Bernie Sanders — Is He The New George McGovern?

Flickr / Phil Roeder
Flickr / Phil Roeder

The year 2015 looks a lot like 1972. It’s almost as if we’ve willed this to happen; As if our collective nostalgia, both phantom and physical, has risen above into something out of our control.

Mud-slung teenagers smoking grass, incessant violence ushered in by police forces in all of the little hamlets in all of the little states.

The attitudes are regressing, both for better and for worse.

We care more, echoing down the streets a call for justice, for peace, for civility. Turning our faces to the establishment, for the establishment breeds corrupt leaders and blood-encrusted police force. The establishment leaves young black bodies lying in the streets, old black bodies, all black bodies. The establishment brings the duct-tape and stashes us in the trunk. We combat it now through social media, sharing information at a rapid pace and cultivating an ever-evolving curiosity.

One of the most glaring similarities seems to lie in the 2016 presidential race. When Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders announced his presidential campaign in April of 2015, many were quick to cast doubts upon his ability to gain any real traction in the race, especially considering how long fellow candidate Hillary Clinton has had her eye on the Oval Office.

In 1972, another United States senator was fighting valiantly for the White House. His name was George McGovern.

When McGovern entered the race, almost two years before the election itself, he faced sharp opposition and slim chances. He was up against the favorite for the Democratic nomination, Ed Muskie, who was leading the race by a wide margin.

McGovern deftly opposed the war in Vietnam, stating that if elected he would slash military spending and withdraw all American soldiers from the region. He had a proven progressive track record; In 1969 he headed the Commission on Party Structure and Delegate Selection, often referred to as the “McGovern Commission”. The commission aimed the restructure the Democratic nomination system, and succeeded in heavily reducing the role of insiders in the nomination process, increased the role of primaries and caucuses, and introduced quotas for proportional black, women, and youth delegate representation. In 1970, he sponsored the McGovern-Hatfield amendment, which sought to end U.S. participation in the Vietnam War by Congressional action.

Interestingly enough, McGovern’s Texas campaign operations were managed by future president Bill Clinton, who was often assisted by Hillary Rodham,  who would go on to become his wife.

The anti-war platform on which he ran led many to believe that he didn’t stand a chance, with members of the press proclaiming him to be “too reflexively liberal” and “not strong enough for a combative campaign”. Sports commentator Jimmy Snyder gave 200-1 odds against McGovern winning.

Though his chances were slim, McGovern succeeded in winning the Democratic nomination as well as the primaries. Despite stark opposition from the party establishment, he was heavily supported through a grassroots network.

Bernie Sanders, like George McGovern, is oftentimes seen as too radical to be taken seriously. A self-described “democratic socialist,” Sanders is the longest-serving Independent in U.S. Congressional history. For 30 years he has reliably voted progressively, as well as being one of the earliest and most outspoken opponent of the Iraq War. Sanders, too, faces slim — but hopeful — chances against a Democratic frontrunner: Hillary Clinton.

Perhaps what is most worth noting is the sense of hope that both McGovern and Sanders have managed to cultivate. It’s a great accomplishment when you manage to draw in as many spectators as Sanders manages to do on a nearly bimonthly basis. As with McGovern, well, it’s a surprise that anyone could inspire hope in a nation as war-torn and frenzied as America was at that time. To really believe that you can bring about massive change in a nation as hellbent on staying the same is a feat in and of itself, but to draw others into the mix, well, that’s just good politics. TC mark

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