Monday, October 22, 2012
Those were the days, my friend...
We were young, idealistic--my ex-husband ran the campaign headquarters for McGovern in Abingdon, VA near where we attended college. I was working for the county and was forbidden from campaigning for any political candidate, but I worked in the next county over from the headquarters, so I figured what my bosses didn't know wouldn't hurt them. I wanted to be part of the excitement, part of the process. I loved politics back then. We worked county fairs and other events. I can remember trying to convince those good old boy farmers to at least consider McGovern. We had some success. Back then there were a lot of Democrats in southwestern Virginia. It was just over the mountain from the coal fields, and the miners traditionally voted Democratic.
The southwestern portion Virginia is part of the 9th Congressional District and extends from Roanoke, Virginia, all the way to the Tennessee line. The 9th Congressional District used to be known as the 'Fighting Ninth,' "because of its taste for raucous politics, which by and large were culturally conservative and economically populist." (To read the National Journal Almanac article referenced in this post, click here.)
"As early as 1765 settlements were being carved into the great Valley of Virginia, which bends westward and south toward Tennessee and the Cumberland Gap, " reports the National Journal Almanac. I know because my ancestors were part of that group of largely Scots-Irish settlers, establishing their homestead in 1782 in what is now Smyth County, Virginia. The settlers were fiercely independent. Most were farmers, but many in the more mountainous western portion of the region eventually became coal miners. This area developed separately from eastern and northern Virginia.
"Politically, this virtually all-white area opposed slavery and was skeptical, if not hostile, to the Confederacy. Out of the crucible of struggle between secessionists and unionists, Southwest Virginia developed a robust two-party politics after the Civil War, with both parties resembling their national counterparts more closely than in the rest of Virginia." (National Journal Almanac)
This independent thinking at least allowed for dialogue between idealistic recent college graduates and other southwest Virginia voters in 1972. George McGovern was a World War II hero who now opposed the war in Vietnam--he had earned the right to be anti-war, having experienced war first hand. WWII was a "just war," and the good people in southwestern Virginia realized that Vietnam didn't make much sense to them, yet too many of their sons had gone off to southeast Asia. Rich men's sons don't fight the wars.
George McGovern was the son of a Methodist minister, and the mountains of Virginia had been the home to circuit riding Methodist preachers who had won many converts. Methodist churches dot the landscape there. The local college my ex and I attended was a Methodist school. It's hard to demonize a patriotic war hero who was the son of a Methodist minister, so the people would at least talk to us.
I can't remember how the district went in 1972. As I recall, McGovern did better than expected. In subsequent years, the district has become more Republican in national elections although the long-time Congressman from the 9th District was a Democrat until ousted in 2010 by a Republican who didn't even live in the District! The 9th district voted narrowly for Democrat Bill Clinton twice, but voted by much wider margins for Republican George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. In 2008, the district went 59%-40% for Republican nominee John McCain. (National Journal Almanac)
But during that long ago summer and fall of 1972, we were hopeful that a thoughtful man from South Dakota might become President of the United States.