John Leo

The editor of “the new republic” suggested the other day that “the new liberal political culture emerging on the Internet” looks a lot like the McGovernite revolution that descended on the Democratic Party in 1972. In a lecture at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, Peter Beinart said the mostly young Internet activists are clearly taking over the party. If so, this would be the first ray of sunshine for conservatives and Republicans in almost a year. The McGovern movement severely damaged the party, pushing it toward four presidential defeats in five tries, until Bill Clinton won by dragging the party back to the center in 1992. If the Internet people had prevailed in 2004, Howard Dean would have won the nomination and then been buried in an enormous landslide, just like George McGovern.

Beinart wrote one of the most impressive magazine articles of 2004, a 6,000-word piece on the failure of liberalism to reshape itself in the wake of 9/11 and the rise of Islamofascism. He was highly critical of liberal “softs” who tolerate Michael Moore and, the potent Internet-based group that has urged antiwar liberals to cooperate with the totalitarian left, specifically with International Answer, a front for the World Workers Party, which has defended Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, and North Korean madman Kim Jong Il. Beinart called on liberals to cut themselves off from totalitarian movements and from people who imagine that the terrorist threat is minor or nonexistent, just as mainstream liberals in 1947 girded themselves for the Cold War by ejecting pro-Communist and soft-on-Communism types like the followers of Henry Wallace.

That article was blunt. The speech last week was more circumspect and polite-no harsh words for the soft-on-totalitarians types like the George Soros-financed activists at MoveOn. Still, Beinart fears that the new activists are “largely in the dark about what they believe” and will come to power without the ideas they need to govern.

Let’s assume that Beinart is right and that the Deaniacs are today’s McGovernites. This would be an excellent time to ponder what the McGovern reformers did to the party. The changes at the 1972 convention removed the power of the city bosses and party regulars to determine the nominee and, in theory at least, increased the number of Democrats involved in selecting nominees. In reality, though, the reformers, through rule changes and some stealth and manipulation, stacked the convention and radically changed the party. Affluent, well-educated liberals were in-a “new elite,” as the Washington Post termed it. Party regulars, officeholders, and blue-collar Democrats were out.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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