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  McGovern Redux
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ContributorCraverguy 
Last EditedCraverguy  Jul 27, 2009 01:58pm
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CategoryReview
AuthorTimothy Noah
MediaNewspaper - New York Times
News DateSunday, November 11, 2007 08:00:00 AM UTC0:0
DescriptionIt’s an article of faith among many centrist Democrats (and nearly all Republicans) that the Democratic Party blundered badly in 1972 when it nominated George McGovern for president. Bruce Miroff’s wise and informative book The Liberals’ Moment invites a peek through the telescope’s opposite end. Miroff, a political science professor at the State University of New York at Albany, reminds us gently that the real blunder was committed by the 47 million voters who re-elected Richard Nixon in a 49-state landslide.

But wasn’t McGovern a dangerous radical? During the 1972 campaign, the columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak tagged him “the Barry Goldwater of the left” and quoted one of McGovern’s fellow Senate Democrats complaining about his support for “amnesty, abortion and legalization of pot.” The unnamed critic, Novak revealed in his recently published memoirs — too late for Miroff to include in this book — was Senator Tom Eagleton of Missouri (then supporting McGovern’s primary opponent, Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine). By a twist of fate, McGovern would later choose Eagleton for his running mate, by which time the anonymous wisecrack had been refined into the widely repeated Republican epithet that McGovern was “the candidate of the three A’s: acid, amnesty and abortion.”

In retrospect, however, a McGovern victory probably would have benefited Republicans at least as much as it would have the Democrats. Vietnam was the dominant (indeed, virtually the only) issue of the election. McGovern pledged to bring the troops home, but it’s doubtful President McGovern could have halted the war more precipitously than Nixon, who yanked the last combat soldiers from Vietnam a mere four months after his re-election. As for the three A’s, McGovern did not favor legalizing marijuana, let alone acid (though he proposed, sensibly, that possession of small amounts of marijuana be treated as a misdemeanor). Abortion was not, McGovern
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