Saturday, May 26, 2012

McGovern & Kennedy in Journal Square

This year is the 40th anniversary of the last time a candidate for president gave a speech in Journal Square.

I thought about the flier for McGovern Rally after seeing it in the display of Political Paraphernalia at the Main Branch of the Public Library. A politician running for president coming to Jersey City is far from unheard, but these days the setting is Liberty State Park. The Statue of Liberty in the background makes an optimum photo op. McGovern was at Journal Square. I was intrigued, so I went the microfiche (actually it may be microfilm but I like saying microfiche better) to find out some more. The pictures on this post are scans from print outs of the microfiche, forgive the quality. But reading the newspaper accounts shed some light on history, relevant in this another presidential election year.
Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy and Senator George McGovern at a campaign stop in Journal Square, less than week before McGovern lost to Richard Nixon.

The Journal Square Rally was on Halloween; Election Day fell on November 7th that year. This was the last ditch attempt to literally rally the party faithful. Senator George McGovern, the news accounts mention, had made other stops that day in the Northeast. He was trailing in the polls and needed all the help he could get and Senator Edward Kennedy was that help. The newspaper also mentioned that actor Ben Gazarra was with them; the only celebrity mentioned. The picture from the Star Ledger, the one that features Kennedy and McGovern, has an unidentified man in the background between them who seems to resemble Gazarra. A great actor, but not exactly a headline grabber; Husbands the great Cassavettes film came out in 1970 and that seems to have been his biggest film. McGovern shored up the art house film vote.

McGovern’s speech ridiculed Nixon of course, mainly for the Vietnam War. Nixon was the Moloch of my childhood. Watergate is still synonymous with political corruption and the abuse of power. He was the only president to resign. But the resignation happened in 1974. He won his 1972 reelection in a landslide. The only state McGovern won was Massachusetts. People loved Nixon, which just made the revelations of his conduct as president even more repulsive. Two years after his historic victory, Nixon was driven from office and to this day his name denotes paranoid leadership and political corruption, his biggest scandal Watergate is still the go-to media phrase when political scandal hits the news.

In 1972, the Paris Peace Talks, which eventually led to a cease fire (and a collapse of the South Vietnam government), dominated the other national headlines of the day. Nixon’s Peace With Honor Strategy seemed to be working.

The Rally made the front pages, with the Jersey Journal headline saying: McG Cheers Hudson Dems. On the jump page, there’s a UPI story about a cartoon in the GOP’s “official New Jersey newspaper” that the republicans defended as “not racist.”

“The Cartoon showed Sen. George McGovern surrounded by six“supporters,” the whites are dressed as hippies, two blacks are bare chested and one appears to have a ring in his nose. The other is carrying a sign which reads “Welfare.” One White is carrying a sign which reads “Busing.” Under the cartoon was the headline, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” This blatant appeal to casual bigotry was inherent in the U.S. political discourse, but the Republicans were unabashed about using this tactic – Reagan had his welfare queens, Bush I his Willie Horton. Nixon’s famed Southern strategy was effective on both sides of the Mason Dixon line.

Ted Kennedy was the main draw for the Journal Square Rally. This was before Chappaquiddick, the divorce and other exploits that undermine this great liberal’s legacy. If there was anyone able to rally the faithful and get out the vote, it would be the surviving Kennedy brother, who in 1972 seemed predestined to the white house. McGovern’s vice president was Sargent Shriver (Marie’s dad), a Kennedy family member.

The Star Ledger clearly states 15,000 attended. The Jersey Journal says “estimates of the crowd in the 43 degree weather put the number at well over 5,000, perhaps as many as 10,000.”

The jump page of the Jersey Journal featured a related story of a racist cartoon distributed by Republicans. The birther nutcases and “food stamp” president accusations echo racial resentment emotions. The cartoon was distributed in N.J. only four years after Martin Luther King was shot.

The Jersey Journal ran this lousy picture of Senator McGovern in Journal Square. This picture, coupled with the Journal reporting on the rally, a pro-Nixon sentiment is apparent.
I wonder why the newspaper doesn’t want to pin down a number. It is unusual for a reporter to evade accurate crowd estimates, practically unheard to have the approximation double.

The crowd numbers were joked about at the podium.

“Sen. Kennedy, aware of the Halloween, also wanted to know whether next Tuesday’s election result will give the public “the trickery of this Administration or the Treat of McGovern.”

Dislocations Note: Nixon was called Tricky Dick, even before Watergate. Teddy knew how to turn a phrase!

