The 2020 Election: The Ghost of George McGovern

Aatif Rashid
8 min readMay 24, 2019

One of the prevailing historical narratives of the last fifty years is that our country has veered in a sharply conservative direction. It’s not just the Republican political axis of Nixon, Reagan, the two Bushes, and Trump but also the corresponding Democratic presidents of the same era: lackluster Jimmy Carter, neoliberal Bill Clinton, secret neoliberal Barack Obama (okay, maybe not so secret, but he did fool us all into believing we’d witness some hope and change before appointing pro-Wall St. figures like Timothy Geithner and Larry Sommers and continuing most of Bush’s War on Terror policies). Republican conservatism we can easily understand — it was a vicious backlash to the big government liberalism, civil rights laws, and countercultural leftism of the 1960s, stimulated by the economic problems of the 1970s and tapping into Americans’ latent racism and sexism to advance a deregulatory and socially conservative right-wing agenda. But why did the Democrats instead of standing up and challenging this sharp rightward turn instead essentially capitulate to the same conservative vision? Why did they abandon the leftist principles of the 1960s and become neoliberal New Democrats, offering only token gestures towards social liberalism while committing themselves to the same narrow ideology of small government laissez-faire pro-business capitalism and neo-imperialist regime-change “spread Democracy” wars abroad? The answer is two words: George McGovern.

George McGovern, World War II pilot and history professor, son of a Methodist minister from South Dakota, eventually Congressman and Senator from that small state, described as gentle, soft-spoken, and decent, became the unlikely face of leftism in America after he won the Democratic nomination in 1972 in an upset. His campaign centered on opposition to the Vietnam War, which set him apart from his more hawkish centrist rivals, most notably Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon Johnson’s Vice President from 1964–1968 and failed Democratic presidential candidate in the election of 1968, when he lost to Nixon. Humphrey, of course, was also infamous for his role at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, when he was chosen as the nominee by the party elites even though most voters had voted for anti-war candidates like Robert Kennedy (unfortunately assassinated a few months before) and Eugene McCarthy. The…

Aatif Rashid

Debut novel PORTRAIT OF SEBASTIAN KHAN (2019, 7.13 Books). Writes about politics and literature.