John Leo

New York, a union state, had only three union members as delegates, though it had at least nine members of the gay liberation movement. No farmer was a member of the Iowa delegation. Only 30 of the 255 Democratic members of Congress were selected as delegates. A full 39 percent of delegates had attended graduate school. Over a third of the white delegates were classified as secularists, compared with 5 percent of the general population. The reformers installed rough quotas for blacks, women, Hispanics, and people ages 18 to 25. The total of female delegates tripled, to 43 percent, with heavy emphasis on supporters of abortion and the hard-edged feminism represented by Bella Abzug

 “A kick in the gut.” Jack Newfield and Joe Flaherty, both pro-McGovern Village Voice reporters from working-class backgrounds, asked, "Where are the quotas for Irish, Italians, and Poles? “The McGovernite movement,” wrote Murray Rothbard, a prominent libertarian, “is, in its very nature, a kick in the gut to Middle America.”

The regulars who picked candidates before the McGovern revolution always looked for a mainstream candidate who could win. McGovern’s activists had to be mobilized and sustained by ideological appeals that put the movement and the candidate decidedly left of the electorate. So McGovern couldn’t have won.

The McGovern reform commission and the people who changed the party in 1972 wrought lasting damage, and not just to Democrats: They helped mightily to create the modern split between red America and blue America. Many members of disfavored groups-Catholics, southerners, and much of the white working class and lower middle class-decamped for the Republican Party, while the Democrats emerged more clearly visible as the party of well-off liberals, the poor, identity and grievance groups, secularists, and the cultural elite. A second coming of McGovernite guerrillas wouldn’t do much to improve that image.

John Leo

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

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