Mcgovern’s and Gold­wa­ter’s losers and win­ners

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Pat Buchanan

Early in Ron­ald Rea­gan’s sec­ond term, Bill Rusher, the pub­lisher of Na­tional Re­view, was in­ter­view­ing the pres­i­dent in the Oval Of­fice for a doc­u­men­tary on the con­ser­va­tive move­ment. Rusher asked how he would de­scribe Barry Gold­wa­ter’s role.

Rea­gan thought a mo­ment and replied: I guess you would have to call him the John the Bap­tist of our move­ment.

I re­sisted the im­pulse to lean in and ask, “Sir, if Barry Gold­wa­ter was John the Bap­tist, who would that make you?”

The death of Ge­orge McGovern brought back thoughts of these two men who suf­fered two of the great­est de­feats in pres­i­den­tial his­tory.

McGovern was an unapolo­getic lib­eral from South Dakota. Gold­wa­ter was Mr. Con­ser­va­tive and proud of it. Both had been World War II pi­lots. Gold­wa­ter had flown “over the hump,” the Hi­malayas, into China. Ge­orge McGovern flew bomb­ing runs over the Ploesti oil fields.

McGovern had been at the Pro­gres­sive Party con­ven­tion in 1948 that nom­i­nated Henry Wal­lace to run against Harry Tru­man. Gold­wa­ter voted against the Se­nate cen­sure of Joe McCarthy in 1954 and was one of only six Republicans to op­pose the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In 1964, Gold­wa­ter led his party to a 22-point de­feat at the hands of Lyn­don John­son, win­ning only five states of the Deep South and Ari­zona.

Eight years later, McGovern lost ev­ery state but Mas­sachusetts to Richard Nixon in the worst rout ever sus­tained by a nom­i­nee of his party. In 1984, McGovern would be joined in that du­bi­ous dis­tinc­tion of a 49state de­feat by Wal­ter Mon­dale.

Yet un­like oth­ers who have lost pres­i­den­tial bids in mod­ern times — Mon­dale, Michael Dukakis, Bob Dole, Al Gore, John Kerry, John McCain — Gold­wa­ter and McGovern proved to be men ahead of their time.

Though a re­luc­tant can­di­date who had to be “drafted,” Gold­wa­ter be­came the po­lit­i­cal in­stru­ment of a ris­ing con­ser­va­tive move­ment that used his cam­paign to tear the Repub­li­can Party away from an Eastern lib­eral es­tab­lish­ment that had con­trolled it for gen­er­a­tions and dic­tated its nom­i­nees.

In 1960, Vice Pres­i­dent Nixon had trav­eled to New York to cut a deal with and mol­lify Nel­son Rock­e­feller. But by 1968, it was the en­dorse­ment of Gold­wa­ter and con­ser­va­tives like John Tower of Texas and Strom Thur­mond of South Carolina that were Nixon’s keys to the nom­i­na­tion. Af­ter 1964, the lib­eral es­tab­lish­ment never again im­posed a nom­i­nee on the GOP. But be­tween the move­ment that cap­tured the nom­i­na­tion for Gold­wa­ter and the cause that cap­tured the Demo­cratic Party for McGovern, there were dif­fer­ences not only of phi­los­o­phy.

The Gold­wa­ter peo­ple were rebels. They wanted to over­throw and dis­place the old lead­er­ship. Many McGover­nites were rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies.

Where con­ser­va­tives sought a party more true to its prin­ci­ples, many McGover­nites wanted to change Amer­ica into an­other coun­try — more statist, egal­i­tar­ian, per­mis­sive. They did not like the coun­try they grew up in. The Gold­wa­terites wished to re­store the best of those times.

“Why Not Vic­tory” was the ti­tle of Gold­wa­ter’s book on the Cold War. “Come Home, Amer­ica” was McGovern’s slo­gan.

With McGovern’s nom­i­na­tion, con­ser­va­tives in the Demo­cratic Party who had voted for Ge­orge Wal­lace or Hu­bert Humphrey in 1968 moved in the mil­lions into Nixon’s New Ma­jor­ity and would re­main there un­til the end of the Cold War. They be­came the Rea­gan Democrats.

What­ever McGovern’s per­sonal views, his cam­paign be­came the ve­hi­cle of the coun­ter­cul­ture of the 1960s, of the fem­i­nist and ho­mo­sex­ual rights move­ments, of an­ti­war ac­tivists and stu­dent rad­i­cals, of Har­vard and the Hol­lyleft, all of whom were in those years cor­dially de­tested by Mid­dle Amer­ica. Gold­wa­ter’s nom­i­na­tion ripped the Repub­li­can Party asun­der. But Nixon, the most skill­ful politi­cian of his gen­er­a­tion, was able to stitch it back to­gether by 1968 to win the pres­i­dency.

McGovern’s nom­i­na­tion run repli­cated Gold­wa­ter’s. His peo­ple had writ­ten the rules for the 1972 del­e­gate se­lec­tion process and writ­ten the bosses out. The nom­i­na­tion would be de­cided in state con­ven­tions, cau­cuses and pri­maries, as it was in the Gold­wa­ter cam­paign.

The Gold­wa­ter nom­i­na­tion left con­ser­va­tives in the GOP with the power to nom­i­nate one of their own ev­ery four years, or to veto any noncon­ser­va­tive. No Repub­li­can ticket af­ter Gold­wa­ter would be with­out a con­ser­va­tive. In 1976, the right would force Ger­ald Ford to dump his vice pres­i­dent, Nel­son Rock­e­feller, as the price of its sup­port.

McGovern’s fol­low­ers never cap­tured the pres­i­dency, as the right did with Rea­gan. But the coun­ter­cul­ture for which his cam­paign was the ear­li­est po­lit­i­cal ex­pres­sion be­came the dom­i­nant cul­ture of Amer­ica’s so­cial, cul­tural and in­tel­lec­tual elite. We live with the con­se­quences still.

And only that al­tered cul­ture could have opened the door of the pres­i­dency to a man of Bill Clin­ton or Barack Obama’s back­ground. Patrick J. Buchanan is the au­thor of “Sui­cide of a Su­per­power: Will Amer­ica Sur­vive to 2025?”

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