They Also Ran Good: George McGovern

This is part one in a series delving into American history.  This series will examine the spectacular losers in American presidential politics, the guys who almost reached the top before disaster struck and hilarious pratfalls ensued.  Here, my fascination with failure will merge with my interest in history and only occasionally will my tendency to start making shit up be a factor.  I try to use proper [citation needed] markers to note when this happens.

George McGovern was a long-time U.S. Senator, a Democrat from South Dakota. Morally upstanding, proudly liberal, McGovern was an outspoken critic of the war in Vietnam that, at the time, had been dragging on for seven long and tumultous years without resolution. He sought to bring integrity, honesty and openness to an American presidency that had been absent since...well, for a long time, anyway.

But McGovern had three disadvantages: 1) his incumbent opponent, Richard Nixon, had shored up his claim to elder statesmanhood with diplomatic openings with both China and the Soviet Union; 2) McGovern was considered an "outsider" in his own party, having won the nomination over the heads of the Democratic leadership; and 3) his incumbent opponent, Richard Nixon, had shored up all the leaks in the Watergate scandal with a cover-up conspiracy that held together until about ten minutes after the election.

Also, McGovern was from South Dakota, which although legally a state and technically habitable, is much like its sister state to the north in having no one who lives there. The only presidents ever to grace the state of South Dakota only did so because they were forcibly chiseled into the side of a mountain.

"Call the police!"

What Went So Horribly, Horribly Wrong

While showing great political acumen in winning the Democratic nomination, McGovern & team forgot all about that "running mate" thing, waiting untill the last moment to select Sen. Thomas Eagleton of Missouri. The vetting process basically consisted of asking him if there were any decomposing bodies in his crawlspace, followed by a thorough, no-stones-left-unturned scrutiny of his arms for needle marks. It was rumoured, but not confirmed, that they checked him for a pulse. Through all this, Eagleton never mentioned having been hospitalized twice for depression, a form of mental illness that people were not accepting of in their potential presidents in those days. Oh yeah, and the electroshock therapy...
Hope, for a Change

When Eagleton's past became news, McGovern publicly and bad-mathically backed him "1000 per cent." For three days. Then he unceremoniously dumped him and replaced him with Sergeant Shriver, better known as Mr. Eunice Kennedy. Seriously. In fact, he was introduced as "Eunice" at a speech during the campaign. But to be fair, most of us would be "marrying up" if we got hitched to a member of the Kennedy family; for that kind of money, yeah, "Eunice" is fine.

Or Sparklemuffins, I really don't give a shit.

With his running mate now chosen (again), McGovern got on with the business of running a presidential campaign. Which, in his case, consisted of: 1) explaining how giving everyone in America $1000 for free constituted an "economic policy," 2) denying that he favored legalization of LSD, and 3) trying to convince a skeptical nation that the Watergate scandal was important and that the Nixon administration was corrupt. You know, he might have had a point there.

No one listened. And, strangely, no one asked if they could get their $1000 in the form of LSD.

Election Night

When America went to the polls that day, many already knew the outcome, there being no requirement for the news networks to wait for the polls to close in the western states before reporting results. In fact, none of them even waited for the polls to open, having officially projected Nixon as the winner three years earlier. McGovern, it turned out, had actually given his concession speech in 1970. In the end, he won only the District of Columbia, which is not a state, and Massachussetts, which is a rental property owned by the Kennedys. [citations needed]


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  2. Nixon was no saint. McGovern was no challenger. The Dems simply threw a sacrificial lamb up there like the GOP did in 1996 with Bob Dole.

  3. Considering the fact that former VP Hubert Humphrey, with the backing of many party stalwarts, was still fighting to take California delegates away from McGovern at the convention and deny him the nomination, your statement flies in the face of historical facts.
    Well, the "sacrificial lamb" part, anyway. You're right that Nixon was no saint and McGovern stood no chance in a national election that year; the country had quietly swung to the right and would dominate presidential politics for over 20 years.
    I think it's weird, though, that you think I'm taking a particularly liberal viewpoint here, since if you read for comprehension it would be clear I'm not being terribly nice to any of these guys--McGovern, Carter, Mondale, Dukakis. If I'm nice to anyone in whole series, it's Barry Goldwater.
    If you're hearing dogwhistles, they're not mine. Tinnitus or something.