The Monthly Editorial Blog By Schlafly Beer Co-Founder Tom Schlafly
One of the most pivotal elections in American history took place in Texas in 1948, when Lyndon Johnson defeated Coke Stevenson in the Democratic primary in the race for the U.S. Senate. Days after the polls had closed election officials were still finding previously uncounted ballots that ultimately turned the tide in favor of LBJ. The biggest treasure trove was in Precinct Number 13 in Jim Wells County, where 203 voters with identical handwriting voted in alphabetical order. These voters, some of whom were deceased and some of whom had never existed at all, gave Johnson a margin of victory of 87 votes and the enduring sobriquet Landslide Lyndon. It was in the aftermath of this historic election, but before Landslide Lyndon took the oath of office as a U.S. Senator, that an alert reader (AR) named Barney O’Meara and I were both born into the world.
Twelve years later, in 1960, Barney and I found ourselves in the same seventh grade class. In November of that year Lyndon Johnson was elected both to a third term in the U.S. Senate and as Vice President of the United States. (He had arranged for a change in Texas law that allowed him to run simultaneously for two different offices.) Barney, meanwhile, had acquired the unflattering nickname B. O., which was inspired by his initials and not by his personal hygiene. We graduated from eighth grade in 1962, when one of the songs climbing the top 40 charts was “Ahab the Arab” by Ray Stevens, the saga of a sheik with a camel named Clyde and a paramour named Fatima.
Barney and I were classmates from seventh grade through our senior year of high school. Along the way we read Moby Dick, which featured another Ahab, whose story was told by a narrator named Ishmael. All of this is relevant because of what happened on April 23, 2014, the day Barney lost most of his left leg in a horrendous accident involving a piece of farm equipment. When I heard about what had happened, I went to visit my old friend on his farm in Virginia, bringing a six-pack of Schlafly IPA to aid in his recovery. When Barney told me he wasn’t supposed to drink beer because of the medications he was taking, I responded by telling him he obviously needed to find another doctor. For some reason Barney declined to heed my medical advice even after I reminded him of the proficiency with which I had dissected a cat in our high school biology class. It was at this point that Barney compared himself to Captain Ahab, prompting me (as the one who’s telling his story) to reply, “ In that case, call me Ishmael.”
Barney and I graduated from high school on June 6, 1966 (6-6-66), by which time Lyndon Johnson had become the President and Commander-in-Chief of the United States and had signed legislation that increased the penalties for not complying with certain provisions of the Selective Service Law. Among these was a requirement for a national ID card not unlike what is now decried by advocates of civil liberties but was then commonly accepted. I’m sure that most male ARs over the age of 60 recall the days when federal law required them to have their draft cards in their possession at all times.
As a reminder to anyone under the age of 60 or to those over 60 whose memories are clouded as a result of various activities back in the day, every male was required by law to register for the draft within five days of his 18th birthday and potentially faced severe penalties for not doing so. He was required to notify his draft board if he moved. He was also required to have his draft card in his possession at all times. Bartenders often refused to accept drivers’ licenses or student IDs as adequate forms of identification. Because federal law required young men to carry their draft cards, a young man who couldn’t produce a draft card proving that he was old enough to drink was presumed to be underage.
In September of 1966 Barney and I went our separate ways for college, he to Connecticut and I to Washington, DC. We both turned 18 during our freshman year and dutifully signed up for the national ID cards that allowed us to drink legally in some jurisdictions and to stay out of jail as long as we had them in our wallets. While many politicians today consider it so onerous to obtain a government ID that one shouldn’t be required in order to vote, such qualms didn’t bother the Commander-in-Chief or his allies in Congress who approved legislation that could send young men to prison for not getting one.
On that point, it’s worth noting that the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution had not yet been adopted, meaning men and women under the age of 21 weren’t allowed to vote, no matter how many IDs they had with them. Hundreds of thousands of conscripts in the armed services were barred by federal law from voting for or against the Commander-in-Chief under whom they were being forced to serve. On March 31, 1968 that Commander-in-Chief stunned the world by announcing that he would not seek reelection as President. Ten months later, in January of 1969, he and Lady Bird (also LBJ, as were their daughters Lynda Bird and Luci Baines) moved back to the LBJ ranch, where they famously turned their home grown cattle into Pedernales River Chili. No one who was born in 1948—like Barney and me and most of our classmates—was ever able to vote for or against Lyndon Johnson in any election. Unlike the deceased and phantom voters in Jim Wells County in 1948.