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  McGovern-Humphrey Primary Debate #2
TitleMcGovern-Humphrey Primary Debate #2
Start Date/TimeMay 30, 1972 08:30pm
End Date/TimeMay 30, 1972 09:30pm
Last ModifiedChronicler - November 26, 2008 10:02am
DescriptionThe third of four debates during the Democratic primary season of 1972 was the second in a series of three debates in the week preceding the California primary. For the first time, three debates were held within days of each other, rather than spacing them a week apart. This debate was held just two days after the 2d debate and one week to the day before the California primary.

Humphrey was criticized for being too assertive in the first debate, so the following day he worked with his advisers to soften his image. He was particularly concerned about a comment he had made in Fresno that suggested that he considered Sen. McGovern a fool.

Quick Facts
When: 6:30-7:30 p.m. (PST), 5/30/1972
Where: Los Angeles CA. Produced by NBC.
Panel: Lawrence Spivak (NBC), Tom Pettit (NBC), Richard Bergholz (Los Angeles Times), Haynes Johnson (Washington Post), Robert Novak. The debate was a special broadcast of NBC's news show "Meet the Press."
Audience size: undetermined
Topics: Vietnam, foreign and domestic policy

Transcript: not available.

Format: Questions and answers; closing summary

Setting: The candidates sat behind a table. McGovern was on the viewers' left, Humphrey on the viewers' right.

The debate was much tamer than the preceding debate. Instead of interrupting each other and asking questions of each other, Humphrey and McGovern focused on answering the questions from the panel, which pressed the candidates to be more precise in their answers. John J. O'Connor of the New York Times described McGovern's performance as a "brand of sincerity ... wrapped in tones of quiet reasonableness" [NYT 6/1/1972].

Humphrey began the debate by apologizing to McGovern for his Fresno statement that McGovern was "a fool" for proposing "confiscatory" tax proposals. It was "unfortunate language" directed to his opponent, who he described as "a fine man."

HHH was asked if he would cut off funding for the Vietnam conflict if elected. He answered in the affirmative. "It is no longer in our interest to continue, and it is imperative to stop the spiral of inflation." When asked how much money he would trim from the Department of Defense budget, he said he would look for a cut of $12.5 billion, a number based on a Brookings Institution study. HHH said that the US government no longer had an "interest in defending the Saigon government"; he was ready to cut the nation off.

McGovern was asked how he could recommend a DOD budget of just $55 billion, a cut of 40%, when he did not know what the defense needs of 1975 would be. He responded "What I'm proposing is based on the assumption that the world will be as we know it. If we are attacked tomorrow, all bets are off." He did not believe that his plan would damage the nation, which he believed could not become a "second-rate power morally or economically" if the nation worked on its domestic problems.

Humphrey was asked about his charge regarding McGovern's proposal to send a check for $1,000 to each American. He said that the program would cost $60 billion, and "you're going to have to take it out of somebody." McGovern believed that sending out the checks would be a great benefit for the poor. Families earning over $20,000 a year would pay a minimal additional tax, with those earning more being taxed progressively more. Cutting the defense department by 40% would pay for the proposal, and the nation would benefit when munitions plants were converted to produce "things we need."

Humphrey stated that he wanted to close $16 billion in tax loopholes. He did not support McGovern's proposal to tax inheritances worth half a million dollars by 77% or McGovern's proposal to end income tax deduction of mortgage interest. He saw the best means of increasing revenue as "putting this country back to work."

Both candidates declined to be on a national ticket with George Wallace.

In his conclusion, HHH urged President Nixon to work with the Secretary General of the United Nations to begin peace talks between North and South Vietnam and for Southeast Asia in general. McGovern said that his proposals were not radical but might seem so to a person "caught up in the old assumptions that they can't break loose" from ideas regarding Vietnam, "an unjust tax structure ... and ... a welfare mess that doesn't work." [NYT 5/31/1972]

The debate was widely considered to be a draw. McGovern again managed to appear Presidential, compared to the "harsh" and "rude" Humphrey. McGovern felt that in the second debate, he had been able to explain his Vietnam and welfare proposals in more detail than in the previous debate.

1st Democratic primary debate of 1972: [Link]

2d Democratic primary debate of 1972: [Link]

4th Democratic primary debate of 1972: [Link]

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