Friday, February 10, 2006

McGovern and the Presidential Campaign of 1968

The delightfully named James Taranto writes about a recent speech by a long-ago Presidential candidate:
The delightfully named ex-politician George McGovern, who lost the 1972 presidential election in a landslide, showed up yesterday in Corte Madera, Calif., and the Marin Independent Journal covered the speech in an article headlined "McGovern Gets the Last Laugh." According to the paper, McGovern sounded "like the kind of wise old sage he wishes the current occupant of the White House would listen to":
Despite a decisive defeat, his Vietnam War-era campaign--the subject of the recent documentary "One Bright Shining Moment"--will be remembered for bringing disenfranchised hippies, blacks, peace protesters and feminists into the Democratic fold on a platform of peace and social justice.

On Thursday, McGovern didn't have to remind anyone that Nixon, his old nemesis, ended up resigning in disgrace over the Watergate scandal.

"I went to Richard Nixon's funeral," he reminisced, "and as I listened to the various views being offered that day, the thought went through my mind that, even from his personal standpoint, he'd have been better off if I had won."
OK, so McGovern was in some sense vindicated by Nixon's resignation--and by the next two elections. In 1974 the McGovernized Democrats made substantial gains in both the House and Senate, to which they added slightly in 1976. In 1977 a Democrat became president and the 93rd Congress began, with Democrats holding 61 Senate and 292 House seats.

But it's been all downhill since then. Republicans made gains in 1978, and in neither house of Congress have the Democrats equaled their 1977 peak. The GOP has won five of the past seven presidential elections, and no Democratic candidate since 1976 has received a majority of the popular vote. In 1980 Ronald Reagan won the White House and the GOP took the Senate. Among the Democratic senators defeated that year was one George McGovern of South Dakota. Fourteen years later the Republicans took both houses of Congress.
I've posted about the long decline of the modern Democratic party before. Unlike Mr. Taranto I date it back to at least 1968.

But it is interesting to see people hailing the inclusion into the party the very elements (disenfranchised hippies) that have brought it to present sad estate. (Hey, why were those hippies disenfranchised?)

So what are the 1968 roots of McGovern's rise? (via Wikipedia)
At the 1968 Democratic National Convention, McGovern stood as the flagbearer for some of the supporters of the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy, losing the Presidential nomination to Hubert H. Humphrey, and coming in behind Minnesota Senator Eugene J. McCarthy as well.

However, during the convention a motion was passed to establish a commission to reform the Democratic Party nomination process. [White pp. 17-20] In 1969 McGovern was named chairman of this Reform Commission; due to the influence of former McCarthy and Kennedy supporters on the staff, the commission significantly reduced the role of party officials and insiders in the nomination process, increased the role of caucuses and primaries, and mandated quotas for proportional black, women, and youth delegate representation. [White pp. 24-33]

These changes eventually facilitated McGovern's successful own nomination at the 1972 Convention.

The rules reforms that began in that commission eventually led to the reduction of non-committed convention delegates. This led to the absolute necessity of candidates showing strong gains in the earliest primaries and caucuses (Iowa and New Hampshire.)

Though these gains did open up the process and reduce the influence of the "smoke-filled rooms." It increased the influence of crackpot spoiler candidates who could say irresponsible things and sweep the earliest contests. Instead of a Robert F. Kennedy entering a Presidential campaign six months before the convention, we have Al Sharpton stumping for the Iowa caucuses one year before the convention.

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