Benjamin Spock, the nation’s most famous pediatrician and the People’s Party candidate for president, carried his antiwar message to students at Vermont’s Bennington College in September of 1972.
The 69-year-old Spock, who had spoken on hundreds of college campuses in the late sixties and early seventies, told a decent-sized audience in Bennington’s Tishman Hall that the injustices and inhumanity perpetrated by the United States in Vietnam had led him to begin speaking out against other injustices in American society.
The war in Southeast Asia had also radicalized him, he said, and led him directly into the ranks of the fledgling People’s Party — a loose coalition of left-wing parties anchored by California’s ballot-qualified Peace & Freedom Party.
Joined on the stage that evening by a young Bernie Sanders, the Liberty Union Party’s candidate for governor, and by radical lawyer and anti-establishmentarian Peter Diamondstone, who was running for attorney general, Spock told the crowd that as a 21-year-old he had voted for Republican Calvin Coolidge in 1924.
In his own defense, the famous baby doctor explained that he had cast that ballot while acting on the advice of his father, a retired railroad attorney.
Largely because of his affection for President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression, Spock later became a lifelong Democrat — at least until the late 1960s. He had even gone “all the way with LBJ” in 1964.
“I ended up a New Deal Democrat and would have been a liberal today if it hadn’t been for Vietnam,” he said.
Dressed in his customary three-piece suit with an ostentatious gold watch dangling across the front of his vest, the famous baby doctor reminded the audience that he had been indicted four years earlier along with four others, including the Reverend William Sloan Coffin, Jr., the nationally-renowned chaplain of Yale University, and Marcus Raskin of the Institute for Policy Studies — the so-called “Boston Five” — for allegedly conspiring to aid, abet, and counsel resistance to the draft.
“We’ve been poisoning crops, destroying dwellings, putting civilians in concentration camps — all violations of the Geneva Convention,” he said, “and it still angers me to think that my government tried to put me in jail for protesting this dirtiest of all wars.”
Enjoying Secret Service protection from the same government that tried to imprison him only four years earlier, Dr. Spock appeared on the ballot in ten states that autumn, garnering nearly 79,000 votes nationally, including more than 1,000 votes in the sparsely-populated Green Mountain State.