Why you should care
Because you can’t understand today’s candidates without listening to yesterday’s.
Learn more about the men and women who have run the ultimate political gauntlet in pursuit of the most powerful job on Earth by watching The Contenders: 16 for ’16, a new TV series from OZY airing every Tuesday at 8 p.m. EST this fall on PBS.
Historian Howard Zinn once said “the most revolutionary act one can engage in is to tell the truth.” In the case of Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress, and war hero Sen. John McCain, being a straight talker came with political consequences.
The daughter of working class Caribbean immigrants, the Brooklyn-born Chisholm was a trailblazer from the start, earning a master’s degree in education at Columbia University before being elected to the U.S. Congress in 1968, just three years after the passage of the U.S. Voting Rights Act. And she was not afraid to shake things up. The “unbought and unbossed” leader was an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War and a vocal supporter of civil rights and women’s rights, even hiring an all-female congressional staff.
With her landmark 1972 run for president, Chisholm—the first woman to run for the Democratic nomination and the first major-party African American presidential candidate—encountered opposition from across the political spectrum, including from black male political leaders and mostly white feminist leaders. But her bold candidacy would forever alter the nation’s view of what a presidential candidate should look and sound like.
While Chisholm was confronting opponents and challenging stereotypes back home, naval aviator John McCain was fighting for his life as a prisoner of war after his plane was shot down in 1967 while on a bombing mission over Hanoi in the Vietnam War. After refusing early release and enduring episodes of torture, McCain, the son and grandson of two Navy admirals, returned home in 1973, and would embark on a national political career during the 1980s, earning a reputation as a political “maverick” for his willingness to buck his own Republican party on a variety of issues as a congressman and senator from Arizona.
As a senator respected on both sides of the aisle, McCain embarked on his first presidential campaign during the 2000 election, setting off aboard his famous “Straight Talk Express” and defeating Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the early favorite for the Republican nomination, handily in the New Hampshire primary. McCain would eventually lose the fiercely-fought primary contest and nomination to Bush but would return to the campaign trail eight years later in 2008 to secure the nomination, and demonstrate his maverick credential yet again with the selection of Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate, before losing in the general election to the historic campaign of Barack Obama.