Was that Ronald Reagan in 1980, evangelizing for smaller, less-intrusive government as he campaigned against Jimmy Carter? Was it Barry Goldwater, echoing a theme from The Conscience of a Conservative during his longshot 1964 attempt to unseat Lyndon Johnson? Was it Mitt Romney, contrasting his view of a properly restrained federal establishment with Barack Obama's exorbitant Keynesianism?
McGovern died this week at age 90, triggering memories of one of the most lopsided elections in history, when Americans recoiled from a candidate whose party had swerved sharply to the left. Republicans in 1972 memorably tagged McGovern as "the candidate of acid, amnesty, and abortion." The description may not have been precise – McGovern favored only the decriminalization of marijuana and believed abortion should be regulated by the states – but there was no denying the radical turn the Democratic Party had taken, alienating millions of its followers in the process. "This man's ideas aren't liberal; this man's ideas are crazy," lamented AFL-CIO president George Meany, who had long been a party stalwart. That reputation stuck. To this day, "McGovernite" is a synonym for off-the-deep-end liberalism.