The new voter who refuses to cast a ballot is shirking the responsibility which he claimed he deserved. To refuse to vote or to vote casually is to solicit the disgust of those who demanded the 18 year old vote. It is also to invite the smuggest “I told you so” in history.” — National Voter Registration Drive¹
While other essays have attempted to measure levels of support and opposition to the war, those efforts have been encumbered principally by poor data and a paucity of evidence; most Clarion articles attest to little more than their own author’s sympathies. Furthermore, as I have noted elsewhere, most members of Bethel’s undoubtedly large population of conservative students were significantly less likely than their liberal counterparts to discuss the war. In contrast, one aspect of life on campus during the war was measured more often and with greater precision than any other: presidential elections. If support for various candidates can be considered a proxy for views on the war — and in at least one case, that assumption is robust — then understanding who Bethel students supported in each presidential election of the war can help illuminate campus-wide opinion on the war fairly comprehensively. While a single 1968 survey explicitly tallied opposition to the war, what of student opinion both before and after?
Presidential politics also serve as a useful way to interrogate the third of the project-wide questions Bethel at War seeks to answer: “how did people at Bethel understand and respond to the sometimes competing demands of national solidarity and Christian commitment?” While that question is not as clear-cut for the Vietnam War as for the two World Wars, it still merits consideration. In particular, did Bethel’s politics always track with the war, or did Christians on occasion buck the trend, i.e. espousing a conservative ideology but opposing the war on moral grounds?
The 1964 presidential election is remembered chiefly for its spectacular loss by Republican candidate Barry Goldwater. Long before the November vote, the election was marked by bitterness within Republican ranks. Torn between its conservative and moderate-liberal factions — worsened by Richard Nixon’s decision not to reprise his 1960 bid — the party saw a series of bitter fights between New York governor Nelson Rockefeller (moderate-liberal) and Goldwater (conservative). While Rockefeller was initially favoured, questions over his marital fidelity derailed his bid and by June Goldwater surpassed him. Democrats were far more united heading into the general election. The assassination of Kennedy in 1963 and Lyndon Johnson’s subsequent assumption of the presidency assured Johnson’s nomination.
The bustle of the 1964 election year proved Bethel to be a politically active campus. Students were active in a variety of settings, from a political club and candidate speeches to mock polls. In the February before the election, The Clarion carried news of the campus Young Grand Old Party (YGOP) club and its recent special session to discuss the impending Civil Rights Act, due to be voted upon by the Congress that summer. A committee, headed by Bill Swenson (who, incidentally, was slated to take over the editorship of the Clarion the next spring), was charged with examining the bill. While uneasy with the “extension of federal power” the bill entailed, the YGOP club concluded that because the “present denial of freedoms to negroes is unjust and deplorable” that “human rights and the urgency of the situation [took] precedence” over their concerns about federal power. The committee resolved to urge the passage of the Civil Rights Act.²
A month later, the campus voted in its first election poll of the season, evidently a quadrennial ritual on campus. Although citizens under the age of twenty-one were barred from voting, Bethel students evidently were interested in how they collectively viewed presidential candidates. Administered by the Clarion, the first poll of the year was fairly non-scientific and gathered data largely through Clarion staff harassing students for comment. The results were clear: the Bethel student polled did not like Barry Goldwater, preferring instead Richard Nixon, the former Vice President under Eisenhower and unsuccessful 1960 Republican nominee. Only four students reported positive feelings about Lyndon Johnson; however, students generally felt that Johnson would win the election.³
In mid April, Bethel’s campus hosted two separate events for candidates running for one of Minnesota’s U.S. Senate seats. Everett Luoma, a candidate from the Socialist Worker’s Party spoke two days after his Republican counterpart, Wheelock Whitney, appeared in Bethel’s fieldhouse. Each man spoke at Bethel on the invitation of the Democratic Farmer-Labor (DFL) and YGOP clubs, respectively.⁴ Neither would eventually win the race, both losing to Eugene McCarthy who himself spoke at a campus event during the third week of October.⁵ Bethel students not only attended political events on their own campus, they also dispersed around the Cities. In September, fifty Bethel students attended an event at Hamline University where William Scranton, another Republican presidential contender, endorsed Goldwater.⁶
For most of the year prior to the election, the picture that emerges of Bethel is one of a campus with fairly politically engaged students. While conservative, students also appeared to reject party extremes such as Goldwater. Furthermore, the presence of an active DFL club and the invitation for a member of the Socialist Worker’s Party to speak on campus suggests that students were eminently willing to entertain multiple political perspectives.
