[From the Frog Pond]
Anyone who is old enough to be traumatized by George McGovern's enormous loss in the 1972 election is also old enough to have learned the wrong lessons from the Clinton/Bush era. McGovern was right. McGovern was a war hero. McGovern would have made a great President. But there is a whole generation of nominally left-leaning Democrats that were so damaged by the 1972 election that they have spent the intervening thrity-four years looking to explain away McGovernism as some kind of un-American anomaly (paging Joe Klein). I'm tired of it. Finally, someone in the mainstream media seems to kind of get it. Harold Meyerson recalls that Edmund Muskie was the early front-runner in that campaign and he has a warning for Hillary Clinton.
A specter was haunting Hillary Clinton as she campaigned in New Hampshire this weekend: the specter of Ed Muskie.
As the ancient or merely studious among us will recall, the Democratic senator from Maine, who'd been Hubert Humphrey's running mate in 1968, entered his party's presidential contest in 1972 as the front-runner. His prospects were dashed in the New Hampshire snows, however. As popular memory has it, an indignant Muskie started crying while refuting a silly attack on him (though whether he was genuinely upset or merely sniffling during a frigid outdoor news conference was never authoritatively resolved). Muskie's more serious problem, however, was the Vietnam War, which he opposed.
His opposition, though, had none of the fervor or long-term consistency of another Democratic senator and presidential aspirant, George McGovern. By 1972, seven years had elapsed since the United States had sent ground forces to Vietnam, and Richard Nixon, through his invasion of Cambodia and stepped-up bombing campaigns, had made clear that the road to de-escalation would entail periodic escalations, at least as long as he was president. The Democratic base was in no mood for temporizing on Vietnam.
Party voters wanted out, and they wanted a nominee who'd been right on the war (almost) from the start: McGovern. Sic transit gloria Muskie.
Today, Hillary Clinton seems almost uncannily positioned to become the Ed Muskie of 2008. She opposes the U.S. military presence in Iraq but not with the specificity, fervor or bona fides of her leading Democratic rivals. As Muskie did with Vietnam, she supported the legislation enabling the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and she has been slower and more inconstant than her party rivals in coming around to opposing the continued U.S. occupation.
Meyerson goes on to point out that Nixon won, not by running against McGovern, but by running against the social tumult, the riots, the Blank Panthers, Altamount, the freaks, the Mansons, the disorienting changes in sexual mores, the general social tumult. The Republicans will not have that luxury this time. We're too busy with our iPods and stock portfolios to cause that kind of consternation. As Meyerson notes:
...should Americans still be fighting and dying in Iraq when the next election rolls around, the Democrats probably could win with Dennis Kucinich as their nominee.
And it might be the truth. If it is the truth, it only points out much more strongly how wrong it is to fight the new campaign only with reference to the old one. This election is going to provide the first chance since 1972 for a truly progressive revolution. If we stay in Iraq, there is almost no telling how sweeping our electoral victories might be. And there is no telling how widely the 'electability' of the candidates might be expanded, or just how irrelevant the media might be in dictating the outcome.
The only thing that might save the Republicans is the kind of actual social unrest that causes a law and order backlash. But right now, I'm not seeing it. Instead, I see Hillary 'Muskie' Clinton heading blindly into a buzzsaw that is going to chew her, and anyone that is replaying 1972 in their minds, into little bitty pitiful pieces.