Tuesday, May 27, 2008

We've Been Here Before

In many remarkable ways, the ongoing battle of Hillary Clnton and Barack Obama for the 2008 Democratic nomination is way too similiar to the 1972 battle between George McGovern and Hubert Humphrey. In 1972, George McGovern was attracting the votes of young antiwar voters, while Humphrey's major base of support was the older, more traditional, if not more conservative Democrats.

McGovern was leading in delegates by 929 to 760 for Humphrey just before the pivotal June California winner-take-all primary, which had 271 delegates at stake. McGovern needed just over 1,500 delegates to capture the nomination. After losing the California primary to McGovern, Humphrey continued to press his case all the way to the Democratic convention's rules committee, hoping to change California's winner-take-all primary rule. Only after losing in the rules committee, did Humphrey withdraw from his run for the presidency, some of his delegates supporting the nominee McGovern, and others supporting an 11th hour failed effort by neoconservative Washington Senator Henry Jackson.

2008 is looking very similiar. Clinton has attracted largely the same sort of more traditional, if not more conservative Democrats that Humphrey once attracted. And Obama is creating the same sort of excitement among young voters, many antiwar, that George McGovern once attracted. And it was an accepted 2008 DNC rule to not seat the Michigan and Florida delegates as a penalty for holding their primary too early, although a Republican governor in Florida was responsible, just like the tough California winner-take-all rule. Since Clinton is behind in delegates she would like to have the DNC rules committee change the rules on Florida and Michigan, which would move up the number of required delegates needed to win the nomination from 2,026 to 2,210. If half of the delgates are seated, the number would move up to 2,118. This is very similiar to the Humphrey effort to change the California winner-take-all primary rule after the primary did not turn out in his favor.

Not only are there these similiar events to 1972 in 2008, but a divided Democratic Party had many more traditional Democrats refuse to support McGovern in the general election. Many Humphrey voters helped to re-elect Republican Richard Nixon who was offering a "stay the course" path on the Vietnam War.

McGovern was a change candidate, Nixon was the status quo candidate. McGovern was the end-the-war candidate, Nixon the stay-the-course candidate.

1972 has many lessons for 2008. A divided Democratic Party cannot win. Both major Democratic candidates need to come together with strong support or a divided party fails in the general election.