During the last month of the 1964 election season, the Clarion did more to support that notion by endorsing Johnson for president. The Clarion was, however, less than thrilled with either choice for president. Goldwater “[lacked] political sophistication” and Johnson “personal integrity.” However, quoting from the Faculty Journal, a sometimes publication of the Bethel faculty, editor June Erickson made the argument that while personal integrity is desirous in a candidate, “it is not a guarantee that presidential power will be used responsibly.” In light of Johnson’s superior “understanding of historical, social, and political realities” demonstrated by his adept handling of NATO, his “forceful action” against North Vietnam, and conviction that in domestic affairs, “federal action [was] sometimes necessary to give rights to citizens when states deny them,” Erickson recommended Johnson. Goldwater, on the other hand, was clearly rash and ill-informed, Erickson argued, as he proposed to use nuclear weapons in Vietnam and denouncing medicare and anti-poverty laws as “socialistic.”⁷
A final survey distributed in the weeks before the election predicted that Johnson would win the campus by a slim majority. While sixty-eight percent of the students identified as Republicans, sixteen as Democrats, and sixteen as Independents, the survey reported that thirty-nine percent of Republicans planned to vote for Johnson — a statistic reflective of national trends as moderate Republicans rejected Goldwater’s extremism.⁸
The day after the election, the Clarion reported how Bethel’s campus had (mock) voted. With a sixty percent turnout, the campus had elected Goldwater with 53.8 percent of the vote — a surprising result, given previous polling on campus. In contrast, the American electorate broke for Johnson in the then greatest sweep in U.S. history: 61.1 percent. What had happened at Bethel? First, while the last poll before the election called the race for Johnson, a closer look at that survey’s margin of error suggests the Clarion authors were too quick to make a judgment. With a ninety-five percent confidence interval, the poll indicated that Johnson could win by as much as seventy-five percent or lose with forty-four percent of the vote — an enormous margin of error of thirty-one percent, likely generated by low survey response. Second, broken down by class, the November third results — much more robust numbers as sixty percent of the campus voted — suggest that year in school made a significant difference to how students voted:
- Freshmen: seventy-five percent Goldwater
- Sophomores: fifty-six percent Goldwater
- Juniors: fifty-five percent Johnson
- Seniors: fifty-fifty split
- Faculty: “chose Johnson by a slim margin” [the article did not give a figure]
Had the Freshman class voted evenly, the election may have tipped slightly to Johnson. Thus, Goldwater’s win rested almost entirely on a freshman class whose opinions had not been expressed in the polling that took place during the spring of 1964. At the same time, the Clarion reported that only 43.4 percent of the freshman class voted, leaving open the possibility that the freshman numbers were significantly skewed.⁹
A week later, June Erickson issued a scathing take on the results of the national election, arguing that Johnson’s win was less a ringing mandate for the president than it was a categorical rejection of Goldwater’s extremism. “Although many people would rather have voted for a man more moderate than the New Dealing Johnson, they could not because the Republican party gave them a choice that called for drastic change when the people saw and felt no need for it,” Erickson wrote.¹⁰ That logic evidently did not apply at Bethel.
The Clarion’s reaction to the election as well as its earlier endorsement of Johnson, set against the strong support for Goldwater the campus evinced, highlights a fact relevant to the entire Bethel at War project: the students controlling the Clarion, as well as Bethel’s other publication organs — the Coeval, the Spire — were notably more liberal than the rest of the student body. Beyond the Clarion’s reporting on the 1964 election, the newspaper would inveigh in the coming years against other paragons of the far right. Two examples suffice to show the Clarion’s anti-rightwing bias, even before Vietnam began impacting Bethel substantially in the later 1960s. In 1966, the Clarion reported on an event held in downtown Minneapolis by Billy James Hargis, a notable anti-communist fundamentalist preacher: “In his hour-long rambling diatribe, Hargis presented his latest commentary on the American scene. As he covered most of the usual far-right topics, from the UN to sex mores, he demonstrated an almost unbelievable inability to deal with facts, logic, and rational thought.” “In his perspective,” the Clarion contributor wrote
all issues are clearly black and white. He demonstrated this simplistic categorizing again and again: “We believe conservatism is in the will of God and is a continuation of the message of Christ;” “Liberalism is a greater threat to America than Communism;” “If you’re theologically conservative, you cannot be politically liberal;” “… Come out from among them, and be ye separate;” “ Any senator who voted against the Dirksen Amendment on voluntary prayer and Bible reading should be defeated!” […] No mention was made of the complex issues involved here — you are either for or against the Bible and prayer.