“Kennedy, after referring to the fine reception given his brother Jack in Journal Square in 1960, scanned the crowd as he said “McGovern can come from behind in 1972.” Then he added, “20,000 in Journal Square can’t be wrong. A voice from the crowd sought to correct him, saying “40,000.” Taking the cue, Kennedy jestingly raised the figure to “100,000.”

So I did a little more archival digging. In 1960, the Hudson Dispatch headline: 20,000 Hail Nominee at Journal Sq.; Above that are banner headlines: Sees County as Key to Victory/Kennedy Counts on Vote in Hudson.” To have 20,000 invoked again 12 years later shows how important the JFK JSQ rally was to Democrats.

And who was JFK running against? Why Richard Nixon of course.

Notice the difference in tone between the 1960 and 1972 accounts. Jersey City was and is a Democratic stronghold and that stronghold was – and to a certain extent still is – Irish and Roman Catholic. In 1960, how could the citizenry not be excited about one of their own (in spite of being the fortunate son of a wealthy scion) doing what Al Smith could not?

Another subhead says: “Next President Introduced by Mayor Grogan.”

One big happy big city political machine scratching mine, scratching yours, scratching ours. Soon after JFK’s 1963 Assassination one of our major thoroughfares was renamed Kennedy Boulevard.

The 1972 enthusiasm for a Journal Square rally by the Democratic candidate is not just not as high, it is all but absent.

In 1972, besides the youngest Kennedy Brother, and Gazarra the dais included, according to the Jersey Journal report Mayor Paul Jordan, and a Senate contender, a Representative, a County Supervisor and two freeholders.

Where were the union leaders? In 1972, Jersey City was a union town, factories were buzzing with business? Union votes put JFK – an ideological heir to FDR – into the white house.

The hard hats as they came to be called, did not come out for McGovern. McGovern had a PEACE NOW platform, but the unions did not like the war protestors, which they saw as unruly and disrespectful. Yet, why would they support a Republican, seemingly vote against their economic interests?

In our current era, Republicans are trying to outlaw unions and failing at that, weakening them at every turn with the ironically named Right to Work laws.

About a half century separates the two union-busting administrations of Herbert Hoover and Ronald Reagan. During this interim only two GOPers to become president were Ike Eisenhower and Tricky Dick, and while certainly conservative and of the right, they were not overtly anti-union. FDR won 4 terms Truman two, JFK and LBJ combined for another eight. Pro-worker economic polices had become so entrenched into our economic system and society in general that Ike or Tricky Dick could never have been elected if they were anti-union. Unions were not threatened by Republicans until the Gipper.

Ronald Reagan, got huge union support to win the white house, but h was the one who truly hoodwinked American workers. He claimed union bona fides when he pulled out his SAG card at a debate; he was still a member of the Actor’s Union. Once in office, he busted the Air Traffic Controllers Union and Republicans have had waged war against people who want decent wages, healthcare and retirement benefits, safe workplaces and job security. And, they mostly won– the J.C. factories that used to employ thousands with middle class blue collar jobs now operate in foreign lands and pay slave wages. Stock Holders got richer and consumer still don’t care who manufactures the products we buy.

New Jersey is renowned for splitting the ticket in the voting booth. FDR, JFK, LBJ relied on city political machines to get out the vote among the Democratic faithful, by 1972 those machines were starting to sputter. Also, until Watergate, Nixon was loved by the people but not his party. He had no coattails in New Jersey.

Besides the lack of union representation, were the youth leaders at the McGovern Journal Square rally? This was the first election 18 year olds could vote! By 1972 the leftist movements, such as the Students for a Democratic Society had become more and more radicalized – either professional provocateurs like Abbie Hoffman’s Yippies or the violent terrorists like the Weatherman Underground. Of course, under Nixon, the FBI persecuted leftists of any stripe– I think Hoffman might have been on the run from the law after an FBI set up drug bust during the 72 election. Four years before, the youth were “neat & clean for Gene,” supporting the 1968 Peace Candidate Eugene McCarthy. By 1972, the youth were seen as wild, out of control, stoned on drugs, screaming obscenities, calling cops pigs. College Students had provoked Ohio National guardsman to shoot at them during a Kent State riot.

There simply were no valid youth leaders to bring meaningful support for McGovern; the likely risk was that too many long hairs would have further turned off the dwindling union support. The first time 18 year olds could vote, a right that had been one of the issues in the 60s – old enough to be drafted but not old enough to vote – and by the time they could, the young republicans could organize those who leaned right, but young progressives had no one to encourage them to register.

