McGovern, 1972 by
(361 Stories)

Prompted By First Time Voting

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I was eligible to vote in my first presidential election in November, 1972. At that time, I was a Junior at Brandeis University in Waltham, MA, but had registered to vote in Michigan before coming back to school in the fall, so voted absentee, sending my ballot back to Huntington Woods. I proudly cast my first vote for George McGovern, doomed to go down to ignoble defeat, gaining only the electoral college votes of my adopted state of Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.

Me in the autumn of 1972 (with boyfriend Bob).

I was proud that at least Massachusetts had the good sense to vote against Nixon (at that piont, we knew nothing of Watergate; that would come out in the fullness of time). Since 1974, with the exception of 16 months, I’ve been a full-time, proud resident of Massachusetts, perhaps the most liberal state in the country (I grant that California may also claim that title).

During the 16 months that I lived in Chicago (May, 1978- Aug, 1979), we experienced two crippling blizzards, dumping more than 35 inches of snow in a little over two weeks that January, followed by sub-zero temperatures. Trash didn’t get picked up, buses couldn’t run as they couldn’t plow the streets. The city didn’t work and Mayor Michael Bilandic lost his primary bid to Jane Byrne, who went on to win the election for mayor. I voted in that election too.

When I returned to Boston, we lived in the city and voted in the beautiful Boston Public Library. I remember voting after David was born, taking my infant son into the voting booth with me, pulling the curtain behind me. I welled up as I spoke to my baby, explaining with pride about this important duty. I thought of my grandfather, fleeing Russia in 1906 to escape from the pogroms and the savagery that comes from hatred of “the other”, be it prompted by religion, race, ethnicity or just ignorance. Free and fair elections AND accepting and honoring the results have been the hallmark of our democracy for over 200 years.

It has only taken the Former Guy six years to begin to unravel all of that, sow the seeds of doubt and press phony charges of voter fraud, “stolen elections”, get his minions to pass all sorts of new laws to limit access to the vote and install people/judges who seem to be loyal to him or their own view of “law”, installing some perverted version of our rights as we understood them for half a century with no regard for the concept of precedent or understanding the real meaning of our history that makes us who we are. We must prevail if we are to maintain our democracy and civil society as we have known it.

Certainly after the Civil War, this country went through turbulent times, but we didn’t have pernicious social media, with trolls, bots and demagogues so willing to lie to maintain control of their followings. These are dangerous times, indeed.


Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Characterizations: moving, right on!, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    Both wise and worrisome words, Betsy. Who would have thought that something so fundamental in America as belief in democratic elections could be in peril at this time? And yet, thanks to that former guy, a well as the idiots/cowards (one or both) who are running for Congress as Republicans this year — to say nothing of all the corrupt Republican state candidates, many of whom have direct control over elections — that is where we are. I almost feel that the “good guys” have to win twice — not just at the ballot box, but then to ensure that that vote is recognized as valid. And Elon Musk isn’t making things any easier, that’s for sure.

    OK, rant over. But misery does love company. On the bright side, by enduring the terrible winter in Chicago in 1978, you avoided the terrible winter in Boston in 1978.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Your rant echos my feelings, John, so rant away! I think Elon may go down in flames before he does too much damage. NPR seemed to devote lots of time reporting on him yesterday, as well as the HUGE debt he took on, and the big advertisers that are putting their dollars on hold for a while, as they don’t want to be mixed up with his toxic mess.

      Unfortunately, you’ve got the wrong year for the Boston Blizzard – it was Jan, 1977 and I was around for that one too. They started calling me “Blizzard Betsy”.

  2. Khati Hendry says:

    It is truly astounding and. distressing that people claiming to be patriots seem to have no respect for democracy. Turns out the founders were correct with their misgivings (a republic—if you can keep it). Have come too far to give up now.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I totally agree, Khati. I watched Bill Maher’s HBO show from last night this morning. His closing monologue was about this subject and began with Ben Franklin’s quote that you reference above. He remarked that we no longer teach civics in school, so kids don’t understand how government works, and we didn’t used to have several TV channels and social media (not to mention a whole political party) devoted to misinformation just so they could hold on to power (and in some cases, attain wealth). Once we lose the Republic, we cannot get it back. Great democracies (like ancient Greece and Rome) crumbling to dust. Let’s hope our grand experiment doesn’t also falter.