The article concluded,
Hargis stated, “We are tied to Christ… We are tied to a dream.” I believe the second part, but if th Gospel was presented at this meeting it was not that of the New Testament — it was Hargis’ own gospel, that of: “‘Christ,’ ‘conservatism,’ free enterprise, the constitution” — terms which were continually linked by him, apparently in an inseparable bond.¹¹
Then, in 1967, the Clarion reprised its take on the genre of fundamentalist anti-communist fulmination. Art Blessing covered a talk by “one of the most interesting but frightening ministers in the country”: Carl McIntire. Written by a self-confessed Marxist, the article delivered an amusing and highly critical take on the preacher:
McIntire did not say anything profound in his address, for he specializes in SLOGANS and in his own special brand of logic. He dwelt on a number of favorite things to which he is opposed. It is no doubt difficult for him to single out a few issues, since he is opposed to almost everything and everyone, such as: the N[ational] C[ouncil of] C[hurches], the W[orld] C[ouncil of] C[hurches], communism, illicit sex, the UN, the RSV Bible, ecumenism, the Pope, Eugene Carson Blake, Martin Luther King, Satan, Walter Reuther, James A. Pike, Malcolm Boyd, and he is especially opposed to attacks on Carl McIntire.
By way of explanation for his articles on McIntire and Hargis, Blessing noted that he used to believe much of their message, “in [his] pre-college days when [his] information was gathered from such infallible sources as Reader’s Digest, U.S. News and World Report, and The Chicago Tribune.” Such preachers, Blessing believed, simply existed to bleed money from the poor, the elderly, and those “bewildered by rapid social change.”¹²
While Blessing’s articles both reflect his own beliefs, they were not far outside of the mainstream political tone expressed by the Clarion, whose politics ranged from moderate Republican to Marxist, peppered occasionally by fundamentalist or BGC-inspired pious and geopolitically hawkish articles.
Between the autumn of 1964 and the spring of 1973, the Clarion had nine chief editors. Either by self admission or a close reading of their editorials, their politics can be surmised as:
- June Erickson (Autumn 1964) — Moderate Republican
- Bill Swenson (Spring 1965–Autumn 1965) — Republican
- John Halvorson (Spring 1966–Autumn 1966) — Center Left Republican
- Jonathan P. Larson (Spring 1967–Autumn 1967) — Liberal
- Lynn Bergfalk (Spring 1968–Autumn 1968) — Liberal
- Margie Whaley (Spring 1969) — Unknown
- Patricia Faxon (Autumn 1969–Autumn 1970) — Liberal
- Bob Miko (Spring 1971–Spring 1972) — Post American
- Marshall Shelley (Autumn 1972–Spring 1973) — Moderate
Out of nine editors then, six were to the left of center, two more were in the center, and only one approached anything like a conservative 1960s Republican.
While the reasons for this political alignment are obscure, it is in line with broader mid-century American journalism trends, where most journalists identified as Democrats or independents — a trend which persists today.¹³ It is also in line with the wider tendency at Bethel for moderates and conservatives (i.e., those who supported the war and the president) to stay silent, only occasionally contributing a written piece to the Clarion or staging a small demonstration.
Regardless of the cause, the political alignment of Bethel’s publications has a major impact on this entire project in a variety of ways. First, the conservative or moderate viewpoint was less likely to be expressed through official channels, thus producing no record of conservative thought or action. While this shortcoming can (and has) been countered in a number of ways such as the collection of oral history, those countermeasures are still hampered by the silence; if conservatives never spoke out on issues, it is nearly impossible to connect with them today and secure interviews. Second, and more problematic, the result is the bias this project undoubtedly has in disproportionately documenting the activities of the left. Fundamentally a source problem, the bias is probably impossible to totally correct.
The 1968 presidential election was the most politically divisive of the war, a fact reflected not only on Bethel’s campus but in the Democratic primaries. The Republican ticket was assembled with comparative ease. Having sat out the 1964 election, Nixon returned to seek the White House. In the 1966 midterm elections, Nixon had been instrumental in helping to rebuild Republican Congressional numbers after Goldwater’s failure had eviscerated party ranks. Thus, when Nixon announced his bid, the party machinery fully supported him, allowing Nixon to defeat each successive opponent (including the current Governor of California, Ronald Reagan).
For the Democrats, on the other hand, the primaries were bruising. In spite of the deep unpopularity of the war, few Democrats dared to challenge Johnson, who, as the sitting president, was the presumptive nominee. Only Eugene McCarthy, the Minnesota Senator, ran against Johnson in the early months of 1968. McCarthy’s open opposition to the war and pledge to immediately end the fighting attracted the support of college students and young people across the country. On March 12, McCarthy won forty-two percent of the vote to Johnson’s forty-nine — a shocking result. McCarthy was joined in his opposition to Johnson by fellow anti-war candidate Robert Kennedy, the brother of the late president, who commenced a bitter struggle with McCarthy. Then on March 31, Johnson shocked the nation:
Johnson’s withdrawal paved the way for his Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, to enter the race. Humphrey’s candidacy was, however, hampered by his connections to the unpopular Johnson, as well as his inability as a sitting official to deviate from Johnson’s stated war policy. The race was complicated further by RFK’s death at the hands of Sirhan Sirhan that summer.
