Wednesday, March 12, 2008

For LBJ, a victory that was a defeat

Sen. Eugene McCarthy, D-Minn., talks to campaign workers and
the press at his
Bedford, N.H. campaign headquarters on March 12, 1968.

The New Hampshire primary on March 12, 1968, marked the beginning of the end of President Lyndon Johnson’s quest for re-election.

Johnson won an electoral victory over Minnesota senator and anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy by the smallest of margins -- 230 votes --in an election that highlighted the deep divisions in the country -- and the the Democratic Party -- over Vietnam.

Pollsters had predicted at McCarthy would take only 10% to 20% of the vote, even though LBJ’s name was not on the ballot. When all the votes were counted, Johnson had 29,021, or 49.4%, to McCarthy’s 28791, or 42.2%. McCarthy also got 5,511 write-in votes in the Republican primary, which was easily won by Richard Nixon. (Nelson Rockefeller, Nixon’s chief opponent, ran a write-in campaign.)

Youths were drawn by McCarthy's anti-war stand and the hope of revitalizing the political system. (Sounds familiar, doesn't it.) Time magazine reported that on the final weekend before the primary, McCarthy's headquarters had to turn away 2,500 volunteers, including a group that was ready to charter a plane from California. The Johnson campaign spent about $300,000 on the campaign and the McCarthy camp spent about $170,000.

This piece from An Abridged History of the NH Presidential Primary sums up the race.

"In 1968, the primary attracted wide attention when Sen. Eugene McCarthy, D-Minn, ran an anti-war platform against President Lyndon Johnson. McCarthy’s young campaign volunteers cut their hair and dressed well to be "Clean for Gene." Johnson did not formally enter the primary but though he won the primary with 50 percent of the write-in votes, he had been politically wounded. Johnson became the first "winner" of the primary to lose the political and media expectations contest."

Just four days later, Sen. Robert Kennedy of New York would enter the Democratic race. And at the end of the month , LBJ announced he would not seek re-election.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A posthumous gold record for Otis

Otis Redding

Three months after he died in a plane crash, Otis Redding posthumously received gold record on March 11, 1968, for (Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay.

In San Francisco for shows at the Fillmore West just days after his famed performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967. Redding was staying on a houseboat in Sausalito when the inspiration came for Dock Of The Bay. Redding wrote the first verse of the song sitting on a pier on San Francisco Bay,

In December 1967, he joined of that year he joined producer and guitarist Steve Cropper at Stax Records Studio A in Memphis for what turned out to be his last recordings. Redding and Cropper completed the music and lyrics (Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay, which was recorded on December 6 and 7.

Back on tour just days after the session was completed, Redding’s charter plane. on a landing approach from Cleveland, went down Dec. 10 in the frigid waters on Lake Monona in Madison, Wis. Redding and seven others were killed. Only one passenger, Ben Cauley of the Bar-Kays, survived. Redding was 26 years old.

The Dock Of The Bay was released in early 1968. The record, which earned Redding a posthumous Grammy Award for Best R&B Song , has been certified by BMI for more than 8 million plays, according to Stax Records.

Personal note: I was at the Monona Terrace in Madison at my wife's high school reunion a few years ago and went outside to look at the lake. I saw a plane was flying over the lake en route to the Madison airport, and I was hit by a feeling of melancholy. I was remembering Otis Redding and thinking about about that December night long ago when his plane went down. I go to Madison almost every year and I never see Lake Monona without thinking about Otis Redding.

Monday, March 10, 2008

A look back in Time

I spent awhile Sunday digging through Time magazine archives and felt like I had been rummaging around the attic of my childhood home. This site is a treasurer trove. It looks like each edition is fully archived. And each edition was that week's first draft of history.

The March 8, 1968, edition, which featured Richard Nixon and Nelson Rockefeller on the cover, was full of politics as the nation was getting ready for the first presidential primary of the 1968 campaign -- New Hampshire, on March 12.

President Johnson's secret trips to Texas were chronicled under the headline Fly Now, Tell Later. To boost security -- and to avoid demonstrators -- LBJ kept the itinerary from reporters -- and even local police officials -- and told the White House press corps only to pack a coat and a bathing suit. The swings took to him to Dallas, for his first campaign speech of '68, and on to Austin, for John Connally's 51st birthday celebration. Later in the week, LBJ and the press took another stealth trip, this time to Houston and Beaumont. The entourage traveled to Georgia then on to Puerto Rico.

A report headlined Saigon Under Siege told about the first battle for Saigon. The dispatch concludes:

"The unpleasant fact is that the Viet Cong used the Tet assault to infiltrate into Saigon hundreds and perhaps even thousands of agents who pose as normal Vietnamese going about their jobs. . . . The V.C. have been active in Saigon for years but, in a city under siege, their presence is more unnerving than ever."

These reports make a reader feel omnipotent today. As I read the old dispatches, they are new to my memories, but I knew how the stories were going to end.

On the upbeat side, this edition has a piece about NBC's Laugh-In, which was just a few months old at the time, and reviews of albums by The Butterfield Blues Band, Tim Hardin, Richie Havens, John Mayall's Blues Breakers and a 16-year-old Janis Ian. (There'll be more on Laugh-In later.)

This was my favorite post, from the People section. Variety may be the spice of life, but this was too spicy:

"Just ten days of the meditative life with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh proved sufficient for Ringo Starr, 27, and Wife Maureen, who fled back to the more familiar vision of London. "The meditation camp is a bit like summer camp," said the littlest Beatle, who left his three confreres to finish out their month. "We all lived in chalets, and we used to go to the canteen for breakfast, then perhaps walk about a bit and meditate, or bathe. Then it was time for lunch." He and Maureen gave up such transcendental experiences, said Ringo, "because we missed the children. I wouldn't want anyone to think we didn't like it there. Of course, Maureen and I are funny about our food—we don't like spicy things."

Source: Time magazine