by Jeff Siegel
Somewhere, George McGovern must be smiling.
Bomber George, as he is fondly remembered, was the Democratic presidential candidate in 1972. The convention that nominated him in Miami Beach was everything that I love about democracy – full of arguing and shouting and disagreeing and maneuvering. The delegates argued about nominating McGovern, then a Senator from South Dakota. They argued about nominating Tom Eagleton, a Senator from Missouri, as his running mate. There was so much ruckus, in fact, that McGovern didn't make his acceptance speech until after 2 a.m.
Was it great television? Nope. Was it a healthy exercise of the franchise? Most undoubtedly, so it had to go.
The party bosses were aghast at what happened (even Archie Bunker got a vote for vice president). They vowed never to let this happen again – especially after McGovern suffered one of the worst defeats ever, losing to Richard Nixon by 503 electoral votes. Post-McGovern, conventions became scripted, prime-time entertainment events that ran more to schedule than the Academy Awards. The idea? Not just put the nominee's best foot forward, but sculpt him in an angelic light, all sweetness and middle-class tax cuts.
Fast forward 36 years. The convention system – with its primaries and caucuses – is dying, its arteries hardened by a steady diet of the fast food equivalent of political marketing. The republic needs a debate about the issues; instead we get a super-sized order of quarter-pounders with cheese, fries and a Coke. There's a 1,300-word Washington Post story detailing Saturday's Nevada's Democratic caucus results, and in almost none of it is explained the results in terms of the Iraq War, the economy, health insurance, and immigration. Instead, it focused on polling minutiae. The story says more women voted for Hillary Clinton, but doesn't bother to explain why.
Is it any wonder that fewer and fewer people care about this stuff? Why would they, given what's on the menu?
The idea – and the media play into it by focusing on the horse race and not the issues – is not to nominate a candidate, but to nominate one as quickly as possible. (For more on this, please see "The Iowa Caucuses: How Not to Crown the Next Emperor or Empress.") Don't make waves, don't give the other guy something to smear you with, and save your cash for the general election. When that doesn't happen, like this year, everyone is baffled. The New York Times, which declared Clinton the winner before the primary season started and hopped on the Mike Huckabee bandwagon so quickly it probably hurt itself, published two stories in the last week puzzling over this development. In the second, talking about John McCain, it said:
In almost any other year, a victory like this — particularly in a state with a history of backing the eventual Republican nominee — would send the winner hurtling down the road toward the nomination.
But perhaps not this year, and perhaps not this candidate.
Gee, no fooling? You don't think that's actually why we vote, do you?
Is it too late for McGovern* to get into the race?
For those who want more background on the campaign, please check these archival posts:
- "Iowa: Stopping Hillary Clinton's Juggernaut;"
- "New Hampshire: Barack Obama's Latest Hope;"
- "Campaign 2008: Mainstream Media Take a Deep Breath;"
- "Mike Huckabee, Texas Ranger;"
- "Mitt Romney: Faith in Politics 2008; and
- "Giuliani, Obama & the Politics of Fear."
(Political graphic of many of the major Republican presidential candidates © copyright DarkBlack and used with permission. For more material like this, please see DarkBlack's blog.)
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