Former Democratic United States Senator George McGovern died early Sunday morning, October 21, 2012. He was 90. He leaves a legacy of being a champion of liberal causes in the United States. McGovern is also remembered for losing to Richard Nixon in the 1972 Presidential election by a landslide. He tried again in 1984, but was beaten in the primaries that year. What George McGovern should be remembered for, however, is his role in how we nominate our Presidential nomination process.
In 1968, the Democratic Party nomination for President was in disarray. Senator Robert Kennedy, the likely nominee of the party, had been assassinated after the California primary. The candidate with the most delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago was Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota. Having the most delegates gave McCarthy the inside track to the nomination. McCarthy was deemed to be too much of a “peace candidate” for President by the Democratic establishment. So much so, that party leaders including President Lyndon Johnson and Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley took liberties with the delegate selection process and worked to nominate Vice President Hubert Humphrey for President. Humphrey did not compete in any primaries. After an arduous primary season, Democratic voters had been shut out essentially in the Presidential nomination process.
This is where George McGovern comes in. He, and Minnesota Representative Donald Fraser, headed a commission that would streamline the nomination process so that voters would have a direct say on who their nominee for President would be. The McGovern-Fraser Commission, as it was informally called, was charged in part with making sure that party leaders would not work behind closed doors to manipulate the nomination process.
National party convention delegates were to be chosen through direct primary elections. Previously to the Commission, primary results were binding in some states and non-binding in others. In those states with binding results, the number of delegates sent to the national convention was known by the public. In those states with non-binding primaries, the primary looked more like a beauty contest. In those cases, the delegate selection process was more likely to be determined by party leaders and not the voters. In some states, delegates were chosen in state conventions. Convention attendees tended to favor party leader-backed candidates. Outsider or anti-establishment candidates for President (or any office) had little chance of gaining their party’s nomination.
McGovern-Fraser created uniformity in the delegate selection process. Party leaders now had less of say in the selection of a Presidential nominee. Primaries have been the deciding factor in the nominating process since McGovern-Fraser. McGovern was the first to benefit from the change in the rules, as he became the Democratic Party’s nominee for President in 1972.
Not since 1968 has either party had a contested nomination for President. It is highly unlikely that the major parties will have another convention like the one in Chicago where party leaders ignored the will of people and selected a candidate for President who did not run in one single primary. George McGovern made the process simpler and gave the public its rightful say in selecting its Presidential nominees. For that, George McGovern should be remembered.
You can follow the link below for a 1972 campaign ad for George McGovern.
What are your thoughts on the McGovern’s legacy? What are your thoughts on the McGovern ad?