Forty years ago is when I first came to the political arena. I didn't know much, but I was pretty sure this Nixon guy was a crook, in spite of his protestations to the obverse. In that election year, 1972, I was sure of one thing: I didn't want Tricky Dick to be president. He was a scary character, in speech, manner and practice. As far as my ten-year-old brain could comprehend, he was the reason we were fighting a war in Vietnam. That was bad. He was a bad man, and he would be an even worse president. In my house, we ran an anti-Nixon campaign. George McGovern was a bit of an afterthought. The Democratic candidate was the alternative, but I never felt that if I could vote, that I would be voting for him. I just wanted to be be free from the tyranny of King Richard.
When all those who could vote did so back in that long ago November, it wasn't even close. That was my first exposure to the concept of "Landslide." I learned that it meant crushing defeat. Bone crushing. As a result, when I collaborated on my first political cartoon, we depicted a long-nosed, beady-eyed Nixon standing atop a pile of rubble, flashing that enigmatic "V" for Victory. Even at the time I sensed the irony of this gesture, which seemed to have been borrowed from the Peace Movement. A lot of care and time went into that caricature. When we were done, our attention turned ever-so-briefly to the arm that was sticking out from under the rubble. We labeled it, "McGovern."
In the next couple of years, as the wheels fell off the Nixon bandwagon and he retreated to his cave in San Clemente, I enthused at the way we, the people, exacted our revenge. Guilty, guilty, guilty. Sure, he left in a helicopter, but he really was ridden out of town on a rail. The benign presence of Gerald Ford was a welcome relief. But it wasn't George McGovern. It never occurred to me that, since Richard Nixon had been elected via a campaign based on dirty tricks and illegal activity, that the office really belonged to the second place candidate. Sure it was a distant second, but he did take Massachusetts. Gerald Ford wasn't elected to anything. He was selected after Spiro Agnew quit because of his flurry of scandal. How fair was that?
Back when things were first set up, the second place vote-getter was elected to the vice-presidency. Before 1804, George McGovern would have become the president, and maybe some of that ugliness could have been avoided. But that isn't what happened. George became the poster-boy for losing, and his legacy was sealed. His three terms as a senator from South Dakota and his lifelong career in public service became obscured by that nasty business in 1972. He should have been the thirty-eighth president of the United States. And maybe "Landslide" would just be one of my favorite Fleetwood Mac songs.