When I was in high school, I felt it was important to engage in politics. It was the late 60s, the Vietnam War was raging and America was being torn apart by one of its periodic culture wars: hippies versus straights.
I was a straight, so I worked inside the system. My first campaign was Bobby Kennedy’s effort to win the presidential primary in Oregon in 1968. It was the first time a Kennedy ever lost an election. I worked out of the branch office in the Hollywood neighborhood, led by a British expat who promised me a flight to California to work for Bobby there. Alas, the campaign had lost a 17-year-old after Nebraska, so William Vanden Heuvel, the campaign manager, laid out an absolute rule: no transport of those under 18. I was crestfallen at the loss, further crestfallen at my inability to help in California. Oddly, it never occurred to me to pay my own way. Probably because I couldn’t afford it.
Next up, that fall, Sen. Wayne Morse, the “Lion of the Senate,” who was staunchly antiwar. And staunchly out of touch with Oregon after 24 years in Washington. Did he lose because he was pictured on his farm in Eugene, wearing a suit while shoveling manure? Maybe. I can’t find the picture to prove it, but I remember how crestfallen the volunteers were. In any case, he was beaten by Robert Packwood, the later-disgraced “Pygmy of the Senate.” Just before I left for college, I worked for ultra-liberal Art Pearl (later a UCSC professor) in his failed run for Oregon governor. Finally, in 1972, while at MIT, I volunteered for George McGovern.
After four losses, I wondered if I was a jinx. In 1977, I worked for a losing SF supervisor candidate named Paul Pelosi, and that was it. I was out of politics. I have never missed voting in an election, and I am a high-information voter, but that’s the extent of my involvement to this day.