Democrats & Liberals Archives

McGovern '04?

The spectre of George McGovern hangs over the 2004 presidential race, but not where most of the commentary would place it. In 1972, there was anger in the air, anger against the Establishment from the far left. There was a candidate of the peace movement who appealed to the far left but didn’t have the support of some of the big-money constituencies. The war was said to be almost over, so even many who opposed the war didn’t vote for him. He went through a debacle when his running mate was revealed to have been treated for mental illness. He lost in one of the most lopsided presidential elections since George Washington. Today, there’s a pseudo-war dragging on even though “major combat operations” have been over for some time, and a candidate who first gained attention for dissent on the war is moving toward the position of front-runner, without the blessing of some of the big-money constituencies.

But the similarities pretty much end there.

Dean is neither a pacifist nor a far-left extremist, only a candidate willing to talk to the far left. His fundraising for the first quarter was respectable, if not equal to that of the candidates from the Senate. The current nominating process is a better test-run for the general campaign than the nominating process of '72. And Howard Dean won't choose an Eagleton as his running mate.

So why do I say that the spectre of McGovern hangs over the race? It's the one parallel I didn't mention: anger in the air. The mainstream media doesn't acknowledge it directly, but it's there. We, the far left, have not forgotten that Bush "won" by heading off efforts to have the vote counted in Florida when the machines gave him a margin of victory well within their margin of error. We remember the exit polls and the butterfly ballots. We're mad as h***. That's the spirit that raises the spectre of McGovern: the fear that we'll be energized enough to pull the primary our way.

But this time, we don't want to just get mad. We want to get even. We don't want a far-left candidate. We want a president inaugurated in 2005 who isn't named Bush. It's a losing issue: turning the anger into attention to the issue is a recipe for a McGovern candidacy. To avoid that in 2002, the Alchemist's Apprentices in charge of the Democratic Party managed to transmute anger into despair and apathy. In the run-up to 2004, Howard Dean is turning anger into energy. He's not telling us he's one of us, and I'm glad of that. We don't want to just win in the primary. We want to win next November.

Posted by dsws at June 27, 2003 11:25 PM