When George McGovern died at 90 over the weekend, liberals were guaranteed to remember him as if 1972 were yesterday. Slate’s Ron Rosenbaum wrote an article titled "George McGovern was a winner: His 1972 campaign was the most lopsided loss in presidential history. But this man was no loser.”
Rosenbaum wants to run through the potentialities that could have led to a glorious McGovern victory in ’72. Rosenbaum says McGovern talked of "the role of the media, which basically took over presidential politics that year with the advent of the self-regarding 'Boys on the Bus' campaigning mode." Rosenbaum was on that press bus:
Don’t get me wrong, I was on the bus, and I’m a big fan of Timothy Crouse’s book by the same name (wherein I’m mentioned). And I think Crouse was right on the money in recognizing he was witnessing a kind of transfer of power from the politicos to the media big shots who would forever after determine the narratives of the campaigns.
The revisionist history narrative continues:
What if those smart aggressive print reporters had treated the campaign less like an all-expenses-paid tour of America, and had instead followed Woodward and Bernstein’s leads? What if the illegal break-in, burglary, and wiretapping “plumbers' squad” had come to light before the November election? What if the link between the Watergate break-in and the Nixon White House had been made clear—along with the dirty money, cover-up payments, and the rest lurking beneath the surface? You never know. But when it did come out, Nixon fled the White House in disgrace. Wouldn’t he have fled the campaign if the dirty illegal acts he ordered had been revealed?
He wrote that he blames Woodward and Bernstein for not making the connection sooner to allow McGovern to win, but “their achievement remains heroic.” Nevertheless, he ends his column insinuating that McGovern was a “victim” during the 1972 election.
I do feel that McGovern had a case that he shouldn’t be portrayed as a loser, but a victim. Not even a noble loser because that sends a message that all morally driven politics is destined to fail nobly. He was the victim of a crook and liar covering up an illegal war killing our own people and countless innocent Asian peasants. He was the misfortune of competing against a man who had no regard for the Constitution he had sworn to defend.
Looking back now on my phone conversation with McGovern, I think I thought at the time he was being unrealistic. If so, I was wrong.
I think George McGovern deserves to be remembered as a winner.
It’s ironic. For all of Rosenbaum’s slamming of how the press really didn’t go after Nixon hard enough, he fails to mention his vice presidential fiasco or any of McGovern’s other gaffes that made him look unpresidential and unserious.
During the 1972 race, McGovern’s original running mate, Thomas Eagleton, was exposed as being mentally unstable. The threshold question from the American people to any candidates running on a major party ticket is do I trust this person, or persons, with nuclear weapons? With Eagleton’s history of electroshock therapy for bouts of clinical depression, I bet many American would have balked. Was McGovern a victim when he said he backed Eagleton “1000 percent” upon the revelation of Eagleton’s mental state? That statement became a sticky wicket for McGovern as many saw it as cavalier and inauthentic.
Was McGovern a victim when his positions led him to be labeled the “amnesty, abortion, and acid” candidate after Robert Novak phoned Democratic politicians from across the country after his Massachusetts primary win. It is said that “an unnamed Democratic senator…said of McGovern: ‘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.” Oddly enough, it was eventually revealed that the "unnamed Democratic senator," who delivered that quote, was Sen. Eagleton himself – which Novak admitted after the senator's death in 2007.
In the end, Democrats agreed with Novak’s “assessment that blue-collar workers voting for McGovern did not understand what he really stood for.” Yep, Richard Nixon really put the hurting on McGovern – or was it his insufferable liberalism that led to his slaughter at the polls?