POLITICS: The Battle for the Democracy Party

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Some anti-McGovernites regard the young insurgents as a wave of barbarians. After he was defeated for delegate in Montana, Jim Murry, an AFL-CIO official, mused angrily: "I'll be a son of a bitch! I'm only 37, and I've always been a liberal. And there I was being fought by the McGovern people, being made out as some kind of old conservative. Me, who has been called a Communist! Old! A conservative! Christ!" Some of McGovern's more abrasively doctrinaire followers persistently offended the party's regulars during state conventions this spring, demanding platform planks in favor of legalized marijuana, abortions on demand and homosexual marriage. Observed California Pollster Don Muchmore: "McGovern has got a great issue with alienation, but I wonder if he knows the cause. The people who are alienated are the ones who don't want pot, who don't want abortion, who don't want to pay one more cent in taxes."

Above all, many regulars are seized by the simple dread that a McGovern nomination would mean a November defeat of Goldwater proportions, a debacle that might cost the party scores of state offices round the nation as well as control of the U.S. Congress. For one thing, some labor leaders, including AFL-CIO President George Meany, were hinting that they might remain neutral this fall if the choice is between McGovern and Nixon. Teamsters President Frank Fitzsimmons has been noticeably friendly to Nixon. Henry Hall Wilson, an old pro who was once Lawrence O'Brien's aide in the Kennedy White House, reflected recently on the McGovern phenomenon: "You know, the people are on a binge."

That is a matter of interpretation. It can also be observed that McGovern's legions of the young, the force that propelled him to Miami Beach with at least 1,400 delegates, are some of the soberest and most serious practitioners of politics in the U.S. today. Whether or not McGovern is the nominee, his aide Fred Dutton is probably right when he observes that with the 18-year-olds voting and the young elaborately schooled in the art of politics, "elections will never be the same. The shape of the ballpark has changed, and so have the rules of the game."

The McGovern forces rose, in part, out of the wreckage of the Eugene McCarthy movement in 1968. The next year, the Democrats' reform commission, originally chaired by McGovern, began its long, intricate task of overhauling the party's structure, changing the rules of delegate selection to open it to the poor, the young, to women, to blacks and other minorities. At the same time, the 26th Amendment abruptly enfranchised some 11 million Americans aged 18 to 21.

Mystique. McCarthy, obeying some inner music of his own, faded into what he liked to call his acedia. But in George McGovern, the young activists found a willing repository for their ideals and ambitions. His opposition to the war was early and insistent. If he seemed somewhat colorless, that was all right; the movement was the thing, not necessarily the leader.

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