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#216: The Election of 1968

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In this 1968 black-and-white file photo, President Lyndon Johnson, right, confers with President-elect Richard Nixon in the White House in Washington
In this 1968 black-and-white file photo, President Lyndon Johnson, right, confers with President-elect Richard Nixon in the White House in Washington

STEVE EMBER: Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION - American history in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.

Nineteen sixty-eight was a presidential election year in the United States. It was also one of the saddest and most difficult years in modern American history. The nation was divided by often violent disputes about civil rights and the war in Vietnam.

President Lyndon Johnson had helped win major civil rights legislation. Yet he had also greatly expanded American involvement in the war in Vietnam. By early nineteen sixty-eight, it was almost impossible for him to leave the White House without facing anti-war protesters. Johnson wanted to seek another four-year term as president. But his popularity kept dropping as the war continued. He understood that he no longer had the support of a majority of the people. In March, he announced that he would not be a candidate.

PRESIDENT LYNDON JOHNSON: "I shall not seek, and I will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your President."

One reason Johnson decided not to seek re-election was a senator from Minnesota: Eugene McCarthy.

SENATOR EUGENE MCCARTHY: "I intend to enter the Democratic primaries in four states: Wisconsin, Oregon, California, and Nebraska. The decision with reference to Massachusetts and also New Hampshire will be made within the next two or three weeks."

McCarthy competed against Johnson in several primary elections. Primaries are held before the political parties hold their presidential nominating conventions.

Thousands of college students helped the McCarthy campaign in New Hampshire, the state that traditionally holds the nation's first primary. They told voters that their candidate would try to end the war.

SENATOR EUGENE MCCARTHY: "My decision to challenge the President's position and the administration's position has been strengthened by recent announcements out of the administration. The evident intention to escalate and to intensify the war in Vietnam, and on the other hand, the absence of any positive indication or suggestion for a compromise or for a negotiated political settlement."

Johnson won the New Hampshire primary, but McCarthy received almost forty-two percent of the vote.

After McCarthy's success, Senator Robert Kennedy of New York decided to enter the campaign. He was a brother of President John Kennedy, who had been murdered in nineteen sixty-three. Robert Kennedy had served in his brother's administration as attorney general, the nation's highest law enforcement officer.

The Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, attracted crowds of young blacks during a tour down Detroit's Twelfth Street, May 15, 1968
The Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, attracted crowds of young blacks during a tour down Detroit's Twelfth Street, May 15, 1968

Many people were pleased when Robert Kennedy announced his decision. They liked his message. He said: "I run to seek new policies -- policies to end the bloodshed in Vietnam and in our cities, policies to close the gaps that now exist between black and white, between rich and poor, between young and old, in this country and around the rest of the world."

(MUSIC)

On April fourth, nineteen sixty-eight, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Junior was shot to death in Memphis, Tennessee. Robert Kennedy informed a largely black audience in Indianapolis, Indiana, of King's death and appealed for calm.

ROBERT KENNEDY: "What we need in the United States is not division. What we need in the United States is not hatred. What we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom. And compassion toward one another. And a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black." [Crowd applause]

(MUSIC)

No words, however, could calm the anger in many black communities. Martin Luther King had peacefully led the civil rights movement. His assassination led to violence in more than one hundred cities across America. Hundreds of people were killed or injured. National Guard troops were used to help police end the riots.

After the riots, another candidate decided to join the campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. The new candidate was Vice President Hubert Humphrey.

(MUSIC)

The primary season continued. Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy tried to show voters how different they were. Many voters, however, saw little difference between their positions on major issues. Both men opposed the war in Vietnam. Both supported social reforms and civil rights.

Kennedy defeated McCarthy in the primaries in Indiana and Nebraska. McCarthy defeated Kennedy in Oregon.

The next big primary was in California. Kennedy said he would withdraw from the campaign if he did not win the primary in that important state.

Robert Kennedy won the California primary.

SENATOR ROBERT KENNEDY: "My thanks to all of you. And now, it's on to Chicago and let's win there." [Cheering]

He might have gone on to win his party's nomination for president. And perhaps he might have even won the presidency, just like his brother John.

But Americans would never know.

