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November 23, 1972, Vol. XVII, No. 47
Let George undo it
by Joe Flaherty
Well, with the election over and the inevitable results in, the inevitable has happened — the pogrom has begun. Not, however, the one that was expected. In a perverse end-around that only Allie Sherman could admire, the winners are being sent to Coventry by the losers.
In reams of purple prose and mauve mouthings we are being told that the American electorate has lost its conscience and that the nation is off on a brown shirt bender. The members of the perishable set are once again packing their bags (was that a thunderstorm that followed the election or the sound of suitcases slamming?) for democratic bastions in Majorca and Ibiza. All is lost, because the majority of people rejected George McGovern for the most base of reasons: warmongering, racism, and a titillation with totalitarianism. Or did they?
As a McGovern voter, I’m afraid I must, in this instance, defend the elect rather than the select or, to put it differently, defend the dragon against the legions of St. George.
Examining the results outside the Presidential arena, one comes up with the unmistakable conclusion that if the country didn’t exactly choose Nirvana, it didn’t opt for Nazism either. The Democrats picked up two seats in the Senate, one statehouse, and maintained their superiority in the House. The Black Caucus was expanded. Walker, who indicted the Chicago police as the “rioters” in 1968, won the Illinois governorship, and Hanrahan, who was linked with the slaying of Fred Hampton, was defeated. A disciple of Martin Luther King was elected to Congress in Atlanta, and special targets of a Rockefeller purge, Otis Pike and Ogden Reid, were re-elected. California, in its quixotic madness, opted for capital punishment (too many good movies about the Big House) and rejected a referendum to stifle the power of Cesar Chavez’s union.
Indeed, most of the liberal senators and congressmen survived the Nixon landslide. And according to the New York Times (no, it hasn’t yet been taken over by the CIA, sweetie), the projection is that the two houses, if anything, will be slightly more “left” this time around. Which brings us to a handcuffed logic even Houdini couldn’t have escaped: we shouldn’t have let George do it.
Not so, those who know better tell us. Harriet Van Horne wrote in the Post the morning after the people voted “their meanest prejudices” and followed with: “Those of us who believe in honest government and civil liberties are now passengers on the Titanic.” As one of the cruise organizers for McGovern, Mrs. Van Horne seems in a moment of passion to have slipped her compass.
The other standard line is that McGovern was “too decent to become President, too good to become President.” In other words we were undeserving of his eminence. I admit I have a prejudice here, since the good nuns tried for years to prove my unworthiness, but in a fit of spectacular rationalization I figured the Lord must be as much a sucker for good company as I, so I was safe.
I’m not trying to demean “decency.” I admire it as much as the next man. My butcher and baker are amply decent, and the guy who sells me my Racing Form seems infected with that grace, but at last look none of them was seeking to lead me. One has to believe that future leaders require more than that. Besides, a quick perusal of his record leaves McGovern many electoral votes removed from canonization.
But Nixon was the issue — right! To many of us, he was, but this fact seemed to escape many of the Senator’s adherents at Miami Beach. If one has a singular objective, the basic ground rule has always been discipline, the revolutionary religion from Che to Malcolm. The McGovern supporters at the convention were like a convocation at Lourdes — everybody had a crutch to chuck.
Some of the loudest spokeswomen were chi-chi Ms.eries who have been quoted as seeing marriage as the equivalent of prostitution. Anyone who dared question the validity of abortion was a vagina from the Vatican. The very thought that the beginning of life is a delicate hair trigger in the brain and soul was not to be considered. But then, subtlety was not their strong suit. Like their candidate, they were divinely appointed to lead.
Why, if McGovern, the man of decency, was such a superior choice to Nixon, did the women, the gays, the disenfranchised engage in wild exhortations which gave the enemy ammunition (surely, they realized it) instead of biding their time and allowing President McGovern’s “decency” to manifest itself? It seems to me that their ardor for McGovern was based on his being not so much a mind to lead them as an upturned top hat into which they could throw their ideas as one throws his gloves.
All this doesn’t excuse McGovern. If a man is responsible for his face when he’s over 40, a candidate is responsible for his supporters.
We learn from Tom Wicker that McGovern was opposed to Muskie’s candidacy (the most logical one, if Nixon was the issue), because Muskie was a johnny-come-lately on the war. It seems the spouter of Isaiah has missed a couple of verses in the Bible, namely, those on forgiveness.
Indeed, checking the facts, McGovern’s candidacy was based on purge. Only the young, the Wonder Women, the minorities, and the anti-war movement would be allowed to stand under the heavenly umbrella of his banner. The fact that in 1964 a great swath of this country voted for peace escaped his doctrinaire disciples. Morally, such a stand was corrupt; politically, it was stupid.
Of course, there is the argument that his candidacy was crucified on the old rugged cross of radicalism. this also is bobbery. His positions in mid-campaign were no more progressive than the average ADA member. By taking positions that weren’t thought out and then abandoning them, he dealt radicalism a blow from which it won’t soon recover. If one is out to foster a brave new world, he’d damn better have a firm axis to spin it on. McGovern’s earlier positions on wealth distribution, tax reform, and welfare reform were as heated as a dockside departure. It was when they came under scrutiny (sex over love) that the nation received his Dear John.
When it became apparent that his Mouseketeers weren’t going to materialize (what was it — 25 million new voters?), McGovern and his staff discovered there were other people out there. Ethnic groups were set up: rent-a-hardhat was the clarion call. If it wasn’t so sad, if would be damned funny.
I received a call two days before the election to convert the Irish in Queens from a sound truck. Even St. Patrick was given more time to purge the snakes. Another caller asked me to recruit a brewery worker friend to speak for McGovern. One began to think his New York staff had a central casting committee: “Hey, chickie, get me a rough-hewn type.” In that sense the campaign remained morally constant — positions and people went under more conversions than the rollers at a tent revival.
On election night the high priests and priestesses lamented the nation’s undeserving heathen. Gabe Pressman interviewed Nora Ephron and Dan Greenburg who, gee willikers, didn’t know anyone who hadn’t voted for McGovern (food for thought?). Actress Anne Jackson told Gabe she felt like Anne Frank before the storm troopers came to the door (God, what a delicious feeling!). I realize thespians have a tradition of killing Presidents, but this was a little much. One felt the last pogrom Miss Jackson suffered from a uniform and brass buttons was a snub from her doorman.
Mary McGrory tells us that for a while George even thought about leaving the country. (Did he hold his breath and kick the floor, too?)
So we’ve got four more years, and I’m sorry about that. But I’m not about to indict the American people for fascism. They were offered one of the most inept candidates of modern times. Vacillation and moral arrogance is not a gentlemen’s idea of a parlay. The war, to most people, was concluding, since their own troops were coming home. It’s sad that the bombing of innocent Asians didn’t move them to remove Nixon, but their guilt was not singular. It was a tragic collaboration, thus, a sorrow and a pity. But I won’t chime in with the avenging angels cursing the populace for their moral decay. In the tenor of the campaign I take my leave with a quote from Scripture: “They shall not cast the first stone who themselves are rockheads.” (Flaherty, Ch. 1, V. 1).
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]