Is it déjà vu all over again?

It is late February of a presidential election year in America.  A time when a few primaries are over, but still many months before the nominating conventions in the summer.

America is divided.  In the last four presidential elections, two have been won by Democrats and two by Republicans.  One of those presidents ran on a platform to get us out of war; another got us into a new war.  The country is torn apart not only by foreign policy, but also by domestic unrest.  Last year, amid charges of discrimination and police brutality, there were riots and arson in a major American city that required the National Guard to restore order.  Many people predict more civil unrest to come.  And this despite the last seven years of a Democratic administration in Washington.

On the campaign trail, the Republican presidential candidate from the last election is sitting this one out.  The establishment candidates in the race are primarily challenged by a non-Washington newcomer to politics.  He had a very successful career as a negotiator, entertainer, and television personality and was actually a Democrat in earlier years.

For the Democrats, the presumptive candidate, far from coasting to victory, is challenged by a liberal northern senator who surprised everyone with his vote totals in the New Hampshire primary after energizing young voters.  The presumptive candidate no longer seems invincible.

And because of dissatisfaction with both parties, there's even talk that a third party-candidate may emerge.  No one can predict what impact that may have on the election.

So what year are we talking about?  2016?  Yes, all of this is true this year.  But every point is also true of another election year of our past, and one that resulted in a major political upheaval: 1968.

At this point in 1968, incumbent Lyndon Johnson suffered a psychological, if not a statistical, defeat in New Hampshire at the hands of Minnesota senator Eugene McCarthy, who was running on an anti-Vietnam War platform.  While Dwight Eisenhower successfully campaigned to end the war in Korea, Democrat Johnson committed us deeply into Vietnam.

For the Republicans, the 1964 nominee, Barry Goldwater, sat this one out.  However, his ill-fated campaign inspired another westerner, Ronald Reagan, to enter politics.  Former Democrat, union leader, and movie and television star, Reagan had just become governor of California in 1967, and he was already challenging the political philosophy of Eastern establishment Republicans such as Nelson Rockefeller and former senator and vice president Richard Nixon.

Detroit was the city on fire the year before, in 1967, and the rumors were starting to spread that former Alabama governor George Wallace might mount a third-party campaign in protest of the Johnson domestic civil rights programs.

The point of all this is not to predict that, as in 1968, the winner in 2016 will be the Republican nominee.  The real point of this comparison is this: we may not have seen anything yet!  Consider all of the dramatic events that happened after this point in 1968.

Seeing what happened in New Hampshire, Robert Kennedy entered the Democratic presidential race in mid-March, and Lyndon Johnson gave up his inevitable candidacy at the end of that month.  Following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in April, many American cities, including Washington, D.C., were under siege with civil unrest and riots.  Then Robert Kennedy was assassinated in early June.  When the Democrats went to their convention in Chicago that August, the world saw Mayor Richard J. Daley unleash his police and police dogs on the young protesters, and the severally battered party emerged with the incumbent vice president, Hubert Humphrey, as its candidate.

Ronald Reagan received only 14% of the delegates on the first vote of the Republican convention, and Reagan and Rockefeller combined were not enough to deny Richard Nixon the nomination.  So the establishment did win – that one.  The third-party candidacy of George Wallace also did emerge.  Wallace received 14% of the popular vote and 46 electoral votes in 1968, which most historians agree was instrumental in releasing the Southern states from the Democratic New Deal coalition and starting to turn them from blue to red.  All in all, a momentous election that could not in any way have been predicted in February 1968.

So, as Yogi Berra profoundly phrased it, "It ain't over 'til it's over."