[Gun-shot from Mutual Broadcasting System coverage of Kennedy shooting]

MUTUAL REPORTER ANDREW WEST [Reporting Live]: "Senator Kennedy has been shot. Is that possible? Senator Kennedy has been shot, possibly shot in the head. [Crowd commotion] I am right here, and Rafer Johnson has a hold of a man who apparently has fired the shot. He still has the gun. The gun is pointed at me..."

Robert Kennedy was shot at the Los Angeles hotel where he had just given his victory speech after the California primary. He died a few hours later. The man who shot him worked at the hotel. Sirhan Sirhan was a Palestinian refugee. He said he blamed Robert Kennedy for the problems of the Palestinians.

(MUSIC)

America's two major political parties held their nominating conventions in the summer of nineteen sixty-eight. The Republicans met first. They gathered in Miami Beach, Florida. And it was soon clear which candidate had the most support.

Richard Nixon had been the Republican nominee in nineteen sixty. He lost to John Kennedy. Eight years later, Nixon was a strong candidate to win the nomination again. The other candidates were Ronald Reagan, the governor of California, and Nelson Rockefeller, the governor of New York.

A huge banner reading "Nixon's the one" is stretched across Chestnut Street in Philadelphia in September, 1968, during the reception for the Republican presidential candidate. Pat Nixon rode in the car with her husband
A huge banner reading "Nixon's the one" is stretched across Chestnut Street in Philadelphia in September, 1968, during the reception for the Republican presidential candidate. Pat Nixon rode in the car with her husband

On the first ballot, Nixon received more than twice as many votes as Rockefeller. Reagan was far behind. Most of the delegates then gave their support to Nixon, and he accepted the nomination.

Spiro Agnew, the governor of Maryland, became the nominee for vice president.

The Democratic convention was very different from the Republican one. The Democrats were the party in power. Protests against the war in Vietnam were aimed at them.

SOUND: Chicago crowds chanting "Peace Now"

Thousands of anti-war protesters gathered in Chicago where the Democratic convention took place.

SOUND: More crowd noise + MUSIC

The city's mayor, Richard Daley, ordered the police to deal with them severely. Many of the young protesters were beaten.

The Federal Government later ordered an investigation. The report said the riots in Chicago were a result of the actions of the police themselves.

Inside the convention building, the delegates voted for their nominee. They did not choose the candidate who had done so well in the early primaries, Eugene McCarthy. Instead, they chose the more traditional candidate, Hubert Humphrey.

VICE PRESIDENT HUBERT HUMPHREY: "Surely, we have now learned the lesson that violence breeds counter-violence, and it cannot be condoned, whatever the source."

The vice presidential candidate was Edmund Muskie, a senator from Maine.

In the general election campaign, Nixon and Humphrey both supported American involvement in Vietnam. But both of them also talked about finding ways to end the conflict. And they talked about finding ways to end the social unrest in the United States.

Many voters saw little difference between the two candidates.

A third candidate in the race was the governor of Alabama, George Wallace. As governor, Wallace opposed federal efforts to end racial separation in the South. He attempted to block the court-ordered registration of two black students at the University of Alabama in nineteen sixty-three. At that time, the university accepted only white students. The two were later admitted under federal protection.

Wallace campaigned as the candidate of the American Independent Party. He denounced the federal courts as well as communism and what he called the "eastern establishment" in the United States. Many conservative, working-class Americans agreed with him and supported his campaign.

About six weeks before Election Day, public opinion surveys showed that Nixon and Humphrey were very close. Nixon's major problem was his past. He had made enemies during his early political life. Humphrey's major problem was his current job as vice president to an increasingly unpopular president.

About a month before the election, Humphrey said the United States would halt bombing in North Vietnam. But President Johnson did not give the order until four days before the election. Humphrey later said the delay had damaged his campaign beyond repair.

On Election Day, Richard Nixon won, but not by much in the popular vote. George Wallace won five states and finished a distant third.

Nixon would become president. It was a job he had wanted for a long time.

RICHARD NIXON: "I saw many signs in this campaign; some of them were not friendly, some were very friendly. But the one that touched me the most was one that I saw in Deshler, Ohio, at the end of a long day of whistle-stopping. A teenager held up a sign, 'Bring us together'. And that will be the great objective of this administration at the outset, to bring the American people together."

