July 27, 2004,
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following dispatches from the Democratic Convention in Miami constituted WFB's "On the Right" from the August 4, 1972, issue of National Review.
THE NEW RELIGIONMiami Beach, July 11 There are those who say that the politics of George McGovern is a new politics based on great shifts in ideological sentiment. Professor Galbraith, using to be sure a kind of shorthand, says that the new issues are 1) global Communism, 2) the redistribution of wealth, and 3) economic growth. Concerning which the Democratic avant garde believes 1) that we have done quite enough of containment, 2) that we should have more of it; and 3) that it isn't a cure to all human problems.
But there is something else in the McGovern Spirit, and it is quite countable here in Miami. It is the sense of absolute, total self-righteousness. It is manifestly intolerant of different opinions, and disposed, toward those who hold them, to dismiss them as cretins. It was worth noting, for instance, the attitude of typical young McGovernites toward Hubert Humphrey. They hate him.
It seems an odd word to use but it is something like the appropriate word. They feel an utter contempt for him. I attempted to probe this attitude, in talking with a young delegate who is highly placed in the youth-McGovern hierarchy, and I said to him: Why are you so very much opposed to Humphrey? After all, his ideological rating, as handed down by the Americans for Democratic Action on the basis of his lifelong record, is 97, which is higher even than McGovern's ninety-three. Ahh said the young man quick-wittedly but the record in question was earned during the period that Senator Humphrey was a senator, mostly before he took the Vice Presidency in 1964. We hate him for the positions he took while he was Vice President.
This of course has to mean the position that Humphrey took on the Vietnam war, since on all domestic matters, Lyndon Johnson was an exemplary liberal. So I said, but isn't it to be expected that a Vice President takes on the same position as the President? That has been the case since the great disengagement of Vice President Calhoun from President Jackson. Well, said the youth, but the fact of it is that Humphrey took Johnson's positions enthusiastically. Well, I said, Humphrey takes every position enthusiastically it is his mode. One could hardly stand up before a crowd as Vice President to President Johnson and speak listlessly one's orisons to President Johnson's policies.
No, the thing of it is that Hubert Humphrey opposes George McGovern, and in the New Politics that isn't as simple as that Humphrey's emphases are different from McGovern's. What it is is sacrilege. McGovernism is something of a religion, and the test in the days ahead will be whether the McGovern shock troops can move with sufficient tact.
It will have to be a cultivated tact. It will not, that is to say, come naturally. Because they do not feel it naturally. The young man in question told me that he would desert the Democratic Party rather than back Humphrey, in the event the Convention chose him. Note the interesting failure to mediate the symmetry. The distance between McGovern and Humphrey is no greater than the distance between Humphrey and McGovern. Yet although they expect that Humphrey people will work for McGovern they would not make a commitment the other way around. The reason is quite simple: they are right, the others are wrong. It is to be expected that the heathens will work for the saints if the saints are confirmed. It is not in prospect, failing that, that the saints would turn to the cause of the heathens.
Now George McGovern, notwithstanding the great seismic fault in his temperament revealed the week in which the Credentials Committee applied to California the Democratic principles of George McGovern, knows how to be conciliatory. And he is going to have to do a lot of that kind of thing in order to conceal from the mass of Democratic voters the priggishness, the ethical chauvinism, of his followers. It is off-putting to be asked to vote for McGovern as a religious exercise. It is one thing to seduce the Humphrey Democrat by appealing to his party loyalty or to his disapproval of Richard Nixon. It is something else to try to co-opt him into a new religious order.
HATE THE RICHMiami Beach, July 12 Scene: BBC studios, at Convention Hall. The British anchorman, Robin Day, is tapping his fingers on the desk. The time is 2:58, and opposite him is an empty chair. At exactly 3:00 p.m. the satellite lodged high in the heavens by the military-industrial complex is scheduled to vouchsafe one of its beams for the purpose of transmitting the thoughts of Professor John Kenneth Galbraith from Convention Hall to the British people. And when a satellite bestows its favor on you, you need to put plenty of nickels into the slot.
3:00 p.m., no Galbraith. 3:15, no Galbraith. Finally he comes in, at 3:22. His trouble was that the security guards wouldn't let him into the Booth Section of the Hall, because he didn't have the proper pass. That was a bit like denying Peter the Great access to St. Petersburg. There are few precedents for that kind of thing, though in future years John Kenneth Galbraith, in a sense the father of the McGovern Convention, might wish to have been spared it, even as M. Guillotine must have wished to have been spared access to his invention.
Galbraith, as I say, is probably the principal intellectual patron of the McGovern Convention. He has given his enormous prestige to popularizing the kind of populism that George McGovern has ridden in on. Where else, except in Galbraith, can you find someone who is at once president of the American Economics Association, past president of the Americans for Democratic Action, author of the best-known economic treatises since John Maynard Keynes', and principal dispenser of the kind of snake oil they have been drinking here in Miami Beach?
The principal domestic enthusiasm here is Redistribution. And Professor Galbraith touches on the subject, in an article in the current Saturday Review called "The Case for George McGovern." Mr. Galbraith takes great pains to dissipate the miasma that hovers droopily over all McGovern campfire meetings. It is the slogan: "McGovern is the Democratic Goldwater." Galbraith spots that as very dangerous to Democratic morale, so he proceeds to explain the principal differences between McGovern and Goldwater. "Goldwater was urging change in favor of the few and the rich. It was Barry Goldwater's romantic thought that the poor wanted more done for the rich, less for themselves. He wanted more freedom, which, generally speaking, meant freedom for the privileged to expand their preferred form of plunder. He is a nice man who brought a marked passion to his program for enriching the rich."
