Democratic voters have one man to thank for making their voice heard in the selection of the party’s nominee: George McGovern.
Many left-wing commentators have criticized the Democratic National Committee and its system of superdelegates for giving Hillary Clinton an unfair advantage in the selection process so far.
But if it wasn’t for the work of McGovern, voters wouldn’t have had much say at all in who the Democratic nominee for president should be.
Up until and including the 1968 nominating contests, Democratic party officials decided the nominee with little to no input from the public.
However, according to the University of Vermont, the 1968 contest marked a shift in nominee selection.
Vice President Hubert Humphrey was selected as the nominee, despite the fact he hadn’t campaigned in a single primary, mostly as the result of “party functionaries” who selected delegates at caucuses that sometimes took place over a year before the Democratic convention took place.
The resulting anger from Democrats disappointed in Humphrey — who eventually lost to Republican Richard Nixon in the general election — as the nominee convinced the party to create the McGovern-Fraser Commission.
This Commission, according to the university, drastically expanded the role of primaries in the nomination process and created a proportional system of delegate allocation.
In 1968, there were only 17 primaries for Democrats, and in 2000 there were 40.
Overall, just 13 million people voted in the 1968 Democratic race, compared to about 30 million in 2000.
McGovern, the man who co-wrote the Commission’s report, went on to run for President himself in 1972.
But the election results from that year left Democrats divided over the direction of the party.
During the nominating contest for the Democratic nomination that year, McGovern campaigned on a strong platform of withdrawing completely from the Vietnam War.
His rise, according to Britannica online, was through young grassroots supporters.
He eventually toppled the original frontrunner for the nomination, Sen. Edmund Muskie, and won the nomination before losing in a huge landslide to Nixon. In the final vote tally, McGovern carried just Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.
The rapid rise of Bernie Sanders in the Democratic contest has left some wondering whether he will be another McGovern for the party.
In an op-ed for The Hill, Mark Plotkin, a former employee for Muskie, claimed Sanders resembled McGovern in that he spoke to general anxieties of the American voter, but that he would do badly in the general election due to his label as a socialist.
The similarities between the candidates are striking.
Both were perceived to be underdogs and relied on young grassroots enthusiasm.
Both relied on strong progressive platforms for their campaigns. According to the New Republic, McGovern’s campaign included messages about income inequality.
But it’s important to remember without the McGovern-Fraser Commission, Sanders wouldn’t have had the success he enjoys now due to the Commission drastically expanding the Democratic nomination process.
Without McGovern campaigning for President on progressive ideas such as economic inequality, it may not have been possible for a presidential candidate like Sanders to bring the same ideas back into the Democratic political system.
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