(MUSIC)

And it was a presidency that would change America and the world for years to come. The Nixon presidency will be our story next week.

(MUSIC)

You can find our series online with transcripts, MP3s, podcasts and pictures at www.unsv.com. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English. I'm Steve Ember, inviting you to join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- American history in VOA Special English.

___

This was program #216.

1968年是总统大选年,而这一年也是美国现代史上最艰难的岁月之一。民权运动引起的暴力分歧和旷日持久的越南战争,让整个国家陷入分歧。当时的总统林登.约翰逊在促成民权立法方面起了重要的作用,但他同时也显著扩大了美国在越战中的参与程度。到1968年初的时候,他几乎每次离开白宫,都会遇到抗议示威的反战者。

约翰逊总统原本希望竞选连任,但随着越战战事的扩大,他的民众支持率也不断下滑。他清楚地看到,自己已经失去了大多数人的支持,所以3月份的时候,约翰逊宣布,不会参选连任。他说:"我不会寻求参选连任,也不接受我所在政党的提名。"

约翰逊决定不参选的主要原因跟一名来自明尼苏达州的参议员有关,他的名字叫尤金.麦卡锡。麦卡锡说:"我将参加四个州的民主党初选,它们分别是威斯康辛、俄勒冈、加利福尼亚和内布拉斯加。我将在今后两到三个星期内宣布是否参加麻萨诸塞州和新罕布什尔州的初选。"

麦卡锡在几个州的初选中与约翰逊对决。这些初选是政党总统提名的风向标。数以千计的大学生在新罕布什尔州为麦卡锡助选,传统上,新罕布什尔州是美国第一个举行初选的州。这些大学生告诉选民们,麦卡锡将努力从越战中抽身。麦卡锡说:"政府最新宣布的政策,更坚定了我挑战约翰逊总统和美国政府立场的决心。一方面,政府明显倾向于扩大和加深越战,另一方面,我们完全看不到任何通过协商、或是谈判政治解决分歧的意愿。"

约翰逊赢得了新罕布什尔州的初选,但是麦卡锡赢得了将近42%的选票。麦卡锡作出出色表现后,来自纽约州的参议员罗伯特.肯尼迪也决定参加竞选。他是1963年被暗杀的乔治.肯尼迪总统的弟弟。罗伯特.肯尼迪曾在肯尼迪政府中担任司法部长。

很多美国人欢迎罗伯特.肯尼迪参选,他们支持他的竞选声明。罗伯特说:"我将谋求新政策,结束越南和我们城市里的流血,铲除美国、乃至世界各地普遍存在的黑人与白人,穷人与富人,青年人和老年人之间的鸿沟。"

1968年4月4日,美国民权运动领袖马丁.路德.金在田纳西的孟菲斯遇刺身亡。罗伯特.肯尼迪在印地安那州的印第安纳波利斯对一批黑人听众讲话,谈到马丁.路德.金的死,并呼吁大家保持冷静。

罗伯特.肯尼迪说:"美国需要的不是分裂,美国需要的不是仇恨。美国需要的不是暴力和混乱。美国需要的是爱和智慧,是相互同情,是为那些陷于困境的人寻求公正,不管他们是黑人还是白人。"

然而,任何语言都无法平息黑人社区的愤怒。马丁.路德.金生前通过和平手段推动民权运动,但是他的暗杀却使美国100多个城市出现了暴力。数百人被杀或受伤。政府动用国民警卫队协助镇压暴乱。暴乱过后,又有一位候选人加入了民主党总统候选人提名的竞争,他就是当时的副总统休伯特.汉弗莱。

初选继续展开。麦卡锡和罗伯特.肯尼迪试图让选民了解他们的不同。然而,很多选民觉得这两个候选人在主要议题上的立场大同小异。两人都反对越战,都支持社会改革和民权运动。肯尼迪在印地安纳和内布拉斯加州的初选中获胜,而麦卡锡在俄勒冈州击败了肯尼迪。

初选的下一个重要战场是加利福尼亚州。肯尼迪说,如果他在加州失利,就将退出选举。结果,肯尼迪赢得了加州初选。肯尼迪说:"感谢大家。让我们把目光转向芝加哥,让我们赢得芝加哥。"

罗伯特.肯尼迪原本有可能赢得党内提名,原本有可能像他哥哥一样当上总统。但是没有人能确切地知道,因为罗伯特.肯尼迪在洛杉矶遭到了枪杀。

当时播出的一段新闻说:"肯尼迪参议员中弹了。这是真的吗?肯尼迪参议员中弹了,可能是被击中头部。我现在就在事发现场,拉菲尔.约翰逊抓住了开枪的男子,他仍然拿着枪,枪正指着我......"

