After all the political infighting, the 1972 Presidential race finally comes down to the clash of the titans: Ronald Reagan on the Republican side vs. Robert F. Kennedy on the Democratic side. The main issues are peace, rapport with the Soviets, and an end to the Cold War. But with the political winds constantly shifting and the X factor of anti-busing racist Governor George Wallace in the mix (yet again), nothing can be counted on. The fate of the world hangs in the balance as two ultra-charismatic candidates battle it out for the heart and soul of America, and possibly the fate of the human species.
First, let me apologize for not getting this episode out on time. I had hoped to have it finished on December 5, but life intervened. This is the last episode of Season 2, and there will be a significant break before I begin on Season 3.
I admit that the hypothetical political match-up between Ronald Reagan and Robert F. Kennedy was one of the reasons I wanted to do this podcast in the first place. What would an election between the two of them have been like? We will never know in real life, but it’s certain it would have been one of the most remarkable political contests in American history.
In real life, Reagan and Kennedy did face each other in a debate. In 1967 they conducted a televised face-to-face debate over the Vietnam War. Reagan was then California Governor and RFK was Senator from New York (not Rhode Island, as in our narrative). The header photo of this article is a composite taken from that event.
In reality, George Wallace did run again in 1972, but his candidacy was truncated by an assassination attempt that left him in a wheelchair. This timeline has us imagining what would have happened if he had continued to Election Day. I think his support wouldn’t have been as strong in 1972 as it had been four years earlier (which is how it works in the story here), but he might well have been a factor. Busing, mentioned several times in the last two episodes, was a very emotional issue in the early 1970s especially in Northern cities. The role of racism in American politics both in and outside the South has been a constant theme of this show.
Sadly, we will never know how RFK would have run a Presidential race as the Democratic nominee. He was generally regarded as more calculating and ruthless than his brother Jack. I hope a little of that comes through here.
Thanks for being with me, and have a great holiday season.
Next Episode: Date Uncertain; Early 2022