  3. Betsy, I must say thanx for your story, but no thanx for the reminder of the present state of affairs of our nation!

    We early voted yesterday and are very worried about the New York gubernatorial race, are waiting with fingers crossed.

  4. Susan Bennet says:

    A touching story, Betsy, made more touching with the addition of the beautiful BPL and your beautiful baby. I hope he grew up to be quite the voter! One thing that I always admired about G. McGovern, an anti-war candidate, was his amazing service in WWII, He was a bomber pilot who flew 32 missions over German-occuped Europe. Perhaps this experience informed his stand on war, or on this particular war. One had to respect him for that.

    I do feel compelled to point out that there was one famous episode of election fraud — the stealing of the 1960 election by Mayor Daly in Illinois. A pretty well-acknowledged happening, as I understand it. Or perhaps it got more play here in Massachusetts at the time.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      David now lives in London and became a father this year. He and his dual-citizen partner (she is London-born and bred, but her mother is American, so Anna also carries an American passport and votes in all U.S. elections). Even from London, David phone-banks and calls a list of voters to encourage voting for certain candidates. When he was in grad school at Columbia, he checked in on our gubinatorial race, saw that Shannon O’Brian was running a terrible campaign and came up for a few days to go door-to-door in a get-out-the vote effort for that lost cause. I am proud to say that he is very civically engaged.

      If we ever get to write our “Assassination” prompt, you will read how young I was at the time of JFK’s assassination; even younger at the time of his election. I learned of Daly’s ballot-stuffing years later. I don’t doubt it, but have to think (given what we also know about Nixon) that we were better off in 1960, given the alternative. There were probably other instances as well, from long-ago races before machines counted the ballots, now lost to “the sands of time”.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    You state this so perfectly, Betsy. The description of how you felt bringing your infant son into the voting booth is especially poignant in light of the political climate now. No matter what happens Nov. 8, I fear we are in for a rough few weeks of law suits and denials of election results.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you, Laurie. I remember that moment with David with great clarity. I confess, I have this feeling of dread right now. I’m trying to stay positive, but as you’ve said, no matter the outcome, this country has tough times ahead.

  6. Jim Willis says:

    Thank you for this articulate memoir of your voting experience and observations of how things have changed, and not for the better. For some time now, I’ve been hoping that the pendulum theory of history is true, and that our country will swing back to sanity. I suppose today’s mid-term elections may tell us how soon that swing will happen, or how long we will have to wait for it. Fingers crossed!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I confess to feeling tremendous anxiety today, Jim. I fear the pendulum has swung very far toward insanity. I fear it will be a long time before we see it swing back. I just ran into a politically active and savvy friend at the grocery store who told me she was holding “shiva’ at her house tonight. I asked with concern who had died. “Our country!”, she rebutted.

  7. Joe Lowry says:

    My first presidential vote was for McGovern too. It’s too bad that he did not win that vote. He was a good man, war hero and senator.
    I agree that the threat to our democracy comes from too many people believing the falsehoods that the election deniers, Qanon nuts and candidates that have spread these lies. My biggest disappointment is talking to friends that say something was wrong with the 2020 election (just a feeling they say) but cannot explain how the Trump lawyers lost over 60 lawsuits for election fraud. Maybe more sanity will prevail soon.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      McGovern was a good man, Joe. Watergate would not have happened had been elected.

      I am very relieved that most of the election deniers and wing-nuts did not get elected. Too many Republicans still don’t believe in the outcome of the 2020 vote however, like your friends who “just have a feeling”. That is due to the constant repetition of lies. Despite all evidence to the contrary, if lies are repeated often enough, they tend to seep into our consciousness. It is insidious and extremely hard to overcome. What the Orange Monster (and his minions) has willfully inflicted on our country is very dangerous.

  8. Dave Ventre says:

    The recent election was a relief, but we are still walking along a precipice. A fall into Fascism is still a real possibility.

    Luckily the aging, angry right-wing boomers at the core of the problem are being demographed off the planet at a rate that may save us yet. They can go from yelling at clouds to yelling FROM them….

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Like you, I am somewhat relieved by the outcome of the midterms (would have been happier if we’d held the House, of course; now we have to deal with all those nonsense investigations and nothing of consequence will get done). But you are right. Hopefully, the younger generation will not be poisoned by their parents and will help to right the ship of state.

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