Thursday, July 19, 2007

July 19, 1922:

George McGovern's Birthday

Today is George McGovern's 85th birthday. His distinction in presidential history is being on the losing end of a landslide -- to a president who later resigned in disgrace. The forces arrayed against the McGovern candidacy in 1972 were formidable, and it's hard to imagine another outcome for that election.

Hard, but not impossible, as Michael Leahy wrote in the Washington Post (Feb. 20, 2005) in "What Might Have Been."

"... Like most presidential nominees who never won the big prize, [McGovern] has become less a major figure than an intriguing footnote... another answer to a set of trivia questions whose correct responses include the names Dukakis, Mondale, Humphrey, Goldwater, Stevenson, Dewey, Willkie, Landon, Smith, Davis, Cox, Parker, Bryan, Blaine and McClellan -- the good, the bad, the forgotten.

"He was a history professor at Dakota Wesleyan before he ever entered politics, which has been a blessing and a curse: The What Ifs never go away. He wonders, for example, what would have happened to his political career had one of the many men to whom he offered the vice presidential nomination in 1972 -- including Edward Kennedy and defeated rival Edmund Muskie -- said yes. Running out of choices and time at the Democratic National Convention, he turned finally to a young senator from Missouri, Thomas Eagleton, who enthusiastically accepted, only to be forced off the ticket after it was learned that he had been hospitalized three times for depression and had twice undergone electroshock treatment in the 1960s.

"What if, McGovern asks, the Democratic convention that year in Miami had not been so chaotic that the vice presidential nomination process, which consumed hours and included several surprise challenges to Eagleton, delayed McGovern from delivering his acceptance speech until 2:48 a.m. Eastern time, by which time most Americans had gone to bed?

"What if, he asks, a group of anti-McGovern forces at the convention had been successful in their effort to unseat a bloc of committed McGovern delegates? 'I would [then] probably have lost the nomination, unjustly,' he says, smiling faintly. 'The ['76] nomination would then have been mine for the asking. I mean no disrespect to Jimmy Carter, who won our nomination that year, but I was the much better known figure at the time. I think I would have beaten both Carter and [then-President] Gerald Ford.'

"Instead, four years later, Carter won the White House, and McGovern was out of elective politics, losing a bid in Republican South Dakota for a fourth term in the U.S. Senate."

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