McGovern: The Man, the Press, the Machine, the Odds
McGovern, by contrast, has opposed Nixon on just about every issue listed above. He senses Nixon's vulnerability both on the issues and on the way he exploits them.
The central thrust of his campaign is, "You can't trust Richard Nixon." Dissatisfaction with Nixon is present just below the surface throughout the country. George Wallace exploited the discontent without a program; McGovern will use it to his advantage with a limited program. He will nourish that discontent through the four central themes of his campaign: an end to the war in Vietnam, tax reform, redirected priorities, and the restoration of trust and truthfulness in government.
George McGovern manifests an almost prophetic (and noncharismatic) sense of the collective dignity and resources of the American people. Whether he can translate abstract attitudes into specific programs is, of course, conjectural. He succeeded in doing just that within the limited arena of the Food for Peace program. On a broader scale, though, he gives the impression that he is a man who has no intention of seeing the country or himself getting clobbered for entertaining a vision.
And one vital factor will serve to "keep him honest." His constituency—however developed—consists largely of those Americans most aggrieved by the problems and dislocations of the "New America." A President cannot move too far from his natural constituency, and in order to maintain his political base, McGovern, as President, would have a mandate to attack the problems of America in innovative and forceful ways. If he did not do so, the consequences could be truly disastrous. Similarly, Nixon, though taking short excursions away from his political home base, has been unwilling to make any dramatic departures from the interests of Corporate America. And, most assuredly, he will be under no compulsion to do so in his final term.
While the press has busied itself putting George MeGovern into old political bags, the man from South Dakota has diligently laid the groundwork for a true "new coalition" within the ruins of the Vietnam-era Democratic Party. Nixon and McGovern both maintain that the American people have a real choice this go-around, and they're no doubt correct. The men are dramatically different in style and substance, in interest and in constituency. Both also agree that Nixon's record is "the issue." It could make a strong case for the challenger.