I dunno why exactly, but I’ve been ruminating on the results of the Iowa GOP caucus. I guess it’s in part because I’ve actually attended an Iowa caucus (see I Caucus, Too November, 23, 2007), and in part, because I’m fascinated by the fact that Romney won/lost this caucus after spending only $1,642 per vote cast in his favor. My preliminary conclusion is that there’s a lot of people including a bunch of really conservative Iowans who are pretty well convinced that Anyone But Mitt (ABM) would be a far better candidate. Go figure.
Ok, this may be too clever by half, but the parallels between this caucus and the 1972 Democratic caucus that I attended in a neighbor’s living room in Iowa are compelling. Those of you, of a certain age, remember the 1972 presidential election. There are many memorable facets of this another in a long line of political charades known as presidential politics, but the Anyone But McGovern (ABMc) coalition of 1972 that failed to derail an unelectable George McGovern calls to mind our current day ABM movement of 2012. Yes, I mean the Anyone But Mitt movement of today’s GOP who is also bound to fail to prevent the Mittster from being nominated and inevitably losing to Obama.
Both the Dems of 1972 and the Repubs of 2012 were riven by internecine warfare. The establishment Dems of 1972 were horrified by an overly pacifist, overly progressive, overly “let’s hold hands and hum” McGovern going up against and losing to the Nixon machine just as the the died-in-the-wool right wingers, cum tea party, cum stone age constitutionalists, are horrified by an overly moderate. overly establishment, overly non-evangelical christian losing to an Obama challenged only by a weak economy and a mean steak that persists in a certain slice of Americana.
Let’s review the candidates, then and now. I think we can all agree that neither is a stellar slate to put up against an incumbent president. For the Dems we have: Ed Muskie (the hands down favorite from the get go), George McGovern (the Eugene McCarthy clone), George Wallace (nuff said), Hubert Humphrey (already a one time loser), Scoop Jackson, the neo-con’s neo-con of his era) and newcomer Shirley Chisolm, who was not only black. but, gulp, a female of the species. The Repub candidates of 2012 are fresh on our mind: The Mittster (whose flip flopping brings a worn out shower shoe to mind), The Newtster (those who know him well know of his razor sharp tongue and his intellect prone to flights of fancy), The Hermanator (ok, I understand he dropped out before the first vote was cast), but I gotta include him for balance, Rick (Mr. Sanctimonious) Santorum, Rick Perry (who makes Scoop Jackson’s militarism seem mild), John (who’s that) Huntsman, and finally Ron Paul (who pretty much doesn’t agree with anything ever uttered by any other Repub). I didn’t list those who didn’t quite make it out of the starting gate, but I was tempted to include my favorite New Yorker, Jimmy McMillan who campaigned on a platform of “The Rent’s Too Damn High”. He may be the only one of the whole crowd who ever spoke the truth.
There you have it. What a cast of characters. It just goes to show that neither side of the aisle has an exclusive on stupidity. Let me start at the end. The anti-McGovern forces who labeled him the candidate for Acid, Amnesty, and Abortion failed to prevent him from being their candidate from hell. He lost all but one state in the general election wherein Tricky Dick Nixon (soon to resign in disgrace as a result of Watergate) garnered over 60% of the popular vote. McGovern’s vice-presidential nominee, Thomas Eagleton resigned in a puddle of emotion after failing to disclose his prior treatment for mental problems. Whazzat? Hell, if we’re going to make people get out of elective politics because of mental defects, we’d have slim pickings for sure. How many of you remember who replaced Eagleton? Look it up, you’ll be surprised.
I’ve got to give a little context about the Dems of 1972. As I said earlier, the party was injuriously divided along a fault line of Viet Nam, but also between the progressive movement of McGovern and McCarthy and the old line, shall we say establishment, democrats represented by Hubert Humphrey, John Connally, and our own Bob Strauss. They distrusted, even despised each other with a passion which brings to mind today Tea Baggers, oops, I mean Tea Partiers. Add to that calculus of the state’s rights (I guess that’s more or less a code phrase for rascist) faction centered in the southern states and headed by George Wallace. You remember of course, that George got shot in an assassination attempt in mid campaign. What you may not remember is that he still got 23.5% of the primary votes cast to McGovern’s 25.77%. And he was laying in a hospital bed for much of the campaign. He won every county in Florida, and that was before hanging chads. One last bit of context. Ed Muskie, who had resounding wins in both Iowa and New Hampshire faded fast with his tearful defense of this darling wife who had been disparaged in a newspaper column which alleged that she was a person of low character because she drank (one supposes whiskey) and used off color language. Hmm. I guess that let’s me out too.
So, you say, what about the parallels with 2012. Well, you gotta start at the sheer theatre of the respective casts and then move to the great divide of the respective parties. On the one hand you have the Hermantor who had to leave the field because he hadn’t been able to keep his pants zipped, and then you have dear old Ed M. who faded from sight after crying about his wife telling off color jokes. You have Rick Perry who carries a .357 magnum and shoots a coyote while jogging, and on the other you have Scoop Jackson who had the temerity to accuse Ike of being soft on national security. You have Sactimonious Santorum who believes that everyone who doesn’t think like he does should be excommunicated from the church and the nation, and on the other you have ( well, not exactly on the other) George Wallace whose views offended just enough people (thank god) to make sure he couldn’t be elected. On the one hand you have Ron Paul, who only a handful of people in America understand what he’s saying (what’s up with this Austrian economics thing), and on the other we have Shirley Chislolm who pretty much never said anything of interest to anyone. And finally, we have the Mittster who believes his time has come, and who will take pretty much any position on any issue to get the nod, and on the other we have Humphries who thought his time had come just because he had already lost once and thought that lightening couldn’t strike twice. For this analysis, I’ve left out the Newtser for the simple reason that he’s (in crossword terms) a oner. There’s no one quite like him in either party. I hope he stays in just for the shear entertainment value. I may even write him a check.
The great divide is easier to understand. For the Dems it was Vietnam and progressive versus establishment control of the party. For the Repubs it is the Tea Party vs. everyone else (particularly the establishment types). I’m excluding Ron Paul from this because, well, just because.
So what does it all mean? Well, just as the ABM’s of 1972 failed and selected a candidate who couldn’t and didn’t win, the Repubs of 2012 are on a track to do the same. Their ABM movement will fail and they will select a candidate who can’t and won’t win. It’s kind of a shame because we really do need two strong parties for our system of government to work well, But if one is bent on self destruction, what can you do. I say again, we adopt the middle ground and resolve to “just throw the bast**ds out, whoever they are”.