George McGovern’s Shining Moment

It is eerily fitting that George McGoverns passing occurred in the final heat of a furious election campaign, precariously balanced between Republocrats and Democlicans, two corporately owned political parties.

The corporate media can try to fan the public pulse with staged debates and meaningless news of polls and money raised. But it’s apparent that on issues from corporate welfare to labor rights, from the vast military-industry complex, to the rape of the Earth, there’s merely, at best, a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties.

George McGovern’s failed 1972 presidential bid was significant because it was born on the wings of a vast grassroots conspiracy of campaigners. Long before the Internet emerged, these assiduous organizers phoned, canvassed, went door to door, and ran slates of delegates to the Democratic convention. It was the last gasp of an attempt to reclaim the Democratic Party for women, youth, gays, blacks, liberals, and other progressive Americans.

dddaag/Flickr

dddaag/Flickr

This push for real democracy started in 1968 with Eugene McCarthy’s candidacy to end the war in Vietnam. It suffered severe blows at Mayor Richard J. Daley’s Chicago Democratic convention in the form of ugly police brutality against students and youth protesting the war in Vietnam and the fixing of convention rules to favor the party bosses.

With renewed determination, the New Democratic Coalition was formed across America in 1968. It aimed to change the rules of the party and capture the 1972 nomination for a peace candidate who would finally end the war in Vietnam and address civil rights, poverty, human rights, and true national security — the liberal progressive agenda.

When George McGovern announced his candidacy, he promised to address our issues. He also pledged to reform the rules of the nominating process, which had utterly failed to reflect the support that Eugene McCarthy had garnered in the primaries leading up to the 1968 Chicago convention.

I went up and down my block in Massapequa, Long Island, as part of an army of canvassers to ensure that those who supported us voted in the Democratic primary. The establishment media rarely reported on our work. They predicted that Edmund Muskie would be the nominee. What a great surprise when our elected delegates showed up at the Miami Convention in 1972 with youth, women, blacks, Latinos, gays — a broad swath of progressive America — to nominate George McGovern!

The energy was electric as movie stars mingled with peace activists, civil rights workers, women’s libbers, the gay community, and activists of every other shade and stripe. By capturing the nomination we thought we’d proved that the political process worked.

What an awful letdown, then, to see how the establishment fought back. The mainstream media never wrote about McGovern’s forward looking platform for peace and prosperity and hounded him for choosing Senator Thomas Eagleton of Missouri to run as his running mate who was later discovered to have been hospitalized for a bipolar episode many years earlier. Although McGovern replaced Eagleton with Sargent Shriver, the press was relentlessly opposed to his platform and never reported on his WWII fighter pilot record, his outstanding values, or his creative ideas for ending poverty in America and ending the Vietnam War. They tarred him as a “hippie”, tainted by his supporters. He won only Massachusetts and Washington, DC.

The establishment has guarded against a true people’s choice like this ever since. We’ve never had another nominating process conducted as openly and democratically as the one that nominated George McGovern. Today, events are carefully staged-managed, designed not to upset corporate sponsors, and filtered through the corporate media, with Americans left in the dark.

McGovern’s nomination was a shining moment for a democratic political process and also, sadly, a signal to the enemies of democracy to close ranks and do everything in their power to never allow it to happen again.

Alice Slater is a founder of Abolition 2000, working for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. www.abolition2000.org