Today, as the U.S. presidential election approaches, an unpopular lame-duck president presides over an unpopular war and a sharply divided, crisis-ridden country–just as happened 40 years ago. In 2008 Pres. George W. Bush confronts the Iraq War and a meltdown of the U.S. financial system; in 1968 Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson was bedeviled by the Vietnam War and a society that seemed to be coming apart at the seams. Then the incumbent president was a Democrat; now he is a Republican. As we consider the candidates who must find solutions for today’s daunting problems, it will be helpful to reflect not only on those candidates whose names appeared on the ballot in 1968 but on those whose names did not. For an even closer look at the current election, see Britannica’s special coverage of the U.S. Presidential Election of 2008.
The Top of the Ticket
Just as it was 40 years ago, war has been central to the candidates’ promises and plans for their presidency:
He claimed during his campaign that he had a "secret plan" to end the Vietnam War, and he courted the "silent majority" that recoiled from the changes to American society in the ’60s. Learn more…
He had a long record as an advocate of civil rights but was burdened by his association with the Vietnam War as Johnson’s vice president. He emerged from the tumult of the Democratic National Convention as the nominee and promised to stop the bombing in Vietnam if elected. Learn more…
The presidential nominee of the American Independent Party in 1968, he was a segregationist Democrat who ran as a third-party candidate and appealed primarily to white Southerners and blue-collar workers. Learn more…
The most forceful advocate of the increase in troop strength in Iraq known as "the surge," he has based his candidacy as the Republican nominee on winning the Iraq War. Princeton University historian Sean Wilentz, the author of The Age of Reagan, has written a new biography of him for Britannica. Learn more…
Long an opponent of the Iraq War, this Democratic nominee has called for a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Former Chicago Tribune reporter David Mendell, the author of Obama: From Promise to Power, has written a new biography of him for Britannica. Learn more…
They Also Ran…
Democratic candidate (1968): The success that McCarthy–the first antiwar candidate in the 1968 election–had in the New Hampshire Democratic primary prompted Johnson to decide not to run for reelection.
Robert F. Kennedy
Democratic candidate (1968): Kennedy, who seemed to be on the verge of capturing the Democratic nomination before his assassination, inspired the young and dispossessed with his message of hope and compassion.
Republican candidate (1968): A liberal Republican, Rockefeller had run for the party’s nomination twice before, in 1960 and 1964.
Democratic candidate (2008): Clinton’s vote to support Bush’s prosecution of the Iraq War haunted her throughout her campaign.
Republican candidate (2008): Romney had a familial link to the 1968 election: his father, George, who ran for the Republican nomination that year, lost his bid for the presidency after he said that he had been "brainwashed" by the military into supporting the Vietnam War.
Their Other Halves
Although her role has never been codified or officially defined, the first lady is closely watched for some hint of her husband’s thinking and for a clue to his future actions. See what you can learn from these former and prospective future first ladies:
A Heartbeat Away
Next in rank to the president, vice presidential nominees should be examined just as closely as their running mates. Compare and contrast the candidates of 1968 and today