At the Democratic National Convention in Chicago that year, television viewers across the nation were shocked to see images of policemen beating and gassing crowds of protesters. The violence outside the convention hall mirrored the antagonisms within. After RFK had been assassinated, his supporters were in a quandary. Although naturally most consonant with McCarthy’s views, former RFK delegate were loathe to ally with the Minnesota Senator after their bitter combat during the primaries. So instead of backing the only other anti-war candidate, RFK’s delegate split, some supporting McCarthy and the rest going to George McGovern, the governor of South Dakota. In the ensuing chaos, Humphrey won the nomination on the first ballot.
The divisiveness of the election was reflected at Bethel, not necessarily in the amount of discussion the election generated (indeed, there was less than in 1964 and 1972 would dwarf both previous elections) but in a more divided student voting bloc than the campus had likely ever seen. By 1968, the old YGOP club was gone, and in its place stood the only political organization on campus: a McCarthy club.¹⁴ The Clarion carried news of its formation by anti-war students in February of that year, and only a few weeks later, the club was already active on campus, distributing materials from the McCarthy campaign headquarters at an anti-army recruiter protest.¹⁵ Of all the candidates in 1964, 1968, and 1972, Eugene McCarthy was the clearest litmus test for views on the Vietnam War. Those who supported him did so almost uniformly for his anti-war stance. Only RFK opposed the war as well, and his death eliminated the Kennedy from the race. Thus, the formation of a McCarthy club at Bethel attests to the fact that at least some students desired an anti-war political option.
Just how many students supported McCarthy can be gleaned from a May 1968 poll. Called CHOICE ‘68, the poll was a nation-wide attempt to survey college student voting preferences, a group which was only about half-enfranchised (the voting age remained at twenty-one in 1968). The ballot at Bethel received three hundred responses, broken down as follows:
• Nixon — 120 votes, 39 percent
• McCarthy — 97 votes, 33 percent
No other candidates polled above the eight percent threshold, although the Clarion did break out the remaining numbers: the moderate Republican Nelson Rockefeller received 24 votes, Oregon Governor and prominent member of the Evangelical Left movement Mark Hatfield received fifteen votes, Robert Kennedy ten, Johnson eight, and Humphrey six. Those numbers illustrate several things. First, Johnson and his anointed successor Humphrey received only twelve votes out of three hundred. That low count was not due to anti-Democratic bias at Bethel — fellow Democrat McCarthy polled a close second to Nixon — but rather a near-total repudiation of Johnson’s war stance and legacy as embodied by Humphrey. Second, the low numbers for Robert Kennedy, in spite of his shared anti-war stance with McCarthy, suggest a continuing anti-Catholic sentiment at Bethel. In 1960, for example, the school had voted for Nixon over John Kennedy ninety to ten percent among both students and faculty.¹⁶ Eight years later, even Bobby’s anti-war stance was not enough to attract any measurable Bethel support, nor indeed did it nation-wide except among Catholics.
McCarthyites at Bethel considered the poll results a “significant victory,” given the school’s conservative tendencies. Indeed, in comparison to the national results, Bethel was conservative: nationally, twenty six percent voted for McCarthy, twenty percent for RFK, and only eighteen for Nixon, giving the peace candidates a combined forty-six percent of the vote.¹⁷
Also included in the CHOICE ‘68 ballot were a series of questions on the war. The responses printed in the Clarion are the only robust measure of student opinion on the war. In May 1968, sixty-five percent of Bethel students favored withdrawal or reduction of U.S. presence in Vietnam; 27.3 percent favored a permanent cessation of bombing; and 29.6 percent favored at least a temporary cessation. Those numbers were not dissimilar from national results which were, respectively, sixty-two, twenty-nine, and twenty-nine percent — well within the margin of error of the poll.¹⁸
Between the May poll and the election poll in November, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, and Hubert Humphrey granted the Democratic nomination, a result which deeply disillusioned many of McCarthy’s supporters, in spite of the Senator endorsing Humphrey. In Bethel’s election poll, Nixon won handily with seventy-seven percent of the vote. Humphrey secured eighteen, and George Wallace, the segregationist candidate from Alabama, was the somewhat disturbing choice of 2.5 percent of Bethel’s population. While those results were far removed from the May poll which showed Nixon with only a six percent lead over McCarthy, several factors merit consideration. In exasperated tones, Steve Marquardt, the author of the Clarion piece relaying the results, noted that the poll was marred by low turnout, and more significantly, a student boycott organized by Humphrey supporters. The scant support the Democratic candidate did earn may have been due almost entirely to professor ‘Doc’ Dalton “rounding up the loyal [faculty] HHH supporters to vote,” as Marquardt explained. “At best,” Marquardt concluded, “we can consider the Straw Vote fun. Any implications beyond that rather questionable basis for its existence seem to arouse more complications than accurate conclusions.”¹⁹
