McGovern: The Man, the Press, the Machine, the Odds
A decent man runs a flawed campaign.
To open with a digression:
McGovern is fighting a battle so steeply uphill that it must, at times, seem hopeless . . he has failed to produce any of the results that normally signal the emergence of a major national candidate.
He has attracted none of the traditional power blocs in the Democratic Party. He has precious little labor support....He has no machine support.
Worst of all, he does not appear to have mobilized the people who should constitute his natural following: the liberal Democrats, the poor, the blacks, the young and the body of activists who supported Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy in 1968.
He is running well back in the polls among the Democratic contenders and even Las Vegas oddsmaker Jimmy "the Greek" Snyder figures McGovern a 21-1 shot for the Democratic nomination, lowest on the list except for New York Mayor John Lindsay.
The reasons why McGovern has failed to become a leading—let alone widely supported—candidate are several. Richard Nixon has robbed him of his prime issue, ending the war in Vietnam...most Americans don't think of the war as an issue any more.
Furthermore, though be is very bright McGovern lacks that star quality called charisma . . . he fails to come across where any modern candidate must—on television.
"He says the right things and he has a nice face," says one McGovern aide. But, he adds wistfully, "if only the lucky phrase would come to put him on the front pages with a sharp accent...."
Excuses aside, however, the fact remains that George McGovern hardly seems to have a really good shot at the Democratic nomination.
There, in a typical nationally syndicated news dispatch—or "news analysis"—of December 1971, less than a year ago, is a characteristic assessment of McGovern and his liabilities—the candidate who hasn't fired up the young, the protest candidate when protest is ever so passé, the loser, the long-shot, the also-ran. No labor support, no machine support, no ray of hope from either George Gallup or Jimmy "the Greek." As if this compendium of liabilities weren't depressing enough, the poor bastard hasn't even got charisma.
Seven months later, George McGovern, the Senator from South Dakota, was nominated the Democratic candidate for President of the United States. (And on the first ballot.) Still, this man who may very well be our next President is one of the least known men in public life. It might almost be said that so much has been written about McGovern that we do not know who he is.
To a devoted reader of the nation's press, George McGovern would appear to have undergone more changes of personality in nine months than the most dedicated habitué of encounter groups. In short order, McGovern the Nice Guy, uncharismatic loser, Protest Candidate, became nationally recognized as the "stalking horse" for Teddy Kennedy. McGovern and his aides spent a lot of time on the road in those early days denying that he was really Teddy Kennedy in disguise. Then, fresh from a victory in Wisconsin, the idealistic loser was metamorphosed before our eyes into something called, collectively, "The McGovern Machine'—a computerized cadre of brilliant young organizers riding triumphantly through the political thickets and trouncing at the polls such naive political newcomers as Edmund Muskie, Hubert Humphrey and John Lindsay. This change can be timed rather precisely. The Loser became the Machine when he (or it) started winning elections.