罗伯特.肯尼迪在洛杉矶的一个旅馆里遭到枪击,当时他刚刚做完赢得加州初选的胜选感言。25小时后,罗伯特.肯尼迪被宣布死亡。袭击他的枪手是一名巴勒斯坦难民,此人反对肯尼迪支持以色列的立场。尽管如此,大选还要继续。民主、共和两党1968年夏天各自举行总统候选人提名的全国代表大会。

共和党代表大会首先在佛罗里达州的迈阿密海滩举行。1960年共和党总统提名时,理查德.尼克松就曾是人选之一,结果输给了约翰.肯尼迪。时隔8年,尼克松再次成为有望获得提名的人选。其他参选人包括加州州长罗纳德.里根和纽约州州长纳尔逊.洛克菲勒。

第一轮投票,尼克松获得的票数是洛克菲勒的两倍,里根远远落在两人后面。此后,绝大多数代表都支持尼克松,而他也接受了总统提名。马里兰州长斯皮罗.阿格纽赢得了共和党的副总统提名。

相比之下,民主党提名大会混乱得多。民主党是执政党,是反战示威者批评的对象。数以千计的反战者聚集在民主党全国代表大会举办地─芝加哥。芝加哥市长理查德.戴利下令警察严惩示威者。很多示威的年轻人被殴打。联邦政府后来下令调查。调查报告说,芝加哥的暴乱是警方自身行为所造成的。

同时,在会议大楼里,代表们投票推举民主党总统候选人。他们没有选择在初选中成绩卓越的麦肯锡,而是选择了更加传统的候选人休伯特.汉弗莱。汉弗莱说:"我们现在明白,暴力只会带来更多的暴力,不管原因是什么,暴力都不能被宽恕。"

民主党副总统候选人是缅因州参议员埃德蒙.马斯基。在总统大选中,尼克松和汉弗莱都支持美国参与越战,但是两人也都谈到了寻找途径结束越战,谈到要寻找方式来结束美国的社会动荡。很多选民看不到这两个人在政策方面有什么不同。

总统大选角逐中的另一名候选人是阿拉巴马州州长乔治.华莱士。担任州长时,华莱士反对联邦政府在南部结束种族隔离的举措。1963年,他曾不顾法院裁决,试图阻止两名黑人学生在阿拉巴马大学登记注册。那时候,这所大学只招收白人学生。这两个黑人学生后来是在联邦警察的保护下入学的。

华莱士做为美国独立党候选人参选。他谴责联邦法院、谴责共产主义,谴责他所谓的在美国的"东方阵营"。美国很多保守派和工薪阶层都支持他的观点。大选6周前的民调显示,尼克松和汉弗莱不相上下。尼克松的主要问题是他的过去,他在政治生涯早期树敌太多。而汉弗莱的主要障碍是,做为副总统,约翰逊总统不受欢迎让他受了牵连。

大选一个月前,汉弗莱说,美国将停止对北越的轰炸,但是直到大选前四天,约翰逊总统才最终下达命令。汉弗莱说,这对他的选战造成了不可挽回的损害。竞选日当天,尼克松以微弱优势获胜。华莱士赢了五个州,位居第三。尼克松终于当选总统,这是他梦寐以求的。

尼克松说:"在竞选中我看到很多迹象,有些不太友好,有些十分友好。但是最触动我的还是在俄亥俄州的德什勒,经过一天的漫长竞选后,我看到一名年轻人举着个牌子,上面写着"凝聚我们"。这就是我们新政府的目标,我们要努力把美国人民重新凝聚起来。"这次大选改变了美国和世界。

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