The events of 2008 have overtaken me ... I forgot to post these on the proper days. Better late than never.
November 5, 1968: Nixon was elected President.
From 1932-1968, Democrats held the presidency for 28 years, the Republicans for 8. Similarly, from 1980-2008, the Republicans had the White House for 20 years, the Democrats for 8. The problems of the incumbent president (Johnson in 1968, Bush in 2008) made it difficult for their party's candidate (Humphrey, McCain) to succeed.
Humphrey was an interesting case. He didn't participate in the primaries. Instead, he gathered up delegates in the many non-primary states. Although his strategy worked in the sense that he won the nomination, it failed in at least one important regard: Democrats who had supported candidates like Gene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy took over the party and changed the rules, making the primaries more important and loosening the hold of party bosses.
Meanwhile, George Wallace, former Democrat and full-time racist, ran a third-party campaign that garnered almost 10 million votes and won him 46 votes in the Electoral College. The overall closeness of the race, combined with the 13.5% of the voters who went with Wallace, meant that Nixon won the election while getting only 43.4% of the popular vote. (Compare this to McCain, who lost in a "landslide" while picking up 46.2% of the popular vote.)
Did Nixon do a good job? I'll let Hunter S. Thompson have the final word on that, from his eulogy to the dead ex-pres:
You don't even have to know who Richard Nixon was to be a victim of his ugly, Nazi spirit.
He has poisoned our water forever. Nixon will be remembered as a classic case of a smart man shitting in his own nest. But he also shit in our nests, and that was the crime that history will burn on his memory like a brand. By disgracing and degrading the Presidency of the United States, by fleeing the White House like a diseased cur, Richard Nixon broke the heart of the American Dream.
It is Nixon himself who represents that dark, venal and incurably violent side of the American character that almost every country in the world has learned to fear and despise.
The next day, a strike began at San Francisco State that had long-range importance. It wasn't related to the election, despite the timing. The strike led to the establishment of an Ethnic Studies department. It also introduced semanticist S.I. Hayakawa to a mainstream audience. Hayakawa, who had been an English professor at SF State, became President of the college a few weeks into the strike. He closed campus for a week, and then, when it was reopened, famously pulled out speaker wires in an attempt to silence protestors. Hayakawa became an instant hero to some, and was later elected to the U.S. Senate. The main thing I recall about his Senate stint was that he would fall asleep during sessions. Hayakawa is dead now, as happens to us all. Ethnic Studies still exists.