George McGovern 2016? Some Democrats Are Trying To Elect Him Again
In 1972, the favorite for the Democratic Party nomination for President was Ed Muskie, a moderate who acquitted himself well as the 1968 Democratic vice-presidential candidate. The press did not think his opponent, George McGovern, had any chance of winning. Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder gave 200–1 odds against McGovern winning. This sounds familiar.
Women for George McGovern Are People of Color For Bernie Sanders
Feminist leader Gloria Steinem was reluctant to join the McGovern campaign. Though she had brought in McGovern’s single largest campaign contributor in 1968, she “still had been treated like a frivolous pariah by much of McGovern’s campaign staff.” And in April 1972, Steinem remarked that he “still doesn’t understand the women’s movement.”
Blacks and Latinos are similarly hesitant to join the Sanders campaign. Though some are helping him, his history of subordinating racial issues and his opposition to immigration reform are not much different from the Republican Party’s.
“Amnesty, Abortion and Acid” for George McGovern is “Socialism” For Bernie Sanders
After McGovern won the Massachusetts primary, journalist Robert Novak phoned Democratic politicians around the country, who agreed with his assessment that blue-collar workers voting for McGovern did not understand what he really stood for. Novak would report in a column that an unnamed Democratic senator had talked to him about McGovern and said:
“The people don’t know McGovern is for amnesty, abortion and legalization of pot. Once middle America – Catholic middle America, in particular – finds this out, he’s dead.”
The label stuck and McGovern became known as the candidate of “amnesty, abortion and acid.” Nebraska’s former governor Frank Morrison, who was actively campaigning for McGovern, remembers ineffectively seeking to counter the effective use of the amnesty, abortion, marijuana accusation at a campaign rally Morrison recalled:
“They say that George McGovern is for the legalization of marijuana, but I say –” At this point there was thunderous applause from the younger people in the audience, which left Morrison puzzled, but when it died down, he finished, “I tell you that George McGovern does not advocate the legalization of marijuana.” This produced cries of disappointment in the audience. He continued, “They say George McGovern is for abortion on demand, but I tell you–” Again there was deafening applause, followed by sighs of regret when he finished the sentence: “But I say to you that George McGovern is against tampering with our state laws on abortion.” Afterwards, Morrison confessed to McGovern, “Maybe I’m too old to understand this new generation. I’ll get the oldsters for you, and you take care of the young ones as you think best.” McGovern won the Nebraska primary.
This is the most apt comparison to 2016. The label of Bernie Sanders as “a socialist” is already attached. The attack ads write themselves, and the press will have a field day.
While a lot of new people involved in politics is generally good (thanks Obama!), inexperience feels everyone will bends to its will no matter the empirical evidence nor procedural roadblocks. Immigration, abortion, and drugs are volatile issues in 2016. Imagine what they were in 1972? Yet, the youth and far left weren’t trying to hear that message as being debilitating in a general election because they really wanted it, and knew McGovern could deliver it to them. McGovern succeeded in winning the nomination by winning primaries through grassroots support in spite of establishment opposition. Feel the Bern! He’s going to give us free healthcare, free college, and make those rich people pay their fair share!
No Establishment Support For George McGovern Then, None For Bernie Sanders Now
Virtually all of the high-profile Democrats turned down offers to run on the McGovern ticket. The McGovern Commission changes to the convention rules in 1968 marginalized the influence of establishment Democratic figures (some of whom had lost the nomination to McGovern). Many refused to support him, with some switching their support to the incumbent President Richard Nixon through a campaign effort called “Democrats for Nixon”. This also had the effect of leaving the McGovern campaign at a significant disadvantage in funding compared to Nixon.
Bernie has decades of marginalizing the Democratic Party and its leadership. I wonder if this independent turned Democrat would be able to then get their support which means fundraising and data while forgetting his history of disparaging them? Combined with Wall Street and Silicon valley opposition to his tax plan and position on immigration restriction, Bernie will most certainly be at a fundraising disadvantage in the general election as well. Enter Democrats For Bloomberg.
Today, Democratic lawmakers are either endorsing Hillary or moving their governing agenda away from Bernie Sanders. Politicians respond to their fundraisers and their constituency in that order. They don’t see these issues as pressing because people have not indicated they were.
George McGovern Wasn’t Ready Then And Bernie Sanders Isn’t Ready Now
McGovern chose Senator Tom Eagleton of Missouri to be his Vice President. Eagleton was relatively unknown to many of the delegates. This, along with the inexperience of many of the delegates who were wary after protracted infighting, caused the vice presidential balloting to become chaotic. The delegates insisted on nominating eight candidates for Vice President, and by the time the roll call finally began, they were casting ballots for fictional characters such as Archie Bunker.
With hundreds of delegates either actively supporting Nixon or angry at McGovern for one reason or another, the vote was thus chaotic, with votes scattered over 70 candidates. The eventual winner was Eagleton, who accepted the nomination despite not personally knowing McGovern very well, and privately disagreeing with many of McGovern’s policies. The dragged out process forced the acceptance speeches of the candidates to be given well past television prime time hours probably hurting the McGovern campaign by not creating the so-called “convention bounce.”
Just over two weeks after his nomination, it was revealed that Eagleton had received electroshock therapy for clinical depression during the 1960s. He had made no mention of his earlier hospitalizations to McGovern or McGovern’s staff, and in fact decided with his wife to keep them secret from McGovern while he was flying to his first meeting with the Presidential nominee.
