The Daily Wildcat • 9
Wednesday, July 10 - Tuesday, July 16, 2019
OPINION | ECHOING 1972
Repeating the ‘72 Democratic primaries BY CLAUDE AKINS @claude_akins
The most obvious parallel between the 1972 Democratic primary and today’s is not so much who is running, but who they are running against. The Trump-Nixon comparison has been commonplace since the 2016 election, and earlier this summer, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean testified that there were “remarkable parallels” between the two. The main parallel, in practical terms for the Democrats, is that they believe whoever wins the Democratic nomination will basically walk into the White House. The latest polls indicate as much: the most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll has Joe Biden up ten points, Kamala Harris up two points and Bernie Sanders up one point, all beating Trump in the general. A June 25 Emerson poll had Elizabeth Warren up six points and Pete Buttigieg up four points. If Mayor Pete has a chance of winning, then why the hell wouldn’t you run? There were 15 candidates in the ‘72 Democratic primary, well short of what there is today, but after a certain point these distinctions don’t matter. All that matters is that there is a lot of them. In ‘72, the “establishment candidates,” Edmund Muskie and Hubert Humphrey, were seen as the favorites heading into the primary season. Humphrey was the vice president of the latest Democratic president (sound familiar?), and Muskie, aka “the Man from Maine,” was the safe, rational choice. In “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72,” a book whose prescience can give you whiplash, Hunter S. Thompson wrote of Muskie as “a comfortable, mushmouth, middleof-the-road compromiser who wouldn’t dream of offending anybody — the ideal ‘centrist’ candidate, who would be all things to all men.” Biden occupies the Humphrey spot and, like Humphrey, leads in the early polls. A stark difference between 1972 and 2020 is that the Muskie figure, that “everything to everyone” candidate, isn’t
consolidated in one man but is rather diffused throughout the party, the best example being Beto O’Rourke, whose healthcare policy is based upon whoever happens to be in the room with him. And that leaves Sanders. George McGovern, the eventual ‘72 nominee, was considered to be a kind of wacky guy from South Dakota who didn’t really have a chance. Thompson described him as “probably the most honest big-time politician in America,” a sentiment shared by Sanders supporters and critics. McGovern went on to finish second in the New Hampshire primary — a “neovictory,” as Thompson called it — but it wasn’t until he won Wisconsin and Massachusetts that people started taking a McGovern nomination seriously. The differences are as striking as the similarities, which is why historical analogies can be dangerous. Sanders, unlike McGovern, has more name recognition and an already-built national organization. But the parallels can be useful: McGovern, not considered the most TV-savvy, considered a little “weird,” a bit of a “crank,” used his straightforward style and grassroots organizing to beat the Democratic party machine, which, make no mistake, has no good feelings toward Sanders. However, if 2020 were to play out like 1972, if Sanders were to win the primaries despite what the polls and the politicos say, ‘72 could also provide a crucial lesson for Sanders the nominee. McGovern lost horribly,just absolutely crushed, in large part because he capitulated to the center after he secured the nomination. Sanders shouldn’t and won’t do that — and what McGovern lacked on the campaign stump, Sanders has in spades, drawing huge crowd after huge crowd. The ‘72 primary shows the path to a Sanders nomination. Then, thankfully for everyone hoping for a Trump defeat in 2020, the parallels stop.
— Claude Akins is a journalism major who has read books.
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