Baby boomer Presidents, Part I


Ah, the fine art of electing a President. Since 1946, the recognized beginning of the baby boom, we have had twelve of them. It's been interesting, to say the least. And not all very enjoyable.

In 1946, we had Harry Truman. He became President on April 12, 1945, at the death of FDR. Truman made the critical, some say careless, decision to use the atomic bomb on two Japanese cities. This is to date the only use of a nuclear weapon in human history. He was elected President in 1948, made famous by the fact that he was so likely to be beaten by Dewey that the Chicago Tribune printed an advanced headline that read “Dewey defeats Truman.” Oops.

Truman decided not to run in 1952. Adlai Stevenson became the Democratic nominee. It has been stated the Stevenson was way too smart to be President. WWII General Dwight Eisenhower won the election. Thus ended twenty years of Democrats controlling the White House. The post war years were good to Eisenhower, who won reelection in 1956. The country liked Ike. I was still too young to care.

Nineteen-sixty brought us John F. Kennedy. The first Roman Catholic ever elected to the Presidency, which was a big deal at the time. Everyone was excited. I was 12. I can remember feeling very similar to the way I felt when Obama was elected. Maybe it's the breaking of some barriers that need breaking. Maybe because they were younger. At any rate, it all ended on Nov. 22, 1963. He was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, in what today is still something of a mystery. Lyndon Johnson was sworn in shortly thereafter.

Johnson was an old-line politician out of Texas. He served out Kennedy's term, and was elected President in 1964, in a landslide victory over Barry Goldwater. He was faced with an escalating war in Vietnam which he didn't handle very well. He rode Kennedy's popularity as far as he could, but decided not to run for reelection in 1968. Another casualty of Vietnam.

That brings us to the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. Johnson was out, and it was unclear who would be in for the Democrats. An unpopular war was the theme of the day. In another tragic twist, Bobby Kennedy was assassinated shortly after his primary win in California. The win would have helped his chances for winning the nomination, which would still have been something of a long-shot. In the end, it was Hubert Humphrey wrestling the nomination from Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern, both antiwar candidates. No one protesting in Chicago was happy, including me. This was the first time I took an active interest in an election, more as an antiwar activist than having any major political interests. Humphrey lost the peace, liberal, antiwar voters, and succumbed to Richard Nixon on election day. It was a bitter ending to a long and tragic year.

Nixon's win was a classic example of a political comeback, staged after his defeat to Kennedy in 1960. It also ended up being a classic disaster. He won reelection in 1972, and resigned from the Presidency on Aug. 9, 1974, in disgrace, as a result of Watergate. Gerald Ford filled in for the rest of Nixon's term, but lost to Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Carter was a true gentleman from the South. Unfortunately, Washington ate him up. He took a lot of good-old-boys with him to Washington, none of whom had the slightest clue what was going on. The Presidency did not prove to be very kind to Carter. He ended up losing to Reagan in 1980. We exchanged a true Southern gentleman for a Hollywood actor. Some years, you just can't win. In two weeks, we'll continue with the Reagan years and work our way up, or down, depending on your political inclination. Or your political stamina.