Eagleton had promised to bring his medical records for McGovern’s review, but he did not. He initially concealed the fact that he was on Thorazine, a powerful anti-psychotic and when he did disclose his use of the medication he noted that it couldn’t be discovered by the press because it was issued under his wife’s name. McGovern spoke to two of Eagleton’s doctors, both of whom expressed grave concerns about Eagleton’s mental health. Ultimately, a portion of Eagleton’s medical records was leaked to McGovern, at which point McGovern saw a reference to “manic depression” and “suicidal tendencies.”
Ultimately, Eagleton threatened that if McGovern tried to force him off the ticket, he would fight the move. Eagleton would finally condition his resignation stating that his health was fine and McGovern thought so as well.
After six different prominent Democrats declined to run as his vice-president, McGovern chose former Ambassador to France and former Director of the Peace Corps Sargent Shriver, a brother-in-law of John F. Kennedy. He was officially nominated by a special session of the Democratic National Committee.
McGovern’s handling of the controversy provided an opening for the Republican campaign to raise serious questions about his judgment. The Eagleton controversy also put the McGovern campaign off message and was speculated at the time to perhaps be a harbinger of what was to come.
If Elizabeth Warren is not Bernie’s Vice President, who will it be? What kind of convention bounce will Sanders get with an unknown Democrat Socialist?
The Sanders delegates will certainly be new to the Democratic Party primary process as Sanders has just recently joined the party. What will they insist from the party whose “establishment they have just overthrown” and are fundamentally at odds with? Will they work within the existing framework, or seek to radically change it.
We already know about the due dilligence the Sanders campaign exercises with the hiring and firing of the technical director who stole Clinton data. His excuse? The DNC recommended him. Whatever you think due diligence is, it can’t be that.
The Role Of Scandals
In the general, Nixon ran a campaign with an aggressive policy of keeping tabs on perceived enemies. His campaign aides committed the Watergate burglary to steal Democratic Party information during the election. While Nixon’s level of personal involvement with the burglary was never clear, his tactics during the later coverup would eventually destroy his public support after the election and lead to his resignation. The specter of this kind of controversy actually looms over Hillary with her email scandal though; similarly to Benghazi, it’s more politics than substance. Hillary Clinton has been exposed to and successful in defending against these types of attacks from Republicans for three decades. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders is being aided by Republicans in his fight against her. I wonder if it’s because of their newfound interest in free healthcare, college and “cracking down” on Wall Street.
McGovern ran on ending the Vietnam War and a guaranteed minimum incomes for the nation’s poor. Vietnam, which remained what McGovern was most passionate about, did not work for him overall; as a majority of the electorate thought that Nixon was a strong leader who would secure “peace with honor”.
McGovern, in contrast, was seen as too strident and too tied to radical elements of the anti-war movement. By 1972, Nixon’s strategy of Vietnamization had resulted in the withdrawal of most U.S. troops, without appearing to have given in to the Communists, and thus popular dissatisfaction with the war did not accrue to McGovern’s benefit. Nixon’s so-called “southern strategy” of reducing the pressure for school desegregation and otherwise restricting federal efforts on behalf of blacks had a powerful attraction to northern blue-collar workers as well as southerners while depressing the black vote.
Bernie is running on single payer health care, free college, and a “crackdown” on Wall Street. Most Americans do not support single payer health care.
On free college, most Americans support it, but a larger percentage back Hillary clinton’s more moderate plan for grants to states and colleges to make sure no student or family has to borrow money to pay for in-state tuition rather than Sanders’ more aggressive plan of tuition fees at public colleges to be abolished and replaced by state funding.
As far as Wall Street reform is concerned, Sanders proposed vice presidential running mate and fellow Wall Street reformer Elizabeth warren has actually endorsed Hillary Clinton’s plan for Wall Street regulation. Finally, Bernie’s lack of diversity due to a muffled message on racial justice will dull black and latino turnout.
George McGovern Was As Electable Then As Bernie Sanders Is Now
The general election was held on November 7. This election had the lowest voter turnout for a presidential election since 1948, with only 55 percent of the electorate voting. In the election, the McGovern/Shriver ticket suffered a 60.7 percent to 37.5 percent defeat to Nixon and Agnew. At the time, it was the second biggest landslide in American history, with Electoral College totals of 520 to 17. McGovern’s two electoral vote victories came in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.
The 1972 election was the first in American history in which a Republican candidate carried every Southern state. Nixon’s percentage of the popular vote was only slightly less than Lyndon Johnson’s record in the 1964 election, and his margin of victory was slightly larger.
A general election with Bernie as the Democratic candidate would depress turnout of the winning Obama coalition (religious and ethnic minorities as well as young people) due to the deemphasizing of their interests for a greater, more amorphous cause of “economic justice”. With Wall Street and Silicon Valley overwhelmingly aligned against Sanders, California and New York would be in play for the right Republican candidate (in my opinion Marco Rubio or John Kasich) as he would be at a huge fundraising advantage over Sanders. The South and the midwest go Republican as they demagogue Sanders wanting to raise taxes, expand government, and spend their children’s futures. That kind of messaging is hard to overcome when you’re at a fundraising disadvantage, and without the certainty of Democratic strongholds on the coasts, I don’t see a path to victory for Sanders in a general. If the Republican candidate is John Kasich or Marco Rubio, I fear Bernie Sanders will end up looking much like George McGovern.