Now never mind that that account of Goldwater's candidacy is preposterous, however amusing. It is even internally contradictory, since if enhancing the rich was the principal meaning of the campaign, it is hard to understand how come Goldwater got 27 million people to vote for him, unless there are a lot more rich people in America than is generally supposed. More likely, they understood themselves to be voting for a principled man who believes the government ought to get to work and do what it's supposed to do better than it's been doing (curbing crime, providing for the national defense), and get its cotton-picking hands off what is no business of government (telling your children where to go to school and why, subsidizing everything from illegitimacy to ballet). But the myths are comfortable, unlike the demagogues and the college professors, and here is how they sound when they are written into campaign platforms . . .
"Deconcentrate" says the Democratic draft platform "shared monopolies such as auto, steel and tire industries which administer prices, create unemployment through restricted output and stifle technological innovation." That passage precedes the usual stuff about the rich, and it is breathtaking in its effrontery, describing as it does the immunized practices of the large labor unions, protected in their monopolies by sweetheart laws not one of which has caught the critical eye of George McGovern or his mentor, John Kenneth Galbraith. It is so much easier to sit back and talk about taking it from the rich who, by the way, are defined by the working of McGovern economics as anybody who earns $12,000 per year.
It is strange that, in Miami Beach, they talk about "new" and "progressive" policies. Professor Galbraith's discovering of redistribution as a campaign issue comes some time after the discovery of it in Athens by hoi polloi, and the rediscovery of it at quite inexhaustible length by Beatrice and Sidney Webb. It is very very old hat, and one regrets the reactionary influence from Professor Galbraith on the McGovern Convention.
AFTER THE BALLComing Home, July 14 pursuant to Senator McGovern's instructions. It is a very good feeling, coming home. The mood in Miami, at the McGovern Convention, was elated. These are the happy people, and it is obvious why. Jimmy the Greek, who is the actuarial Delphos in America, was brought down and interviewed on network TV, and he said that he had put the odds against McGovern's nomination, as recently as last December, at 50 to 1.
Now McGovern is nominated, and Jimmy the Greek shifts gears and puts the odds against McGovern's election at 4 to 1. Jimmy has traveled a long distance, and the McGovernites at Miami, a harmonic arrangement of kids, intellectuals and ethnics, are as confident as the early Christians. Chiliasm is in the air, and He is George McGovern, whose incarnation will be effected by the voters in November. Then, to quote from the peroration in McGovern's acceptance speech, America will have "come home."
I do not know whether George McGovern will be elected President. I do know that the McGovern Convention was an ideological joyride. And no matter what happens in November the moment of rapture will not turn to bitterness. George McGovern, in an incautious public flirtation with megalomania, spoke of his nomination as a "sweet harvest." Thus it will remain in the memory, win or lose.
However, the legions intend to win. They hope to reify George McGovern's dream. They are the political alchemists, who will transform hatred into love, poverty into plenty, the Soviet Union into Switzerland. One finds oneself hoping, less that Nixon will win because it is important for the safety of the Republic that he do so, than that he should win in order to spare the young McGovernites a direct experience with power.
When John Lindsay made his victory speech, back in 1965, he told his followers that he would transform New York into an empire city, and he might as well have shot them all with a double-jolt of morphine, so transported were they by the vision of it all. Yesterday, seven years later, the cameras did not trouble to focus on John Lindsay, sitting there unnoticed in the shadows that closed down on that rag-tag end of his boulevard of broken dreams. Eugene McCarthy, the bard of spiritual restoration only four years ago, came into Miami unnoticed except by those whose practice it is to notice the unnoticed. So it will be, not necessarily for McGovern himself: but for McGovern's dreams, surely; ineluctably. It is necessarily so for anyone who seeks to do what only God can do.
Speaking of which, the rhetoric of the last hours of the Convention was exalted beyond even conventional idealism. Senator Kennedy said he had been "humbled" by the invitation to run for Vice President. If that is true, surely it will prove to be the most significant achievement of the McGovern Convention. Later, Senator Kennedy addressed the Convention and said that it had returned to the ideal of "John Kennedy, who said ask not what the country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." A breathtaking announcement, uttered before a convention that sometimes seemed to be saying that the most you can do for your country is evade the draft, smoke pot, abort babies, have a homosexual affair, and receive in return for nothing at all, a thousand dollars a year from your fellow citizens.
Senator Eagleton emerged as testimony to Senator McGovern's genius for discovering what nobody else had discovered, and he quickly, and amusingly, recounted the single trauma of his adult life, namely that, having mislaid his credentials upon presenting himself to the Senate after resigning his state job, he found himself, for a period of sixteen minutes during his adult life off the public payroll.
If McGovernism triumphs, nobody will ever be off the public payroll, not even for a dreadful, reactionary sixteen minutes. Not unless the people's tribunal should happen to toll the dread words: "The great state of Idaho, home of the greatest potatoes in the peaceloving world, casts its 22 votes for taking John Doe off the public payroll." Cheers? When it happens, it will be John Doe v. the McGovern Convention.
Washington Star Syndicate, Inc.