During the next presidential election, Bethel’s students’ votes served for more than mere fun, as for the first time in American history, they were counted. The American voting age had long been twenty-one, although a patchwork of local and state regulations occasionally allowed for the franchise depending on the level of the election. In other words, an eighteen year old may have been able to vote in her local election in 1970, but not on her federal represenative’s ballot. During the 1960s, the twenty-one year old voting age restriction came under attack, principally from those who considered it unconscionable in light of the draft. Why, when an eighteen-year-old could be drafted and sent to Vietnam, opponents of the age wondered, was that same eighteen-year-old barred from voting for candidates that could better represent his interests? The argument was an old one and had surfaced during World War II when Roosevelt lowered the draft age to eighteen. By Vietnam, however, more people were willing to listen. In spite of some opposition, mostly centered on the supposed immaturity of young people, a Constitutional Amendment was drafted and passed both houses of Congress on March 23, 1971, its way having been cleared by a Supreme Court decision of the year prior. On that same day, the Amendment was ratified by five states (Minnesota was the third) and by July 1, had passed the thirty-eight state threshold and was adopted. The 1972 presidential election was thus the first in which all of Bethel’s student population could legally vote.
Coming out of his poor showing in the 1968 Democratic primary, George McGovern managed to put together a winning coalition of anti-war and grassroots supporters and become the Democratic nominee. Richard Nixon, like Johnson in 1964, was the presumptive Republican nominee, and indeed, was duly crowned at the nominating convention. His recent successes, including a stunning meeting with Mao in Beijing and successful detente with the USSR, meant Nixon enjoyed massive popularity among Republicans.
Bethel’s 1972 election year was markedly different that previous elections. While 1964 and 1968 saw between five and eight related items published in the Clarion, 1972 featured an explosion of publishing activity. As a result of the new eighteen-year-old enfranchisement, much of that activity now centered on convincing students to vote and educating them on how to do so, a task made more complicated by the school’s new campus bifurcation: that fall, classes began at the new Arden Hills location. While a few students lived in New Dorm (presently Nelson Hall), the rest remained on the old Snelling Avenue campus in Edgren, Hagstrom, and Bodien dorms and were shuttled up and down Snelling. The confused campus geography made voter registration a more difficult feat, and for the students at the new campus, even reaching their polling stations required using a Bethel shuttle; the campus was significantly more isolated from its surrounding than the old one and was not serviced by city bus lines.
Thus, the January 24 issue of the Clarion bore a large front-page registration chart, broken down by state of residency, on deadlines and procedures for registering to vote in both the primaries, caucuses, and general election.²⁰ An article within the issue explained the procedures in greater depth.²¹ Then there was the recurring anonymous column that purported to ‘educate’ voters about the the candidates. In reality, the column was a cynical meditation upon the various drawbacks of various candidates and the entire political process.²² In April, a full page article entitled “Guidelines for Christian Voting” appeared, delivering even-keeled advice on selecting politicians.²³ Finally, a litany of articles into autumn urged students to vote. As a representative example, in October, an article drawn from the National Voter Registration Drive suggested that
the new voter who refuses to cast a ballot is shirking the responsibility which he claimed he deserved. To refuse to vote or to vote casually is to solicit the disgust of those who demanded the 18 year old vote. It is also to invite the smuggest “I told you so” in history.”²⁴
On September 7, president Lundquist wrote to the Committee for the Re-Election of the President. “I want to follow up some correspondence initiated by student leaders on our campus to invite President Nixon to visit Bethel college and Seminary when his personal schedule may take him into the Twin Cities area this fall,” wrote Lundquist. “I believe the President would find the Bethel campus a sympathetic and respectful one,” he continued, suggesting that in addition to the 1,400 students on campus, “I am sure that we could draw many hundred of off-campus people to be present as well.” Such an event would benefit from the “great deal of excitement and anticipation” that already characterized the school, on account of its having moved to its new campus, and Lundquist was sure that “this atmosphere [would] be most conducive to a strong presentation of the President” at the college. Nothing suggests the Committee to Re-Elect ever responded. Possibly it was engaged in other business; on September 15, White House ‘plumber’ Howard Hunt, G. Gordon Liddy, and the five Watergate burglars were indicted by a grand jury for conspiracy, burglary, and violation of wiretapping laws.
