Voter’s block test
November 2, 2012
Admittedly, in many ways I saw it as a right of passage. I had, as they used to say, "reached my majority" (turned 21) and, according to the rules in play at the time, could cast a ballot in the upcoming presidential election.
I took it relatively seriously and spent probably as much time researching the issues as I did drinking Scotch, listening to jazz, and playing bridge, pinochle, and poker combined. Which, as a G.I. stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, as part of a unit that roamed the South playing war games, is saying something.
As was often the case during these "maneuvers," our 122d Signal Battalion would, while attempting to stay somewhat in geographic synch with the 2nd Infantry Division mother-ship, completely ravage as many swaths of rural South Carolina as we deemed necessary.
While following the ebb and flow of the accordion-like war-game advance-and-retreat scenario, we’d bug out from one now-pillaged patch of earth only to move on and desecrate the next. We weren’t afraid to reduce the flora of an area to its molecular components in order to satisfy our "needs." Ah yes, the more things change
By mid-October 1964 we had plopped down outside the quaint burg of Pageland, the "watermelon capital of the world," according to the welcome sign at the edge of town. They never knew what hit them. The village of Sainte Mere Eglise on the Normandy coast of France probably experienced less upheaval on D-Day.
It would be at our encampment a dozen or so miles outside of town where the drama of casting my absentee ballot would unfold. With the equally quaint seaside village of Los Angeles, California, being my official residence at the time, mailing in my ballot well in advance was the plan. No hurries! No worries!
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That particular election, and almost all since, for that matter, had a polarizing effect on the electorate due to the fact that the white males on Madison Avenue were just starting to stretch their sea legs as providers of political and cultural clout. One very disturbing ad featured a young girl with a flower in front of a billowing mushroom cloud.
Aimed directly at the hawkish anti-communism campaign of Barry Goldwater by the incumbent, Lyndon Johnson, and playing out against the foreign-policy debate over sending additional "advisors" to aid the South Vietnamese in their struggle against the North, the ad hoped to strike fear in the hearts of the undecided and steer them away from the challenger.
Being Irish Catholic, conspiracy theories involving the Texan LBJ and the year-old Kennedy assassination in Dallas resonated somewhat with the young wannabe voter. Johnson had only been in office a year and had spent much of that time showing the door to those with close Kennedy affiliations. That also didn’t go down well.
But on the other side sat, quite imperiously I might add, the glaring visage of Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, who famously opined: "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!" Boy, could that cat string words together.
I had actually received my absentee ballot well in advance of Election Day and, mentally, had circled the last day I could mail it in order to make it count but I just couldn’t make up my mind. There was just too much pressure on me. It’s quite embarrassing when I look back on it now but I’m not sure why.
On the actual day itself, I found myself manning the Electronic Maintenance Platoon’s repair truck, which happened to be positioned, as they say, way out in the boonies. With no mailbox in sight, my buddy from HQ answered my radio request and drove out to pick up the sealed and addressed ballot.
Which, by the way was neither sealed nor addressed when he jumped out of his Jeep. You got it! I still hadn’t made up my mind. It was at that moment, while putting an "X" beside Johnson’s name and licking the envelope, that I first understood the phrase, "the lesser of two evils."
It would be my last vote for a Democrat or Republican (until Obama), and one I thought of a few years later while snorting tear gas and chanting, somewhat ironically, "Hell no, we won’t go!" in the streets outside an LBJ speech promoting his Vietnam policy at a Century City hotel in L.A.
So there you have it! I’m out of the closet. I voted for LBJ who, more than anyone else, gave us Nixon. I ought to be horse-whipped and keel-hauled for that alone. That should refute the notion that my first vote was cast for Calvin Coolidge!
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.