm still has the echo in his head of Alastair Cooke's Letter from America that weekend:
... for the first time in 30 years, I found myself by one casual chance in a thousand, on hand in a small, narrow serving pantry of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, a place that I suppose will never be wiped out of my memory: a sinister alley, a Roman circus run amok, and a charnel house. It would be quite false to say, as I should truly like to say, that I'm sorry I was there...

And down on the greasy floor was a huddle of clothes and staring out of it the face of Bobby Kennedy, like the stone face of a child lying on a cathedral tomb.
The body came back to New York (Kennedy was Senator for New York: this very week Governor Spitzer is proposing renaming the Triborough Bridge, leading to JFK Airport, in RFK's honour). The funeral took place in St Patrick's Cathedral: Teddy Kennedy spoke the eulogy, and largely quoted Robert's 1966 speech in Apartheid South Africa:
Some believe there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world's ills. Yet many of the world's great movements, of thought and action, have flowed from the work of a single man. A young monk began the Protestant reformation; a young general extended an empire from Macedonia to the borders of the earth; a young woman reclaimed the territory of France; and it was a young Italian explorer who discovered the New World, and the 32 year-old Thomas Jefferson who proclaimed that "all men are created equal."

These men moved the world, and so can we all. Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.
Next day, the coffin was removed to Arlington, to be buried alongside JFK. The Funeral Train ran from New York to Washington's Union Station.

All north-bound trains were stopped that Sunday, and Paul Fusco photographed the crowds -- perhaps a million -- who lined the track:Browse, and share the pain.

After that, it was all down-hill. The scandalous, vicious and downright nasty Convention at Chicago, the anointing by Mayor Daley of doomed , decent, dependent Humphrey, and the rebirth of Dick Nixon -- were he Lazarus or Dracula.

So, every fourth year, it comes around again. Each time a new contender, usually young, always briefly hailed as charismatic, comes along. Briefly, the old spirit revives: comparisons are made to the Kennedys. For a while, we hope and believe. Almost inevitably, the young meteor flames ... and fades. Up like a rocket, and down like the stick. Twice in a half-century we came close: Jimmy Carter (a good man, for whom, too, John Stewart had a song, Promise the Wind) and Bill Clinton made it all the way to Inauguration Day.

We've still got the mood music, though. Sphere: Related Content

No comments:

Subscribe with Bloglines International Affairs Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory
Add to Technorati Favorites