This is not a piece about my fishing memories of Lake Erie
as a child, nor of more recent angling memories in northern
Minnesota. I’m not referring to that kind of muskie.
Long, long ago, in 1972, I ran for the first and last time in a
public election. I was living in the new town of Jonathan,
now part of the exurban community of Chaska, about 45
miles from downtown Minneapolis. It was a presidential
year, and I had decided that my candidate for president was
Senator Ed Muskie of Maine. He had been Hubert
Humphrey’s vice presidential choice in 1968, and had made
a very positive impression on many Democrats. He had a
New England common sense eloquence which he displayed
in interviews again and again on national television following
the defeat of the Humphrey-Muskie ticket by Richard Nixon.
My immediate family tradition was for liberal Democratic
politics. In 1968, I was very young and had dabbled in the
Eugene McCarthy candidacy until it became evident he was
not going to win. I had no problem enthusiastically supporting
Humphrey after the Democratic convention, especially since his
opponent was Nixon (not a popular figure in conversations at
my family dinner table).
Senator Muskie soon became the heavily favored frontrunner
for the Democratic nomination. There were some other serious
liberal figures who were also thinking of competing against
him, but I, and apparently many others, concluded Muskie
was to be the one. I believe he led most polls. There was one
competitor for the nomination, however, who didn’t fit into
the Muskie Democratic establishment mode. His name was
George McGovern, then a senator from South Dakota.
McGovern, with his campaign manager (a young man named
Gary Hart) mobilized the continuing and still growing anti-Viet
Nam War sentiment voters in the Democratic Party. Nixon,
now president, was already into “dirty tricks” against his
likely opponent in 1972, and when someone became nasty
about Muskie’s wife, the senator of Maine became so emotional
in defending her that he cried on national TV. Just as Governor
George Romney had, on visiting Viet Nam several years before,
declared publicly he had been “brainwashed” about the war,
the media decided that now Muskie’s campaign was finished.
(Romney, father of Mitt Romney, had been the clear frontrunner
for the 1968 GOP nomination until his “gaffe.” )
I was elected a Muskie delegate early in 1972, but by the time the
state conventions came around, it was clear that an upset was in
the making. I had just begun my career in journalism, and I soon
decided I would rather write about politicians than try to be one.
That was then. Today, Vice President Joe Biden repeatedly makes
gaffes like Romney did just that once. Democratic New York
Senator Chuck Schumer recently publicly admitted Obamacare
was a mistake. Today, a national male politician, following the
chronic example of president Bill Clinton in the 1990’s, is
supposed to be seen shedding tears in times of sad crisis.
Even the current speaker of the U.S. house of representatives today
sheds a tear or two routinely in emotional moments.
In any event, we do not speak today of the vigorous terms of
President Muskie. (Nor of the distinctive terms of President
McGovern.) Few expected McGovern to win, but Muskie was
another story. Witty, Lincolnesque, experienced, it seemed almost
inevitable that he would reside in the White House. History,
however, is often rude about logic. The only reason the
Democratic Party recovered four years later was Watergate
and the humiliating resignation of Nixon.
As I have said, times do change. For the next cycle, we also have
an overwhelming frontrunner for the Democratic nomination.
Former first lady, former U.S. senator, former U.S. secretary of
state, and potentially the first woman to be elected president,
how can Hillary Clinton lose?
Logic tells us she can’t lose. History tells us anything can happen.
Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.