Are we reliving 1972’s drama?

GEORGE McGOVERN (third from left) during his Senate tenure (Shutterstock).

A sort of a case of déjà voodoo.

It happened in the midst of a contentious and divisive presidential campaign. The incumbent president is involved in activities that will raise the specter of impeachment. The opposition party is divided, but impacted by a youth movement  fascinated by a quirky older man believed by many to be just a little too far left.

Welcome back to the future. It’s 1972 again.

For those of you who were not around way back then, the president was the always-controversial Richard Nixon, the Democrats’ favorite villain. But the war in Vietnam was winding down and the economy was doing OK, so a united Republican Party was feeling pretty good about its prospects.

The Democrats, as usual, could not agree on what time of day it was. The “old guard” of Hubert Humphrey, Ed Muskie, and Henry Jackson was the “establishment” wing of the party, while on the left were 1968’s liberal heroes Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern.

Now, George, for some reason, was the favorite of many college-age student types recently awarded the right to vote at age 18 by the 26th Amendment. In retrospective, their romance with him is difficult to fathom. He was a balding senator with thin legislative accomplishments from a small state (South Dakota).

George’s chief appeal seemed to be his opposition to the war in Vietnam. The peace candidate was a former World War II pilot who flew B-24 bombers on missions not all that different from the ones being flown in Indochina during the election.

McGovern had run for the Democratic nomination in 1968 as a surrogate for assassinated Sen. Robert Kennedy. He lost and the political split between the center and the left of that party may have been crucial in Nixon’s victory.

Now the senator was back four years later and became the focus of a youth movement promising to transform the nation and – among other things – eliminate the influence of big money and “the establishment.”

He defeated a former Democratic vice president and become the party’s nominee, taking with him a platform considered by many to be radical.

The Republicans quickly dubbed the Democrats to be the party of “Acid, Amnesty and Abortion.” They took Mr. McGovern’s past statements and sketchy economic plans – giving every American $1000 – and hammered him day and night.

McGovern, a decent man with noble sentiments – if perhaps a bit too sentimental – lost by a landslide, winning only 37.5 percent of the popular vote, the worst by any party in more than a century.

He was unable to carry even his own state. The youth vote, which he predicted would surge him into the White House, was thin and divided; only 52 percent of young voters cast ballots and he underestimated the turnout of the 18-30 cohort by more than 50 percent.

Does history repeat itself? Not always, but often enough to give one that strange unsettled feeling when watching today’s dramas unfold.

Jim Tortolano’s Retorts is posted on alternate




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