Full Circle: The Campaign
There used to be bands and parades. And truth.

The wind blew hard. A cold wind, a strong wind, a wind that only hairspray could survive. The Democrat who was running for President smiled in the teeth of it, aware that voters were looking for hope in the face of war.

Five days before the election, this was an important stop in an important state. Hubert Humphrey stood before the citizens of New Jersey, all 225 of them, and promised a brighter future, a future of peace, a future of prosperity.

The candidate made a quick trip over to the rope barrier, the barrier that held back the press and some Humphrey Girls, freshly scrubbed young women dressed in red, white and blue.

Somebody asked Hubert Humphrey what he thought his chances were of carrying the state. Hubert Humphrey forced a smile. “You don’t think I’d be here if I thought I was going to lose, do you?”

Even the celebrities on the platform were smiling. There was Elston Howard, the first base coach for the Yankees, and there was Pat Morrow, who played Rita on “Peyton Place.” Pat Morrow asked everyone to sing “one of our Vice President’s favorite songs.” And right there, in broad daylight, on a crowded street, in the sprawling suburbs of Trenton, 250 people raised their voices to sing

“I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby.”

Little children stood on the sidewalks waving little flags at Hubert Humphrey. It was a real All-American welcome. But it wasn’t all apple pie. There were some dissenting voices. “Hubert ‘Hypocrite’ Humphrey” one sign said. Another read “Humphrey: Say Something.” There were chants of “Bring the boys home” and “Dump the Hump.”

Hubert Humphrey handled it with aplomb, not attack. “You know, I hear them yelling ‘Dump the Hump,’ and they’re right,” the Hump said. “I’ve been trying to get rid of that for a long time. I want to become President Humphrey.”

That was it. There were no demands for long-form birth certificates or 20 years of tax returns. There were no attacks on Humphrey’s religion. Few people even knew if he owned a dog.

In 1968, on the day Lyndon Johnson finally stopped bombing Vietnam, in this, the first campaign I covered, there were no TV cameras, no cable news networks, no texts, no blogs. Just a handful of men in trenchcoats wielding stenographer’s pads and ink pens.

Back then, if you wanted to see a Presidential candidate, you did it in person. There weren’t a lot of TV ads. There were only three serious networks on TV then, showing programs in living color.

Were there negative ads? Some. Ads that promised peace when you knew war would never end. But they were what we expected from our politicians. Benign, empty promises. Not intentionally loaded lies.

That’s what we’ve come to in the race for the highest office in the land. Lies. Quarter-truths. Deviled distortions. And more lies. Day in, day out, from both sides. It’s gotten so bad that there are entire websites with “truth squads” dedicated to determining if we’re being lied to. They rarely have favorable findings.

You can’t watch a sitcom or reality show without being bombarded by them. All the lies are brought to you by people who don’t have the guts to use their real names. You can’t eat your dinner anymore without getting a recorded phone call from one side or the other telling you the other guy is going to take your money, steal your healthcare and ruin your child’s education.

“The future of America,” Hubert Humphrey said, “is in your hands.” As he left the stage, two folksingers sang “Up a Lazy River.” Hubert Humphrey had a smile on his face and no dirt on his hands.

“I know it’s been a long campaign,” he said, “but I’ve run a clean one and, now, I can see the end.” As he walked to his limousine, he gave one last wave and turned up the collar of his topcoat. And the wind blew hard.

September 2012
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