Why Democrats Can Stop The War

Listen to Perlstein:

It sounds crazy to say it, because anyone who knows anything knows that the 1972 election was a world-historic failure for the Democrats because McGovern lost 49 states. Put aside, for now, the story of that crushing defeat. (It is a story of the most tragically inappropriate presidential nominee in history, and the unprecedentedly dirty campaign against him -- the substance of Watergate.) What that colossal distraction distracts us from is that congressional doves, and Congressional Democrats, performed outstandingly in that election. Democrats gained a seat in the Senate, the McGovern coattails proving an irrelevancy. America simultaneously rejected George McGovern and voted for McGovernism: Democrats who voted twice for his amendment to demand a date certain to end the Vietnam War did extremely well. Nixon knew his fantasy of expanding the air war unto victory was over. In fact, those who saw him the morning after the election said they'd never seen him so depressed. Why? "We lost in the Senate," he told one mournfully. He lost his mandate to make war as he wished.

We can likewise expect a similarly nasty presidential campaign against whomever the Democrats nominate in 2008. But we can also assume that he or she won’t be as naive and unqualified to win as McGovern; one hopes the days in which liberals fantasized that the electorate would react to the meanness of Republicans by reflexively embracing the nicest Democrat are well and truly past. What we also should anticipate, as well, is the possibility that the Republicans will run as Nixon did in 1968 and 1972: as the more trustworthy guarantor of peace. Ten days before the 1972 election, Henry Kissinger went on TV to announce, “It is obvious that a war that has been raging for 10 years is drawing to a conclusion… We believe peace is at hand.” McGovern-Hatfield having ultimately failed twice, its supporters were never able to claim credit for ending the war. That ceded the ground to Nixon, who was able to claim the credit for himself instead. He never would have been able to do that if he had been forced to veto legislation to end the war.

Chris Hayes is the host of All In with Chris Hayes on MSNBC.

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