The largest event of the election was Political Awareness Week, slated for the week of October 16. That week, a series of lectures replaced chapel services, all focused on various aspects of the political process. Among the speakers appearing were Dr. Erling Jorstad, the chairman of the St. Olaf History Department; Congressman John B. Anderson of Illinois; Dr. Myles Stenshoel, a professor of Political Science at Augsburg College, and Al Quie, the congressman from Minnesota and future Governor of the state.²⁵ That event highlights one of the shifts marked by the 1972 election. While the two earlier elections were more about policy, the 1972 election was one about process, a change largely due to the newly expanded franchise.
In one of only two substantive takes on the candidates, Clarion editor Marshall Shelley endorsed Nixon in October based largely on his better strategic acumen. Shelley cast Nixon as a poker player to the Soviet premier Brezhnev chess persona. While Brezhnev sought to encircle Europe methodically, Shelley wrote, Nixon sought to engineer brilliant and bold strikes, exemplified by his meeting with the Chinese that summer.²⁶ A week later, Shelley reprised his column, reporting that he had received the usual criticism from his fellow students. One suggested that he might not be a Christian for supporting Nixon; another questioned his “level of commitment” for making a reference to poker (many fundamentalists opposed all card games as a form of gambling).²⁷
On November 3rd, Chuck Jackson and Dan Blomquist penned a passionate argument for a McGovern presidency. McGovern, they said, had been unfairly singled out and smeared for changing his positions on the issues. Nixon too, had flip-flopped on all manner of issues, from price controls to Keynesian economics. “A McGovern administration, we believe, would reverse the unmistakable drift in Washington away from government of, by and for the people,” Jackson and Blomquist concluded.²⁸
The only poll conducted at Bethel during the 1972 election, assessed during October, reported that eighty-one percent of students supported Nixon, sixteen percent McGovern, and three percent other candidates.²⁹ Because students could now uniformly vote, no election day polling occurred. The results of the national election were not quite as stark as at Bethel. Still, Nixon won by a larger margin than any other president since Lyndon Johnson in 1964: 60.9 percent. McGovern had been painted as an extremist by Nixon, an argument that most Americans were willing to accept. Earlier in the summer, McGovern had also tarnished his reputation by choosing a running mate who had been treated with electroshock therapy, raising concerns about his judgement. But the biggest headwind McGovern faced was the perception that Nixon was truly ending the war. With the promise of a peace agreement early the next year, Nixon effectively removed McGovern’s biggest attraction. Even so, the president felt the need to bug Democratic campaign headquarters in the Watergate Complex in Washington DC, setting in motion a scandal that would unravel his presidency and force him from power in two short years.
That the war was more or less a moot point in 1972 was demonstrated by the kinds of issues students raised in the Clarion. Instead of assessing the candidates on their war positions, students instead focused on domestic issues such as poverty relief, environmentalism, and economic stimulus. If the passage of the Twenty-Sixth Amendment was the symbolic culmination of youth agitation throughout the previous decade, the election was the denouement. Having achieved the franchise, youth clung to the promise that the war would be over after New Year’s and refocused on the domestic. The politics of normalcy could return.
What can this tell us about student opinion of the Vietnam War? At the very least, these elections suggest that Bethel students were, on the whole, much more politically conservative than the general populus — hardly a unique insight. In 1964, 53.8 percent of the campus voted for Goldwater in comparison to 38.5 percent of the general population. That was down, however, from support for the Republican Eisenhower in 1956 when eighty-seven percent of the campus voted for the former general.³⁰ And in 1972, eighty-one percent of the campus voted for Nixon over McGovern. It was in 1968 that the usual rule of Bethel voting heavily for the Republican candidate was nearly shattered. That year saw a clear choice (at least in the primaries) between several pro-war and one anti-war candidate. Presented with that choice, Nixon won thirty-nine percent to McCarthy’s thirty-three percent in the primary, a difference nearly within the standard margin of error. In the general election however, Nixon won at Bethel by seventy-seven percent to Humphrey’s eighteen, a significantly more Nixonian vote than the national figures.
