ARE THE DEMOCRATS ready for another go with George McGovern? The former senator and 1972 Democratic nominee is thinking about running for president again. Really. Mr. McGovern has had a useful public career and can cite numerous accomplishments. He won five elections as a Democrat in a historically Republican state. But nothing that happened in the 1972 campaign or that has happened since contradicts the idea that another McGovern candidacy would be--to put it plainly--doomed.
That is apparently not how Mr. McGovern sees it. In an interview with Post reporter T. R. Reid, he sees his 1972 campaign as mostly a success. He won the nomination, beating "some really top guys." The campaign treasury "ended in the black." "I feel fully vindicated by history," he says. "The people who got humiliated were the winners." Well, the winners were humiliated, but for reasons entirely extraneous to the judgment Americans made in 1972 about the politics represented by the McGovern candidacy.
That politics carried commonly held ideas to absurd lengths. At the heart of the McGovern candidacy was a revulsion, widely shared, against the Vietnam War. But Mr. McGovern extended that idea to his plea of "Come home, America"--an invitation to isolationism and, we would say, irresponsibility. Mr. McGovern and many of his supporters led the effort to change the tangle of often repressive rules the Democrats had developed over the years to select their presidential nominees. But the result was a system that, by its own excesses, has held the Democratic Party up to ridicule and diminished its chances in general elections. Mr. McGovern, in a recent New York Times article, emphasizes how his mistakes--the $1,000-a-year income maintenance plan, the Eagleton affair--cost him votes. What he evidently fails to understand is how the fundamental programs and policies he came to be identified with made his candidacy unacceptable to most voters.
That candidacy was also distinguished by a fuzziness of vision--which still exists. Mr. McGovern told Mr. Reid, "We ought to be very thankful that this man Andropov seems to be a reasonable guy and somewhat restrained. Because certainly the Reagan-Weinberger approach is one of intense confrontation. It's almost as if they were spoiling for a military showdown." That was before the Korean Air Lines plane was shot down. But even without the downing of the plane the statement would have been, well, grotesque. Mr. McGovern was nominated because at one moment in history his vision coincided with that of a critical mass of Democratic activists. That seems unlikely to happen again.