President Spock? It almost happened

December 1, 2009

Spock emerged from the 1970s (and his 70s) a radical, being arrested dozens of times at protests. He said he felt that his political activism was another way of practicing pediatrics.

The history of third-party candidates runs from Teddy Roosevelt to Ralph Nader, but one well-known figure has been mostly forgotten about as a candidate: Benjamin Spock, MD.

By the 1960s, Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care manual was on its way to selling 50 million copies. He never made much money from the book, but it allowed him to segue from running his own practice to teaching pediatrics at a series of good schools-including the Mayo Clinic, Case Western Reserve University (formerly Western Reserve University), and the University of Pittsburgh.

Politicians started coming to him for advice and to receive his blessing. His endorsements of John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were seen as pivotal moments in their presidential campaigns. Women who had raised children on Spock's advice and who were on the fence about who to vote for trusted his wisdom.

In 1968, Spock and several others were arrested on charges of conspiracy to aid men trying to avoid the draft, tried, and found guilty. Spock was looking at the possibility of a few years of jail time; however, the case was thrown out on appeal-the charges were a transparent attempt to stop lawful protest.

The continual escalation of the war made Spock cut his ties with his friends in both political parties. He was raised a Republican but veered left as an adult. In 1972, at 69 years of age, he was drafted as a presidential candidate by the new People's Party. Spock appeared on the ballot in only 10 states, and press coverage for a fringe candidate was minimal. He received just 78,000 votes.

Minimal, too, were Spock's chances of winning voters on his platform. Legalized marijuana, a limit of $50,000 on all salaries, and universal healthcare were but 3 of his planks. Even though he freely admitted to having no chance of winning, he seemed to be trying to fix all the ills of the world as he saw them.

Spock emerged from the 1970s (and his 70s) a radical, being arrested dozens of times at protests. He said he felt that his political activism was another way of practicing pediatrics: Bettering the world we give our children. Even if his argument doesn't strike home, his spirit in taking on new challenges with the energy of a doctor half his age should.