I suggest that the following framework can make sense of these statistics. The 1964 election was an artifact of Bethel’s huge conservative base exiting the 1950s. Reflecting a Baptist General Conference-inspired ethic, this election marked the last surge of the mid-century fundamentalist politics more redolent of Hargis and McIntire than the New Right which would emerge in the 1970s. Such explains why Bethel students broke for Goldwater, a candidate far outside of the mainstream of Republican and conservative politics at that time. Tellingly, those students who were younger and therefore closest to the BGC church experience of their youth were most likely to favour Goldwater, voting for him 2:1. As students progressed through Bethel, they increasingly moderated their position, voting in ever-greater numbers for the moderate choice — Johnson. Indeed, in the weeks before the election, thirty-nine percent of Republican students surveyed suggested that they were voting for Johnson.³¹ The bulk of Goldwater’s support came from freshmen. Goldwater’s supporters undoubtedly supported the war, as a hallmark of the Arizona senator’s position was a tough stance on communism. Thus, in 1964, nearly all students supported the war, a conclusion consistent with the timeline of Bethel’s anti-war activity
Those same freshmen who supported Goldwater in 1964 were, by 1968, seniors. That year, arguably the most violent of the entire long decade of the Sixties, also marked the cusp of Bethel’s period of most intense anti-war activity. It was also the year in which the war most nearly shattered Bethel’s conservative hegemony. The presence of an anti-war candidate in the Democratic primary allowed students to express a clear preference. In a primary poll, they did, breaking almost evenly between the ambiguously pro-war Nixon and the categorically anti-war McCarthy. That suggests that at least thirty-three percent (the percent supporting McGovern) were categorically anti-war, particularly since that is a larger number than democrats had ever polled at Bethel; support for McCarthy was clearly not mere partisan politics. Students supported him because of his anti-war stance. That same year also saw a poll with explicit Vietnam questions. Sixty-five percent of Bethel students indicated that they favored withdrawal or reduction while 27.3 percent favored permanent cessation of bombing and 29.6 percent favoured temporary cessation.³² Those numbers were nearly identical to the national figures.
Yet when Humphrey got the nod, and Bethel students were forced to choose only between a pro-war Democrat (Humphrey) and a ambiguously pro-war Nixon (Republican), they opted for the Republican, falling back upon their conservative background for guidance. Absent McCarthy’s clear anti-war stance, Bethel students would not vote for a democrat in measurable numbers. Yet Nixon’s sweep (seventy-seven percent) should not be taken as a ringing endorsement of his conservatism; McCarthy’s supporters did not disappear and it seems doubtful that, even if they were democrats, they would vote for a pro-war candidate. Thus, Nixon’s figures likely represent both conservative Republicans who would never vote Democratic and moderates and Democrats who refused to vote for a pro-war candidate.
By 1972, the war was nearly over. As evidenced by the type of materials the Clarion published that year, politics as usual had resumed, defined more by domestic issues such as environmentalism and the legacy of Johnson’s Great Society than by geopolitical issues. The heavy favouritism for Nixon (eighty-one percent to McGovern’s sixteen percent) suggests less about war stance than it does about an enduring conservative presence at Bethel and the weakness of McGovern’s candidacy. Although McGovern was anti-war, Nixon had arguably ended the war, removing any incentive for Bethel students whose main concern was the war to vote Democratic.
Nineteen-eighty-six was thus the year that came closest to breaking the conservative hegemony at Bethel, an impetus gained entirely from opposition to the war. It was also the year in which the largest number of Bethel students were able to separate politics from faith. The high levels of support for McCarthy in the primary and subsequent falloff for Humphrey suggest that many of these students were not Democrats. Thus, on the basis of their feeling that the war was immoral, these students bucked their political backgrounds and supported a Democrat. That number was small, some percentage of the thirty-three percent that supported McCarthy — a number itself drawn from a sample size of only three hundred. For the majority of Bethel students during the period, their politics and stance on the war were intertwined, and both ran conservative.
In September 1974, a new generation of Bethel students arrived on campus, having never experienced the war as collegians. In the past two years, Nixon’s Watergate scheme and the well of corruption from which it sprang had been exposed, and on August 9, 1974, Nixon resigned, walked to Marine One, flashed one last ‘victory’ sign, and in a whirl of helicopter blades, disappeared from the national stage, leaving Gerald Ford to assume the presidency. Ford promptly pardoned Nixon for any crimes he may have committed during his time in office.
At Bethel, the pardon was a step too far. A number of students published an open letter in the Clarion, decrying the action:
You have pardoned Richard Nixon from his Watergate actions, and we are sorry. You have interfered with the workings of justice, and we are angry. You have continued the great cover-up and we are outraged.
It is too bad. You came into our Presidency at a time when we needed a moral leader, a man who would uphold right and unconditionally condemn wrong. When you invoked the prayers of your people, and the help of your God, we were encouraged. But once again, we in America are disappointed. You have helped to destroy a dream — a dream that this country was indeed based on equal justice and treatment for all. That dream, along with many others this past decade, is dead, once and for all. And it is too bad — there are not many dreams left.³³
A few weeks later, another open letter appeared in the Clarion:
Dear Mr. President:
We the students here at KABY Radio at Bethel College in Saint Paul would like to thank you for doing such a fine “Christian” job. In a day when most of the country has turned away from the Lord it’s reassuring to know that there is a man of God in the White House. When we saw you at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention last year, we knew you were a born again Christian. Some of your most recent acts, conditional amnesty and a pardon for Richard Nixon, shows a real concern for Christian values and at the same time doing what is best for the country. We have Democrats, Republicans, and Independents on our staff and we are all praying for you. After all, we are all Americans and first of all Christians. Mr. President — thanks for being there!!³⁴
Those letters signified the passing of the impetus at Bethel from the moderate-left, anti-war, student activists of the Long Sixties to the growing numbers of conservative students in the 1970s. From then on, the campus would be increasingly marked by the emerging power of the Christian Right.
