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Let George do it?

History's ironies intrude in the oddest places, but who would have expected the first head-to-head replay of the tumultuous 1972 presidential election campaign to happen on the Trump Shuttle from Washington to New York? Seated next to each other across the center aisle were George McGovern and Richard Nixon, the a richest of enemies twenty years before, and now either fallen or forgotten senior statesmen in certain stages of rehabilitation.

Nixon was poring over a manuscript. McGovern, as it happened, was on his way to speak at a Nation/New School forum, the first of a series featuring prospective presidential candidates. According to McGovern, who is "exploring" the possibility of another run, they chatted amiably about this and that, Gorbachev and China, Democrats and Republicans. Mercifully, perhaps, there was no mention of money laundering or office break-ins, and McGovern, who says he is long over his anger at CREEP's campaign, did not bring up sore subjects.

Nixon, however, did comment on McGovern's projected quest for the nomination, about which the adjective "quixotic" often comes to commentators' lips. The important thing, Dick told George, was to "get your message across," to express the principles of your program and damn the media, damn the polls ... and, if it comes to that, damn the results on Election Day. The old foes de-Trumped, and the ironic moment was lost in the fuel-fog of La Guardia.

McGovern is already making a game attempt to broadcast a message of progressive reform in foreign policy and domestic economic affairs, the logical extension of his 1972 platform. He is promoting a Canadian-style national health program and severe cuts in the military budget. He disarmingly admits to bafflement in the face of the overwhelming power of the corporate mass media to manipulate public opinion, and he is not naive about the ability of the other George-that man in the White House-to exploit the authority of his office to win re-election.

Unless America is a lot more topsy-turvy than even he believes, he will not be the Democratic nominee. But who else is there? No one on the scene so far shows the slightest interest in mobilizing the electorate behind a program or a campaign that would seriously challenge the one-party system developed by the Reagan and Bush administrations with the sorry connivance of the Congressional Democratic leadership.

Governor Douglas Wilder of Virginia, who just came out against unrestricted voter registration, is a hopeless devotee of the most retrograde party policies. Governor Mario Cuomo of New York is now in the process of Reaganizing the state budget and selling out his few remaining progressive supporters. Senator Al Gore of Tennessee is so proud of his support for Bush's war in the gulf that he cannot see what a disaster he could be for the Democratic future. Senator Paul Tsongas cannot possibly distinguish himself from that other Greek neoliberal from the Boston suburbs. Jesse Jackson has been so battered by the other Democrats, by the media and by disgruntled activists (white and black) who expected him to organize and lead a permanent progressive movement that he doubts now whether another round in the electoral ring is worth the pain. And there's an embryonic boomlet for Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, hero of Operation Desert Turkeyshoot, who apparently is a registered Democrat in Tampa. Please.

In short, the Democratic Party is bereft of popular and progressive leaders at the grass roots and burdened with self-serving, scared and opportunistic control freaks in Congress. Not since the 1920s has the picture been so dim. But things happen fast in media-modulated America today, and it is not inconceivable that a political prairie fire could start between now and primary season.

McGovern had no more charisma in 1972 than he does now, but he and the movement that supported him managed to take over the party. Losing the election should have been the least of their worries. There was plenty of reason to keep organizing against the day, which was bound to come, when the movement would become a majority. "Revolutionary patience" as Jesse Jackson liked to say, is a virtue. Once again there is a movement waiting to happen, and only the leaders and their courage is lacking.

N.B. Three days before McGovern's New School appearance, another George-Foreman, the aging, 257-pound former heavyweight champion-made an unexpectedly strong showing in his losing effort against Evander Holyfield. Like McGovern, he had humor and heart, but it turned out he was over the hill. After the fight, he said, " [The champ] won on points, but I made a point." Questions: Will the Democrats be content to let George do it? Can he go the distance? Is scoring points more important than making a point?
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Title Annotation:George McGovern may run for president again
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:editorial
Date:May 13, 1991
Previous Article:Who really killed the F.B.I. men; new light on Peltier's case.
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