Whenever people ask my favorite year, I quickly respond: 1972. And I have George McGovern to thank for that.
In my early twenties and rabidly anti-war, I joined the McGovern cause early, while he fought off all those other Democrats whose names I can hardly recall. (Muskie cried, I think.) We were in a dinky office in Los Angeles, a group of long-haired longshots. Every day was filled with going to campuses to get petitions signed, begging for dollars, and reading the mail that dribbled in. Like the postcards we had sent to California Democrats asking to check "yes" if we could use their names. One day, I picked up one of those cards and blinked: Handwritten, it read simply, "Yes. My name only. Barbra Streisand."
The Miami convention was wild and contentious, but what I remember are the endless nights filled with bottomless passion. All those flirtations that campaigns tend to engender. One friend was kind enough to drive me to the plane that would carry the campaign staff to Miami. He was a loyal volunteer and hungered to go. I dared him, and he left his car (and wife) behind and hopped aboard. (Our finance chair was kind enough to buy him another set of clothes for the week.)
It was that kind of campaign. In the general election, we moved to spiffy new headquarters in Los Angeles and suddenly, I was writing speeches for Burt Lancaster, Jack Lemmon and more bold facers now wanting in. Lemmon walked into a jammed arena and was introduced to me as the one who'd written his material for emceeing the evening. He looked at my scruffy clothes and frizzy mane and said, "You wrote this? I didn't change a word."
I recall three days traveling the state with McGovern's daughter, (who would later die tragically in the snow), Jon Voight, (times have changed) Candy Bergen, Ben Gazzara and a few others. I have never had so much fun and for all the right reasons. The last month I fell madly in love with a fellow staffer and there were long and meaningful kisses as we dropped everything else to work for this gentle man. A former war hero who was courageously speaking out against the military, and trying to get the country to understand that a burglary at the Watergate Hotel may be bigger than it seemed.
We all knew we were going down by then, but I can't recall ever again being that unafraid of having phones and doors slammed on me. I saw that kind of fearless fervor again in 2008, on the face of my daughter, as she left college for a year to travel the country and work for Barack Obama.
I too was following in political footsteps. My dad was a business executive and one of McGovern's top fundraisers. I can honestly say in 1972, Warren Beatty called the house 25 times a day. (And never for me, dammit.) When the campaign got really desperate, the idea of a fundraising concert came up. Beatty called the stage-frightened Barbra Streisand, who picked up the phone with these words: "You want me to sing." And she did.
I saw George McGovern a few years back at a Nation Magazine luncheon in NYC. I gave him a ride back to his hotel and we had one of the most wonderful and memorable conversations of my life. I told him how much that campaign had meant to so many people. He said he wished he could have given us a better result, "and if we'd had a few more months, the truth about Nixon would have come out. But no one was listening then."
We heard you, George. And we will miss you.
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