After the King assassination, the Civil Rights movement, in spite of winning important Great Society legislation under LBJ, was in disarray and suffering a back lash. More militant organizations, such as the Black Panthers – who were being systemically decimated by J. Edgar’s FBI – became the dominant image of civil rights. No local civil rights leaders seem to have spoken at the McGovern Journal Square rally. Other movements – the so called identity politics – which included Feminists, Gays and Latinos (and environmentalists) – were still nascent stages in 1972. Cultural bigotry was deeply rooted in the mostly white and male Union Movement in 1972; worker rights seemed either unrelated or conflicting with the identify politics of heretofore oppressed social groups.

The coalitions that had passed the Civil Rights legislation– and the right of 18 year olds to vote – no longer coalesced. They split over the Vietnam War, and the newer groups could not find common ground with the civil rights activists or union leaders. The upheavals in the United States in the 1960s were tantamount to Civil War and by the early 70s, the economy started to go into the crapper – higher oil prices, inflation. Everyone was looking for somebody to blame. McGovern simply could not overcome the forces of the times; he was unable to inspire the populace like JFK and his New Frontier rhetoric, which was really just an extension of FDR. To make matters worse, Angela Davis, a Black Panther Feminist now remembered mainly for her extraordinary Afro, ran a third party campaign draining additional and much needed leftist support from McGovern.

Nixon represented stability in 1972. People wanted that after the turmoil and change of the 1960s.

So after the McGovern rally in Journal Square, what happened on Election day?

All the democratic in Hudson County Won; and Nixon trounced McGovern by a whopping 73,796 votes. Nixon won 58 percent of the vote in Jersey City, one of the highest in Hudson County – yet the rest of Democrats won Even though the J.C. Mayor appeared with McGovern in Journal Square, he could not enthuse the voters, yet local party loyalty remained entrenched. Headline: “Nixon and Dems Win Big.”

In retrospect, an irony but that was the reality of the times. Also, New Jersey voters have a long history of splitting the ticket.

In 1960, the Jersey Journal headline declared: “It’s Official: Jack Defeated Dick by 60,607 in Hudson Country.”

The article states: “Jersey City Gave Kennedy a plurality of 34,586.” Twelve years later, 52,208 Jersey City citizens voted for Nixon.

Well, maybe that’s why there hasn’t been a Political Rally in Journal Square by a Presidential Candidate since the McGovern campaign.

I hate to pick on the Jersey Journal, but they had a pro-Nixon bias. The Star Ledger photograph shows Kennedy and McGovern at the podiums, very respectful. The Jersey Journal has an unflattering picture, McGovern’s double chins in full view and this huge hand in the corner. Either they didn’t send a photographer early enough to cover the whole event (I mean, Journal Square is named after the newspaper, their offices are what, a block from the bus station?) and he got their too late for a good shot or the photo editor selected this picture to make “McG” look as unappealing as possible.

We have newspaper men on the payroll, don’t we Tom?

In its election day round up, a Jersey Journal editorial analyzes McGovern’s loss: “The president could never be as bad as McGovern insisted Nixon was.”

Well, he wasn’t the first or last political opinion writer to eat his words. Nixon was worse than McGovern implied.Nixo The full range of Nixon’s antics, from his enemy’s list, invasions of Cambodia, etc. etc., culminating in Watergate and his being the first president to resign from office in 1974, would come to light over the next two years, although in 1972 the wire taps and the actual break in were known, if under-covered news items. By 1973, Spiro Agnew, Nixon’s vice president, resigned. He was a tax fraud and bribe taker. The ripples of Nixon conduct from 1972-1972, the cover ups and the lying about the cover ups, rippled throughout the land, felt in every home.

People loved Nixon. I remember people loving Nixon. And, when his corruption came to light – his lies upon lies to the American people were revealed, the love turned to hatred. People who didn’t vote for him hated him – like Clinton or Bush II, Nixon could enflame ire – but he was also liked by many. Post-Nixon, even well liked politicians are not held in the same esteem as they used to be, even by those who esteem them. Nixon bequeathed America a cynicism about politicians that has only gotten stronger.

Imagine if we were spared a Nixon second term. Imagine if the 2nd anti-Nixon Journal Square Rally was as successful as the first.

John F. Kennedy gave a stump speech in Journal Square during the 1960 election campaign. In Hudson County, JFK easily beat Richard Nixon. Twelve years later, McGovern could not inspire a similar Jersey City Magic.

A better shot of the election memorabilia display and the original McGovern Rally handbill that inspired this blog. Go to the Jersey City Library, main branch and see it for yourself.                                                                                     

1 comment:

  1. I was a student at Jersey City State College when I attended this rally. I clearly remember Ted Kennedy in his best charismatic fat cat politician cadence introducing him "The next President of the United States....." and a long drawn out "Geooooorge McGovern" in his New England accent,, It was very exciting. Jersey Journal sig high above.