Enough already. The “Dean is McGovern” meme just won’t die, which is really code for “he’s too liberal and he’ll lose everywhere just like McGovern did in ’72.”
I think these analogies are off by a few years.
At the 1968 Democratic Convention, party bosses controlled the nomination process, resulting in Humphrey’s nomination. This infuriated the grassroots of the party and left many feeling alienated from the process. To appease the party’s base in the wake of their loss to Nixon, the party drafted a group to oversee a reform effort, headed by Senator George McGovern (himself a presence in ’68, and a hero of the left for his opposition to the war in VietNam).
McGovern enacted several reforms, resulting in the far more democratic nomination process we have today. But in so doing, he pissed off many of the people whose help would be instrumental in a Democratic victory over the incumbent Nixon. Result? Jimmy Carter leading the “Anybody but McGovern” contingent of southern governors. LBJ refusing to endorse him. Mayor Daley, still smarting over their remarkable showdown at the ’68 convention (Daley was caught on camera, middle finger extended, yelling “Fuck you!” repeatedly at McGovern), didn’t lift a finger to mobilize the fabled Chicago machine. A Vice Presidential candidate who’d been treated with shock therapy for depression (bad enough, but made worse by the fact that McGovern didn’t know until the press broke the story, resulting in McGovern eventually dropping him from the ticket). The list goes on: McGovern ran a terrible campaign.
So while many want to make the comparison between Dean and McGovern, I think the more interesting lesson is this: what precipitated McGovern in ’72 wasn’t McGovern himself, it was the party leadership who insisted on controlling the process in ’68.
For those who insist on looking back 30 years for an indication of what might happen in this election, go check out these comments at This Is Not Funny or Adam Nagourney’s article in today’s NY Times and tell me if you think Dean is today’s McGovern or if Clark is today’s Humphrey.