THE CAMPAIGN: The Confrontation of the Two Americas

  • Share
  • Read Later

(2 of 10)

think they make these things up in the back room." Nonetheless, he released his own poll, which showed his cause not nearly so hopelessly behind as the general surveys. Touring the big cities last week, sometimes he was the angry, fundamentalist McGovern. Holding aloft a U.S. pineapple bomb in Philadelphia, he cried, "Does it increase our honor because the color of the bodies has been changed from white to yellow? Their blood is still red. They are still children under God." Before an assembly of unionists in Detroit, where antibusing sentiment runs high, he was uncompromising. With the exception of the war, McGovern said, "there is no darker chapter in the presidency of Richard Nixon than his exploitation of the difficult questions and emotions surrounding this issue of busing."

So far, McGovern's call to moral arms is going largely unanswered. It is as if the comfortable had closed ranks against the claims and the calls to conscience put forward by the less fortunate, or were at least arguing that their approach would ultimately most benefit all. And the comfortable seemed to be in the majority in the fall of 1972. They are in rebellion against the mass consciousness raising attempted by the protesters of the '60s, and weary too of the depredations of youth culture and the S.D.S., the noise of rock carmagnole and the further anarchisms of the "do it" ethic of Rubin and Hoffman. In the adolescence of 19th century Romanticism, the French Poet Theophile Gautier proclaimed: Plutot la barbarie que I'ennui. Now the American mood would reverse the formula: better boredom than that new barbarism. Says Sociology Professor Robert K. Merton of Columbia University: "What McGovern faces is a cumulative counterreaction to much of the mass protests of the last few years, and he is being penalized for them. He is representing the wave, in the short run, not of the future but of the recent past."

Choice. McGovern is trying to fight his way clear of association with past radical excess. As he told a group of New Jersey labor leaders almost apologetically: "It's nothing radical to call this nation to the principles on which it was founded." The central theme of his candidacy, he argues, is not that darker side of the '60s, but the decade's loftier impulses: civil rights, equality, more open and humane government, the older and classically Democratic concern for the little man against special interests and corporations. In those enthusiasms he has had a wider following, and probably a firmer hold on the future, than his polls would indicate. It was Nixon who first declared that the election offered the clearest choice of the century—and McGovern quickly and happily agreed. Both candidates may have been right. What seems to have intervened is McGovern's personal failure.

Professor Sidney Hook of New York University believes that the country is ready for most of McGovern's domestic proposals, but that "what peopie fear most is his unpredictability." Or, as a Princeton student told an interviewer scornfully: "You can say that I'm 1,000% behind McGovern." In modifying his stands on some issues, in failing to control his staff, particularly in the Eagleton affair, whose negative resonance across the country still haunts McGovern to a remarkable degree, the Democratic nominee

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9
  10. 10