— Fletcher Warren
¹ National Voter Registration Drive, “Please Vote,” The Clarion 1972-10-27.
² “YGOP Adopts Civil Rights Resolution,” The Clarion 1964-02-19.
³ Jim Carroll, “Campus Poll Discloses No Republican Favorite,” The Clarion 1964-03-04.
⁴ “Candidates Address YGOP, DFL Meetings,” The Clarion 1964-04-15.
⁵ [Photo at McCarthy event], The Clarion 1964-10-21.
⁶ [Photo at Hamline event], The Clarion 1964-09-30.
⁷ June Erickson, “Paper Endorses Johnson as Better of Two Imperfect Men,” The Clarion 1964-10-28.
⁸ Barbara Rusche and Diane Carlson, “Survey Predicts Johnson to Win Election by Slim Margin,” The Clarion 1964-10-28.
⁹ Barbara Rusche, “Goldwater, Miller, Whitney Win Bethel Mock Election,” The Clarion 1964-11-04.
¹⁰ June Erickson, “Republicans Give Voters No Choice but Johnson,” The Clarion 1964-11-11.
¹¹ Art Blessing, “Extreme Rightist Billy James Hargis Presents Gospel of Anti-Liberalism,” The Clarion 1966-11-10.
¹² Art Blessing, “Right Wing Preacher Carl McIntire Rails Against RSV Bible, Pope, Satan,” The Clarion 1967-05-11.
¹³ Lars Willnat and David Weaver, “The American Journalist in the Digital Age;” UCLA Media Bias Survey.
¹⁴ “Nixon Tops McCarthy in CHOICE ‘68 Votes,” The Clarion 1968-05-02.
¹⁵ “McCarthy Men Mobilize, Summon Campus Meet Today,” The Clarion 1968-02-14; “Army Recruiters Visit Campus; Face Orderly Student Protests,” The Clarion 1968-02-22.
¹⁶ “Nixon Tops McCarthy,” The Clarion 1968-05-02.
¹⁷ Ibid.; “Bethel’s CHOICE ‘68 Vote Follows Similar Pattern to National Results,” The Clarion 1968-05-16.
¹⁹ Steve Marquardt, “Nixon Takes 77 per cent in Campus Straw Vote,” The Clarion 1968-11-09.
²⁰ “Everything You Need to Know to Register and Vote,” The Clarion 1972-01-24.
²¹ “Jog Down to the Polls, Exercise Your Right to Vote,” The Clarion 1972-01-24.
²² “Anyway,” The Clarion 1972-01-24; “Anyway,” The Clarion 1972-02-25; “Anyway,” The Clarion 1972-03-10.
²³ National Association for Christian Political Action, “Guidelines for Christian Voters,” The Clarion 1972-04-14.
²⁴ National Voter Registration Drive, “Please Vote,” The Clarion 1972-10-27.
²⁵ Letter from Lundquist to Committee for the Re-Election of the President,” September 7, 1972, “Old Correspondence – S1,” Box 25, Lundquist Presidential Papers, The History Center: Archives of the Baptist General Conference and Bethel University.
²⁶ Marshall Shelley, “A Whole Week of Political Awareness,” The Clarion 1972-10-13.
²⁷ Marshall Shelley, “The Way I See It from Where I Sit,” The Clarion 1972-10-13.
²⁸ Marshall Shelley, “The Way I See It from Where I Sit,” The Clarion 1972-10-27.
²⁹ Chuck Jackson and Dan Blomquist, “Issues in Focus,” The Clarion 1972-11-03.
³¹ Barbara Rusche, “Goldwater, Miller, Whitney Win Bethel Mock Election,” The Clarion 1964-11-04.
³³ “Bethel’s CHOICE ‘68 Vote Follows Similar Pattern to National Results,” The Clarion 1968-05-10.
³⁴ “Another Dream Dead,” The Clarion 1974-09-13.
³⁵ Steve Ferrario and Don Anderson, “Letter to the Editor,” The Clarion 1974-10-04. While this note borders on the sarcastic, its preface in the Clarion made clear that the letter was genuine: “A few weeks ago in the Clarion there was an open letter to President Jerry Ford. That was one side of the feelings of the nation. We at the radio station sent this telegram to the President on the day he pardoned Richard Nixon.”